11 Strategies To Be A More High Functioning Mama with Mental Illness

Mental Illness doesn't have to disable you from enjoying every moment of your mom life. Learn how to gain control over your mental health and be the best mom you can be.


It’s been a bad day. You’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, anxious, maybe even panicked. You just want to cry, hide, and disappear. Some days, you feel like you just want to die. In a crowded room, you feel alone. You feel indescribable fear. A word, a song, a look, a person…it’s enough to send you into a panic or a blind rage. You feel like no one there really knows you.

The truth is, they don’t because you don’t let them see the real you. You don’t let them see how broken you feel. You don’t tell them what’s really going on because you fear the stigma and judgment it brings. You don’t want them to think you’re crazy.
Sound Familiar?
I feel you! I have suffered from depression, anxiety, and PTSD almost my entire life. Sure, some days are better than others, but it never goes away. You’re not alone. You’re not broken. You can be a high functioning mama with mental illness. How do I know? I am one. But I didn’t get that way in a day.

You don’t have to let depression, anxiety, and PTSD rule your life. It’s hard. I’m not going to lie. I fight it daily. Some days it wins, and I don’t get out of bed or get dressed or go anywhere. Most days, I won’t let it. I can’t let it. I have 7 children and a husband who need me, and I do all I can to not let them down.
How To Be High Functioning:
1. Don’t be so hard on yourself
It’s alright to be self-critical to a point, but when it reaches the point of self-deprecation, it’s gone too far. Constantly berating yourself for falling short of the impossible expectations you place on yourself is a no-no. Set reasonable goals. Expecting too much of yourself, or being an overachiever while in the depths of your illness, will set you up for failure. Accept this as a natural outcome and remind yourself to KISS - Keep It Simple Silly!
2. Find satisfaction in your work
That overachieving you do? It can lead to added stress and frustrations as you take on more than you can ideally handle. By trying to perfect every single task, you will succeed in not only not reaching your goals, but also falling short on promised quality and quantity.Give yourself a break and consider the time you need to mentally and physically recuperate between tasks. Those of us coping with mental illness require a little more time to recharge our batteries than those who are “normal.” Don’t overburden yourself and cause burnout.

Give yourself a break and consider the time you need to mentally and physically recuperate between tasks. Those of us coping with mental illness require a little more time to recharge our batteries than those who are “normal.” Don’t overburden yourself and cause burnout.3. Find your happy place
3. Find your happy place
Do you switch between new things, seeking the happiness you believe it will bring? A new job, a new hobby, new location? Do you feel like you’re wasting time because they aren’t bringing the happiness you expected? It can leave you feeling hopeless and even suicidal. The key is to understand that none of these superficial changes can bring you the happiness you seek while in a depressive mindset. This is known as anhedonia or the loss of interest in things you previously enjoyed. For those of us with mental illness, our brain signals are unable to continually hold onto the feelings of pleasure for long.

It’s not YOU, sweetheart. It’s the chemical levels in your brain, which you have no control over. When someone says, “It’s all in your head,” implying you are imagining it, you can reply it IS in your head. In your brain functions, to be exact. It’s what makes us different. It’s what makes us special. Understanding this can help you realize that you actually DO get pleasure from it, you just don’t register it like everyone else.
4. Stop striving for perfection
You may be called a perfectionist, anal retentive, or a type A personality. It’s ok to strive for perfection to a point. When it starts tearing you apart mentally, emotionally, and even physically, it’s gone too far. You have to stop yourself. You have to remind yourself that no one is perfect.

Understanding when things reach the level of “good enough” will help decrease the stress associated with it, and keep you from feeling like a failure. Put it in terms of what you would expect from someone else doing it, not yourself. Would someone else take all the extra steps you would in a task? If it’s causing you too much stress and anxiety, only do what you would expect of others.
5. Learn to say NO
If you find yourself working through one of life’s curveballs, don’t take on more than you can handle. I know you want to say no, but you’re afraid of hurting other’s feelings. You’re afraid of appearing selfish because you already have too much on your plate with your personal issues. Be selfish! Only take on what you are sure you can handle for others.

I, myself, have a horrible time with this. Even on my lowest days, I can’t seem to say no to others. I have finally reached a point where I have to step back, evaluate the reality of my situation, and decide if I have the ability to handle that amount of stress, time, and focus. If I don’t, I say no. With those close to me, I explain I have too much going on to be able to give their problem enough time and attention. I know I will fail, so I let them know. If they get angry, then they have no regard for MY feelings and my well-being. Most people will be understanding if they know why you aren’t able to help. If you are struggling, just say no!


6. Get enough sleep
One of the hardest things to live with is lack of sleep. You’re exhausted. You have insomnia. You’re up all night with your mind racing, and the thoughts won’t shut off. One day, you crash, and you sleep like you haven’t slept in a long time. Then, it starts again. It weighs on you physically, mentally, and emotionally.I’ve been able to get more sleep with a few simple changes. Medication only works for so long, then your body gets used to it and needs more and more.

I’ve been able to get more sleep with a few simple changes. Medication only works for so long, then your body gets used to it and needs more and more.

Braindumps are helpful for some. A braindump is when you grab a paper and a pen, then sit down and write out every thought that is running through your head. That way, it’s out, on paper, and can be processed easier by working through one at a time. Sometimes it just helps to get it out so your mind can stop spinning and you can fall asleep easier.

Meditation is a way to relax your mind. It takes work at first, but over time, your mind slips into the meditative state, and you will feel more calm and relaxed, ready to sleep. Music is one method my daughter and I use. She sleeps with ear buds in. By focusing on her favorite music, she relaxes and ignores the other thoughts. This is a form of meditation because you focus more on the music, bringing yourself down to a more relaxed level. Leaving it on helps keep your mind from focusing on an unpleasant thought, causing nightmares and added anxiety.
7. Be Kind to Strangers
I force myself to smile at strangers. I spent years afraid to even look at someone, much less smile at them. I’ve realized that even just a simple kind smile from a stranger can make a difference in someone’s day, and I try to be that stranger. If a smile from me changes the way someone else who is suffering feels about themselves, I will do it. Maybe they will realize they aren’t worthless or invisible.
8. Write Self-Affirmations
I write self-affirmations each day and repeat them in the mirror. It feels silly sometimes, especially when I first started. It’s a way of affirming self-worth. Simple affirmations I use are:
I am a beautiful person.
I am enough.
I am special.
I am loved.
I am intelligent.
I am caring.
I am kind.
I am a good mother.
I am a good wife.
I am a good friend.
I am a hard worker.
9. Pick Up Old Hobbies You Once Loved
I force myself to do those things I once enjoyed. I write blog posts. I write the occasional story for my children, and a few poems here and there. I crochet, sew, and paint. I’ve learned crochet actually calms me down when I’m stressed out or experiencing a large PTSD trigger. Focusing on the stitches, and having to count each and every one keeps my mind too busy to feel the anxiety raging inside, calming me.
10. Start a Journal
Journaling is an amazing way I have found to clear my mind. I do my braindumps in a journal and am beginning to like bullet journals. I have an entire Pinterest board devoted to learning how to use a bullet journal (aka BuJo). The layouts are fun and amazing! It takes a normal task, like planning out appointments, and makes it more fun. I’ve even turned my oldest daughter onto it. She’s artistic, so her BuJo is much prettier than mine. You can use them for anything from a regular planner, meal planner, budget sheet, activity tracker, thought organizer, and so much more! I’ve made sure to use it for a brain dump each and every night. It’s how I get my list of things to do the next day, and beyond, as I prioritize the thoughts.
11. Cook, And Eat, Well
I cook out my frustrations. I make elaborate dinners (which are budget friendly), I bake bread and cookies, and I make candy. I don’t eat much of it, but the act of cooking, in itself, helps me cope. It also ensures my family eats and has snacks. Need some ideas? I’m sure I’ve got a Pinterest board for you! You can check it out here.
How about you?
Do you have any ways you push yourself to be a high functioning mama? There are mamas who could learn from you and your thoughts or actions. Tell us about it in a comment, or email Jessi or I. We would love to hear from you!


About The Author
Michelle is a wife and mother of 7. She's a PTSD, anxiety, depression, and domestic violence survivor who helps families of all sizes cope with mental illness, budgets, meal planning, DIY, and having fun. She's often found on the porch, drinking a cold Diet Pepsi, while scrolling through Pinterest. Connect with her on Twitter.

 
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How To Start Exercising Again After Baby

Exercising after a new baby is hard work, but it doesn't have to be difficult to start. Start small. Start here.

How To Start Exercising Again After Baby
Being a new mum is both exciting and exhausting.  Recovering from pregnancy and birth takes time.  And with the physical and emotional demands of being a new mama, I’m sure you’re very aware that you’re quite often running on empty.

How do you realistically cope with fatigue and the demands of babies and children so you can get active, fit, and healthy again? Taking the first steps back into structured exercise can be daunting.
This post contains affiliate links.
Exercise Where You Can, When You Can
Remove the barrier of having to meet structured exercise guidelines to get results. Don’t even try to pick up where you left off. Now is the time to embrace a much more flexible approach that can fit into your day-to-day schedule around multiple demands.

Don’t underestimate the little things. We have so many opportunities each day to increase movement. A bit of activity on its’ own may not feel like much but a mere 20-minute walk after lunch each day can burn an additional 700 calories per week.


Set Smaller, Achievable Goals
A 20-minute walk is achievable, right? I started with walking around my neighbourhood with a colicky, premmie baby screaming at the top of his lungs. I had one wheel of the pram on the footpath and the other on the grass either side of my path. The gentle jostling helped soothe my baby to sleep, and the walk got me out of the house so I could clear my head. Trust me; you don't want to be indoors with a screaming baby for hours on end.

Before you get going, remember that making a choice to do something for yourself, like a bit of exercise or activity, is great for your mental health as well as your physical health. Having a small break helps you cope better and feel more positive. Let’s face it – we love our babies, but every one of us can benefit from a break from the same thing all day, every day.
How To Get Started And Keep Going
Plan activities you love: Start by planning your day. Choose activities you love doing. Don’t try to run, for example, if you hate running. It won’t work.

Have a backup plan: For the nights you don’t get any sleep or baby is sick, try a shorter walk instead of a 20-minute yoga session.

Change your mindset about exercise! Remember, activity is cumulative – so 3 x 10 minutes bouts of something equal 30 minutes of exercise per day. Every movement you perform COUNTS towards your daily total.

Mix it up: Plan activities you can do on your own, like a swim at the local pool, and some you can do with your baby, like a walk in the park.

Go slowly and build your confidence: Note how many steps you take when you start exercising. Then use this as a base to incrementally increase the steps taken or the distance walked each week.

There are many ways to get active by tweaking what you’re already doing. I recommend tracking your progress with an app on your phone or an activity tracker – both are a great way to see how much you’re doing! My Fitness Pal helps you track your activity and food to create a caloric deficit. And even if you don’t have a Fitbit, you can purchase the app (for Google or Apple) that will count your steps and track workouts and meals via your phone.
Easy Activities To Get You Started:

Dancing for five minutes with baby burns 29 calories.
Half an hour of Gardening can burn around 200 calories.
20-minute Lunchtime walks with a loaded pram burn an additional 700 calories per week.
Standing instead of sitting when you’re on the phone burns 50 calories an hour.
5 minutes of Pilates burns 25 calories
Wall squat for 2 minutes as you clean your teeth burns 10 calories
Bench push ups for a minute as you wait for the kettle to boil burns 8 calories.

As you go along, you’ll find more ways to move than you thought possible - especially if you enjoy it. And it's too cute when you find your babies and toddlers joining in too. It makes every little bit of effort worthwhile.

You don't need to work harder, you need to work smarter!



 
About The Author
Justine Guest is the Founder of an online fitness site at SMART Body Project and has been a passionate coach for over 15 years. She’s also a Star Wars obsessive, cephalopod lover and paronomasia collector (not necessarily in that order). Find her on Facebook or at www.smartbodyproject.com.
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20 20-Minute Self-Care Ideas for Chronic and/or Mental Illness

20 20-Minute Self-Care Ideas for Chronic and/or Mental Illness | Busy moms, especially those with chronic physical or mental illnesses, NEED self-care. But how do you find the time? It doesn't have to be hard, click here for 20 quick and awesome ideas!


 

Hello, everyone! If you’re new to the blog and joining because of the 30 Days to a Healthier Mom Life Series, welcome! And Jessi, thank you for having me.
About My Self-Care Journey
My name is Kat, and I am a 25-year-old wife and a mama to a 3-year-old little girl. In my day to day life, I wear a lot of hats. I am in charge of a daily (M-F) before and after school program. My job can be stressful, but I genuinely love it. I love working with kids. I am also starting another part time job. In addition, I write and am working on publishing a novel: hoping to either find an agent or become self-published by the end of 2017.

On top of all that, I take care of myself which is, honestly, often a full-time job in itself. You see, I have chronic mental and physical illnesses. Just finding answers in getting them diagnosed has taken nearly my whole life, and I’m sure more diagnoses are to come (I’m already to the second hand’s worth of fingers in counting them!)
Why We Need Self-Care
Parenting is a hard gig. Parenting with a chronic illness, like fibromyalgia (I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome), or a mental illness, like anxiety or depression (I have anxiety and Bipolar II), can seem almost impossible some days. Some things that make it easier for me are small acts of Self-Care.

Self-Care is a big, important buzzword going around, as it should be because taking care of one’s self is so important. But for us Mamas, it can be daunting. Another thing to do!? We already do 385882+ things, how will we have time to take care of ourselves on top of all that? And when it comes to self-care, for us chronically ill Mamas, we often can only manage the basics; our medications, our doctor's appointments.
Self-Care Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
But self-care doesn’t have to be grueling or time-consuming. It doesn’t have to be another commitment and doesn’t need time blocked off of your already overflowing family schedule unless it’s the only way you can do it. Below are 20 easy ways to take care of yourself that can be done in 20 minutes or less. In combination, done in bits and pieces around a busy schedule in a very full life, I cannot overstate what a HUGE difference they have made for me. How I care for others depends on me first taking care of myself. My self-care makes me a better educator, wife, and mother.

Set a timer so you don’t spend the whole time watching the clock (a total calm-killer) and enjoy. And remember, we are all different, and those of us who are affected by chronic and/or mental illness are all affected in different ways. So some of these tips might work great for these, and others won’t be your style. That’s OK! Take what works, and let the rest go.


20 20-Minute Self-Care Ideas
1. Spend some introspective time, whether it’s in your journal or your mind
Think about who you are, how far you’ve come, and where you want to go. I’m a details person who often gets bogged down by them, so it really helps for me to step back and take some time to see the big picture. I’ll take 20 minutes to just write down everything that happened in the last month. Maybe on a day that I need some particular encouragement, I’ll write down every good thing that happened in the last month. Or every challenge from the past year that I have now overcome. Mountains look like molehills when you step back!
2. Spend time in the Word
I never thought I’d be the person who read the Bible on her phone. I had nothing against others doing it, but I loved the feel of a heavy paper Bible in my hands too much. I love turning the delicate, thin pages; love the smell; love writing in it and highlighting it; love the ribbon bookmark. I love feeling fully immersed in the tangibleness of God’s eternal word through the written Word.

But I also am not a purse person. I am barely even a wallet person. I’m trying to be better at this (see #5), but for now, I barely carry anything around, other than my phone and keys. So I found the YouVersion Bible app…And to say it has been a life changer for me would be an understatement. It has made reading the Bible such an easy, instinctual process. Now, whenever I feel an EDS pain flare or panic attack coming on, getting comfort from scripture is as simple as reaching for my phone. It has become second nature to me, and I am reading the Bible so much more now. And I can do it in such short, easy chunks! I definitely recommend it.
3. Watch 20 Minutes Of Low-Commitment TV
This is going to sound bizarre, but I am terrible at watching TV. Terrible! I’ll get hooked on a TV show, but then have no time to watch, so I’ll stop watching altogether. So for self-care, I’ll watch something I feel OK with only watching for 20 minutes at a time. I’ve been watching Top Chef All Stars for this purpose.
4. Put a little color on something
Minus the pressure to be perfect. “Adult coloring” is really in right now, and for those who it helps…Great! But for me, it was always more anxiety-provoking than it was stress-relieving. I had a Star Wars coloring pillow that I hadn’t colored a single part of since December because I just couldn’t find the time or motivation. It seemed like another chore, not relaxing.

So instead of those fancy markers, I bought a Crayola art kit that was on clearance, and finally brought that pillow into work and colored it with my school kids. It was done in less than an hour. Is it perfect? Of course not! Is it the colors I chose? Nope! But the coloring still relieved stress and, now that it doesn’t have the perfectionism attached, it’s more fun for me to do at home, too.
5. Put together a self-care bag
Like I said above, I’m terrible at carrying a bag, but I’m putting one together to have self-care on the go. It has a paper copy of the Bible, my art kit, teabags, a pen, a picture a student colored me, and lavender lotion, so far.
6. Immerse yourself in a child’s world
A lot of times, we are with our or other, if you work with children like I do, children, but we aren’t really intentional about the time we spend with them. When I want to forget about my anxiety or pain, one of the best ways for me to do that is to get on a child’s level and spend 20 minutes really engaging with them, playing with them, just being silly and being a kid.
7. DIY aromatherapy
I really like lavender and smelling it really calms me down. So I’ll put on some lavender lotion or light a lavender candle and breathe deeply.
8. Drink some tea or coffee
Make it the only thing you’re doing. I find it almost glamorous to have time where all I’m doing, all I need to do, all I expect myself to do, is drink a piping hot beverage and really enjoy it, really taste it, without fear of it getting cold or any other obligations.
9. Take a bath
Epsom salts, especially lavender, really help with my chronic pain in a bath. Even 20-minute baths do wonders for me.


10. Go for a walk
Getting some fresh air and vitamin D can do wonders to change my perspective. I try not to push myself on distance or speed. If I can only go slow and lean on a tree, then go slow and lean on another tree, there is no shame in that.
11. Swim
For me, swimming is something my body really likes that I need to be intentional about doing more. I feel so much more natural and free in water than on land. Even five minutes a week in a pool honestly makes a big difference for me.
12. Stretch
Doing ankle stretches, arm stretches, leg stretches, any sort of stretch break always reminds me how much that stretch break was needed! I try to take as many stretch breaks as possible.
13. Do a breathing/meditation exercise
My husband taught me a great exercise years ago when we were just dating. Close your eyes and imagine compressing all your anxiety into a little ball in your chest and work on pushing that ball out of you. It works really well and I always feel more peaceful when I actually take the time to do it.
14. Read a chapter of a book
There are so many books I want to read, but reading them all seems so overwhelming. A chapter at a time is totally doable! Choose books with short, easy to read chapters, and remember little pieces add up to big progress!
15. Write something creative
I love working on writing my novel and escaping into my creative world for 20 minutes. Write a short story, a poem, part of a chapter of a novel, a play…Anything that helps you escape the hard reality of chronic physical and mental illness for a bit!
16. Read an interesting article you have saved
If you’re like me, you have a bunch of articles bookmarked or saved that you haven’t actually gotten back to. Intentionally crack one open.
17. Find your next book to read
I hate the feeling when you want to read something but just finished a book and have nothing to read. Spend some time reading book reviews and find your next page-turner!
18. Take a power nap
Don’t scoff! 20 minutes can actually be a restful nap, especially if you can fall asleep right away.
19. Rest
If you can’t nap, act like you are. Lay your head on the pillow and pull the blankets over your head for 20 minutes. Sometimes for me, it’s even more relaxing, because I’m actually awake to enjoy it!
20. Intentionally do nothing at all
You’re not napping. You’re just being. Sometimes, this is my favorite thing to do of all…Time to sit on the couch, quiet my thoughts, and just exist. Take a moment to breathe, calm down, and remember that, in the scheme of things, today is just one day, and whatever I’m facing today is likely small.


Which of These Can You Do Today?
I hope you found some ways to spend your next 20 minutes making an investment in your own wellness. It can be a small-but-mighty help to your overall well-being as a mom and an overall person. Sending love to all of you, and thank you for reading!

 



About The Author
Kat is a 25-year-old Midwestern mama who performs a daily balancing act. She has a career she loves; a charming, precocious three-year-old daughter; and is married to her college sweetheart, who still makes her laugh so hard she squirts juice out her nose. Kat is a writer and on top of working on publishing her first novel she blogs about living with chronic and mental illness as a frequent contributor on The Mighty. She also writes on her own blog, Writer Kat, and you can follow her blog Facebook page here.

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Weekend Getaway: Why You Need One ASAP and How to Make It Happen


A weekend getaway can be a great way to reset
I've been in a pretty good mental space over the last couple of months but when the opportunity to go on a weekend getaway with my mom came up, I jumped at it.

We flew to Arizona to help my grandma celebrate her 75th birthday. It was really great to spend the weekend with them, but I had to leave my kids and husband behind. Three days without my kids. Three days of contact only through a pixelated screen. Seriously, thank goodness for technology! I was delightfully surprised to find that I didn't miss my kids nearly as much as I expected to.


The mom life is hard work
Taking care of your children, while fulfilling and important, is really hard work! You're on call around the clock and your needs usually fall somewhere behind everyone else's. Self-doubt, mom guilt, loneliness, and depression are just a few of the things you may begin to feel when you aren't making time for you.
Taking time off can sometimes be harder than not
I often take time away from the house for writing or meeting up with a friend, but when I first started doing that, it wasn't easy. I would spend hours debating whether I should call a friend or spend the time alone, whether I should go sit at a coffee shop or go for a walk or try to get a pedicure. I'd build up so many expectations that I would often return from my alone time feeling like I had wasted it or, else, find myself wandering around the grocery store rationalizing it as me-time.

When you give yourself a whole weekend away, you can get over those tendencies to use your alone time on errands without kids (lame!) and start using that time to rejuvenate your spirit, remember what you love to do, and do it!


How To Plan The Perfect Weekend Getaway:
Step 1: Stop planning for it to be perfect
Let it be what it is. Keep your expectations low, but plan to have a good time. Give yourself the freedom to nap (I almost always crash when I have a couple hours of downtime) or to eat what you want when you want or to do nothing at all. Leaving margin in your travel plans allows you to relax and go with the flow, which is exactly what you need, Mama!
Step 2: Be true to where you're at
If you can't spend a ton of money on a big getaway, find a way to do it on the cheap so you don't waste time feeling guilty about it (or worse, pay for it plus interest afterwards!) If you need time away from people, plan a solo or partner trip with someone who fills you up, like your spouse or best friend. There are times to plan around other people and there are times you may need to be totally selfish in order to really relax. Learn to distinguish between the two and be okay with putting yourself first for once.
Step 3: Put the to-do list away!
Plan and prepare for your trip and then put that expectation-inducing-list away for good. Let the weekend roll by. Let yourself relax, agenda-less, for at least a whole day. This time is about decompressing, letting go of responsibilities, and taking care of you and only you, Mama. Just chill.

[caption id="attachment_312" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Don't mind the blurriness #selfiefail[/caption]
Take care of you
Wherever you end up going and whatever you end up doing, make sure it's something that makes you happy and fulfilled and doesn't cause you a ton of stress. Some stress is normal when you're traveling, but don't let yourself get caught up in the little things. Only you know what makes you most relaxed so, while I can share some ideas, only you can decide what's best for you.


What's your ideal getaway weekend?
Need Rest?
Try relaxing at the beach, soaking in the sun. Head to a snowy mountain cabin with a book and lots of firewood. Drive into the city and spend the whole day chilling in a coffee shop or browsing a museum.
Need Purpose?
Join a short-term missions group; see another place and give a little of yourself. Volunteer at an event or ministry where you feel needed and valuable. Visit an elderly family member and spend the weekend doing what they do.
Need A Change of Scenery?
Go camping or hiking. Visit a state or national park (and take loads of pictures to share!). Visit a nature preserve.
Need People?
Visit family far away. Head into a big city, like LA, New York, or Vegas, and get lost in the hustle and bustle of humanity. Take along your best friends and/or your spouse.
Self-care is others-care in disguise
Whatever you do, do it knowing that a little break will make you a better mom. A happy mom can give so much more of herself to her kids and hubby because she has so much more of herself available. Your self-care is directly linked to your ability to care for others, so don't neglect you, Mama!

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The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy’s Mental Health

The Surprising Effects of Screen-Free Kids on Mommy's Mental Health | Learn how taking away their tablets and shows helped me be a happier, more fulfilled Mama.

Kids and Media
We all know it's better to talk to our kids than to plunk them down in front of a television. We all know that reading aloud to our kids is better than having a read-aloud book or robot voiced ebook read to them. But when we're tired and lonely or battling depression or anxiety, it's really hard to fight the urge to occupy them.

I'll be honest about my battle here: At our worst, my toddlers spent as many as 7 hours a day in front of a screen, be it television or interactive media in the form of a tablet or phone. While trudging along through two infants, 16 months apart, and battling postpartum depression, the sanity provided by the iPad probably saved my life. It certainly helped me get by. But it also left me feeling guilty... Really guilty. It took me three years to figure out how to battle my depression successfully. That was three years of tablet babysitters. Three years worth of interactive media from which to break free.


Setting Boundaries
When I finally got treatment and found myself in a healthy place, my husband and I decided to purchase the Amazon Kindle for our kids because it has a built-in timer and excellent parental controls. Rather than sending my girls upstairs with their tablets and calling them down at some arbitrary time hours later, I could set a 2-hour daily timer so that they, and I, wouldn't lose track of time. It helped me stay accountable. And it worked for the season I needed it to work.

Then my oldest daughter started having nightmares. I did everything I could think of to help her with her nightmares, but nothing seemed to work. Shows as educational and innocuous as Octonauts were giving her wake-up-screaming nightmares every single night. My husband and I were desperate for change.

The answer we landed on made me more nervous than I thought it would.


We decided to take away their tablets.
Just for one week. One week of screen-free play time. One week to purge their little brains of the media they had been consuming constantly since they could barely even talk. It was a one-week hail mary to clear my little girl's brain of all her scary thoughts.
And you know what? It totally worked!
By the very next night, my little gal slept through the night without a single scary dream. And the next night, and the next, and the one after that. But it didn't stop there. We saw even more benefits in the form of their behavior and sociability and creativity. And it wasn't nearly as life-changing for me as I expected it to be.

The Benefits of Screen-Free Kids


They became more socially adept:
They play together better. There is way less fighting and way more cooperative play. My girls are close enough in age that they've always played together pretty nicely, so I was honestly surprised to find that, in the absence of screens, they formed an even closer bond.

Longer attention spans:
Together or separate, they play with one toy longer, stick to one storyline longer, and rarely ask me for a new thing to do. They're more independent and it actually worked out that I'm able to get more housework and more writing done while they play on their own.

Increased creativity:
This may actually just be due to the developmental stage they're at, but they make up and act out new (non-movie) storylines every day. Artwork and writing have become primary activities which they can happily spend hours doing. Rather than tracing a letter on a screen, they are writing words with actual paper and pencil.



Nightmares banished:
It has been a month since we've ditched the tablets and my eldest has only experienced one night with a scary dream. Compared to the 2-3 nightly wake-ups before, this has been amazing!

Decrease in the "Gimmies":
They don't see any commercials or mainstream cartoons, so they don't even know about the latest and greatest, let alone ask for them. When we walk past a store's toy section, they like to look and admire the pretty dolls and animals, but they don't have the influence of the media telling them they need all those new things. It's pretty darn fantastic.

Decrease in Mom Guilt:
I used to spend hours agonizing over the feeling that I was failing my kids. Or else, I'd feel so guilty I would have to force myself to stop feeling in order to cope. I totally understand the whispers of depression that say you don't have a choice, you can't survive without it, or even that it's better than what you, Mama, can offer. But it's not true! You can do this and you can survive the transition!


For more help, get in touch with a therapist or call a helpline 1-800-273-TALK. 

The Costs:


Decrease in built-in "Me Time":
Without those two hours of silence, I've had to get more creative with my days. When I need time to myself now, I ask my husband to take care of bedtime so I can meet a friend for coffee or do one of these self-care activities. I also set out special activities for times when I need to get work done. Quiet time boxes can be super helpful for little ones, as well as monthly craft boxes like Koala Crate.

Messier House:
My kids are living and playing more, which means they leave more of a mess in their wake. For me, it's a small price to pay for all those benefits and I remind myself of that every time I trip over a toy. And if the mess becomes a deal breaker, you can institute a toy storage system like we did to help control the chaos.

We won't go back
Sometimes things as simple as arranging a quiet time box for the afternoons can be enough to shift your whole perspective. I know I always feel ten times better waking up to a clean kitchen than a dirty one. It's the same with screen free kids. When I see them playing together or building a fort with every pillow and blanket in the whole house, there's this deep-seated mom happiness that shines through all the other gunk I might be feeling.

And, because there's always someone, let me say: I'm not at all what you'd call tech-phobic. I'm a blogger married to a web developer, after all. Our livelihood depends on the internet and constant connection with the world. Because of that, I understand that my kids will need to know how to use things like tablets and computers. I have no intention of keeping them away forever but, for now, I'm happy to limit screen usage to the occasional car trip or family movie night. I have awesome kids and giving them the gift of a screen-free childhood is worth the extra effort required on my part.

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi


Other parents on the subject of Screen-Free Kids:
"This was the wildest thing: They played together so much better...It seemed like they were more friendly, more sociable with each other. It's not a scientific study, but they came alive, if you will, for those months."

"And their approach to relaxation was so different from mine. When we finished exams, I would plunk down in front of the TV and just zone out—whereas they would make art, read, go for a run, call friends…. it just didn’t occur to them to relax in front of the television."
How much do you depend on tablets or television? Would you ever consider a screen-free week with your kids? Let us know in the comments.
 
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How I Learned to Embrace My Body

Learning to embrace my body was a major step in finding mental and emotional well-being. It's not easy, but you can do it!


I just finished watching Taryn Brumfitt's incredible body image documentary, Embrace. Have you seen it yet? Wow! (warning: there are a few instances of language and some nudity--it is about body image, after all...) I just had to sit down immediately to get my thoughts on paper (or the screen, in this case).
I Take My Body Shape For Granted
First, I should begin all of this by saying that I've never had major body issue struggles and I absolutely take that for granted. Seriously, the things so many of you Mamas deal with make my insecurities seem ridiculous. In the same vein, our insecurities are crippling for exactly that reason: We compare ourselves to each other, letting guilt and shame dominate our emotions about our bodies.

The thing that struck me the most after watching Embrace was the fact that I never considered writing about body image here on BohemiMama. That's how often I think about it. But as I listened to other women's stories and heard these beautiful girls and young women talk about their bodies using words like 'disgusting' and 'ugly' and 'horrible,' I couldn't NOT talk about it! Especially since mental health is such a large part of what I'm so passionate about. How you view yourself is a major factor in your mental health.

So I'm going to talk about it today. I'm sharing my personal story and a few photos. I haven't been through a dramatic before and after apart from pregnancy. I recognize that my story is not woeful and I have not walked through the fire of body shame, but the story is mine. I'm certainly not looking for sympathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I hope my story encourages you to find a way to accept and embrace your body. So please be kind with any comments and shoot me an email if you really have to get something off your chest. Thanks in advance. Also, this is a long one, so get comfy.
Body Image As A Young Woman
I'm the daughter of a teen mom.  My mom has always been young and fit and beautiful. I grew up being constantly told how much I looked like her so, naturally, I perceived myself as young, fit, and beautiful. (Side note: This should tell us a TON about how our daughters are learning about their own self-image from us, their Mamas! Kindness to yourself is kindness to your beloved girl.) As a teenager, I was 5'8", 140 lbs, lean, and pimple free. I wasn't popular by any stretch, but I had a solid group of friends who accepted the real me, so I was able to maintain a relatively high self-esteem. I had my insecurities, of course. I've been in glasses since I was a year and a half old and contacts, despite my two attempts at switching over to them, just don't work for me. In addition, I had curly, frizzy hair, small boobs, and a high forehead.
Gaining the Freshman Fifteen
After high school, I gained the obligatory 15 lbs due to whatever mysterious curse befalls woman upon moving out of their parents' homes. I also developed mild adult acne by the time I was 20, leading to a series of different acne treatments, none of which worked particularly well. Diversifying my diet to more than Totino's Pizzas and Costco muffins helped me to drop those mysterious extra pounds. By the time I got married at 23, I was basically the same size and shape I had been in high school. I had my first baby at 25 and my second at 26 and I now know that I will never be the same. Ever.

[caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Shortly after getting married, early 2010[/caption]
Pregnancy Changes Your Body Forever
A baby changes you. Two babies change you forever. I can't imagine what three babies must do. My hips are wider, my thighs are flabbier, my stomach has twice as much skin as it needs and it's scarred and stripped beyond recognition. Pregnancy wasn't easy for me. I always imagined being one of those women who adores being pregnant and walks around with a grin on her face all day long. Instead, I was too exhausted to enjoy it. I gained 60 pounds, the same weight as an eight-year-0ld kid. Miraculously, I somehow dropped all the weight in the 6 months between pregnancies (yay, breastfeeding and no, we didn't plan to have them that close) and then gained all 60 pounds back with my second.

[caption id="attachment_223" align="aligncenter" width="560"] Pregnancy One in 2012 (left) and Pregnancy Two in 2013 (right)[/caption]

The second time around, I felt just as wiped out, but I had a baby to care for. I had to take much better care of my own health, even denying the strongest of cravings: cream-filled donuts. I know! After my second, I had moderate post-partum depression and I didn't lose the weight as quickly or as completely as I did the first time. My maternity clothes were far too big and my old clothes were still too tight. One year later and 15 lbs over my old weight, I realized that this might just be the new me.
The New, Flabby Mom Body
I would stand in front of the mirror pinching my stomach skin, daydreaming about how I used to look, wishing I had appreciated my old figure more. As my babies weaned and my breasts emptied, my over large nipples sagged toward the floor and I missed my small, but perky, youthful boobs. Knotted varicose veins run from my groin to my ankle on one side, though I am considering corrective measures for those. Ouch! Not to mention, the remnants of back pain from all the extra weight I had carried in the front.

I did everything right and still couldn't lose the weight. We ate a whole food diet; no white flours, no refined sugars, lots of fruits and vegetables. I ran around all day chasing my babies, working in the garden and cleaning a constantly messy house. I joined a gym. I started cycling, even completing an 85-mile ride over the Coastal mountains of Oregon. Despite my best efforts, those extra pounds clung on. In addition to my body image issues, the depression I had been dealing with since my early 20's was the worst it had ever been (probably contributing to my body image issues...).

[caption id="attachment_226" align="aligncenter" width="450"] Late 2016. This is a rare photo of me without a child or other person strategically placed in front of me. My wardrobe is now a medium instead of a small. But one letter on my label doesn't define me.[/caption]

 
Coming to Terms With My New Body
My depression climaxed just last summer and I finally started seeing a therapist. (Best decision ever! Seriously, Mama, money very well spent!) But even now that I'm mentally healthy again, my body still wears the scars of pregnancy. But I'm not unhappy about it.

In fact, I've grown to love my body. I really have. There are moments when I'd like to have firmer breasts or less jiggly thighs and I probably won't be going out in a bikini (not that I would have before anyway). But those aren't things I think when I look in the mirror. When I see my stretch marks, I remember the feel of my babies rolling inside me, the smell of their newborn hair, and the velvety baby skin that's unlike any other texture in the world. When I see the fine lines around my eyes, I think of all the times I've laughed with my mom, my husband, my girls, my grandmother, all the joy I've been privileged to feel. When I see the thick blue veins crisscrossing the tops of my feet, I remember all the places, the countries, the sights those feet have carried me to.
Accept the Body You Have
And so, I stopped trying to change my body. I still exercise and I still cycle and I still chase my babies around the house. But I don't do it to lose the weight. My priorities don't lie in what my abs look like or if my stomach skin will ever shrink back to normal. I do it because it makes me feel good and it keeps me healthy. I realized that unless I was willing to work out almost obsessively, I wasn't going to be able to significantly change my body. And, honestly, there are many other things I'd rather do with my time. To those of you who love working out that much, I think it's awesome. Keep up the good work! That's just not me. I'm a writer. Instead of changing my body, I just went shopping. I bought clothes for this body because it's the one I have. And it's worth it.


Embrace Your Body - It Helps You Do the Important Work
The most important thing I have to say today is this:

You, Mama, you are beautiful, but more than that, you are important. You are valuable. You are irreplaceable. You, Mama, are doing the best work on earth. You are needed. You are intelligent. You have gifts and goals and dreams that are unlike anyone else's, on the whole planet. You are unique. You are bold. You are courageous and capable of more than you know. Your body is the thing in which you dwell and which enables you to do the important things.

To quote Taryn, Mama, "Don't waste a single day of your life being at war with your body. Just embrace it."

Thanks for sharing your journey as I share mine.

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

How can we help each other to embrace the bodies we have and learn to love them for what we can do with them?

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How to Shake Off This Funk

Sometimes you're just blue. How do you shake off the funk when it won't go away? Click through for 10 ideas and a free printable with 50 more!
As someone who has dealt with depression at some level for the last 9 years, I totally understand the funk. I often describe it as a wave. The sadness builds slowly, picking up momentum under the surface of whatever other emotions I might be feeling, and then crashes over me at the most (seemingly) random times. It wasn't until I started seeing a therapist that I began to recognize those triggers and do something about them before the wave drowned me. Today, I want to share with you some of the things that help me keep my feet on the ground.

Whether you're battling depression or just having a bad week, these tips can help you find your happy place again.

(Please note: If your funk has lasted more than a few months or you're thinking scary thoughts, then please, please, please stop trying to pull yourself out of it and go see someone!  Talk to your doctor, get recommendations for a good therapist in your area, or call 1-800-THERAPIST for a confidential recommendation.)
10 Tips for Getting Out of Your Funk:

Rest Those Hardworking Muscles! As a Mama, your number one complaint is probably lack of sleep. Am I right? Girl, put that phone down and go to bed! I know how hard it can be to get to bed on time. With littles to care for (who may or may not still need you in the middle of the night) or older ones with homework and sports and unending time in the car plus household tasks and quality time with the hubby and all your other commitments... It all adds up and before you know it, you're folding the laundry at midnight, crying quietly cause you just want to go to sleep. Well, I'm here to tell you: For your sake, put the laundry down! Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep. If a tiny cry will interrupt your beauty hours, then plan to stay in bed as long as takes to fill up on sleep. If ever there was an encouraged use for iPads, it's during those early morning hours!
You Are What You Eat: Food plays such an important part in every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. Make sure you're getting enough calories every day and that most of them are coming from whole foods. That means cut down on those processed foods and refined sugars, Mama. I know you only want to eat ice cream in the middle of the day... grab an apple instead. Your body will thank you!
Check your levels: It's always a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor and have them run blood tests. Deficiencies in iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and others can all contribute to suppressed moods.
Get Moving: Exercise has been shown again and again and again to improve depressive symptoms because it increases your dopamine and serotonin levels, two major players in the mood game. Plus, sweating is a great way to work out aggression for things you might not have any control over. Many a good rage has been dispelled with weights in my hands.
Go Outside: Ever wonder why sunshine makes people happy? It's because the sun helps your body produce vitamin D! Not to mention it's warm and comfortable and invites you out into the fresh air and wonderful, wide world where birds sing and children giggle and moms get tan. Oh, February... I wish you were July... This Pacific Northwestern girl is missing her some sunny days and poolside outings right about now!
Create something: Take time for yourself and make something you love. It can be a painting, a drawing, photos of your kids or nature, one of the many DIY projects you've been pinning for 'later'. Make later today.
Use all your senses: Smell is often left off the list of self-care to-dos but, I'm telling you what, diffusing my favorite essential oils or lighting a tantalizing candle can really shift my mood quick. Essential oils have many benefits, the most significant of which is known as aromatherapy (which doesn't have a 'therapy' in its name for no reason). My favorite oils for blue days are Quiet Time, Bergamot, and Cinnamon.
Practice gratitude: Gratitude has more beneficial effects on your body than I could ever list here! Stop for a minute and think of five things you are grateful for. Or better yet, make a list and post it somewhere you'll see it again.
Find the thing that makes you happy and prioritize it: If you love gardening, set aside time to be outside with a shovel and some seeds. If you love writing, plan to have Hubby put the kids to bed so you can write or journal without interruption. If you love hiking, then dust off your boots and get out there. If you love... You get the idea. If something makes you happy and you can shift your schedule or let something else go so you can do that thing, then do it! A happy Mama is an effective Mama.
Let some things go: Thanks to Facebook and Pinterest and, ahem, mom blogs, there's a TON of pressure to be awesome at everything, especially if you're at home during the day. It's easy to feel like you've got be on top of everything from whole foods to organization to a spotless house to the newest parenting trend to fashion to... the list goes on. Mama, you can't do it all. Let me say that again. You CAN'T do it all. I can't either. And we're not even supposed to. So pick your battles, fight for what's important to you, and let the rest of it go. Let it go, let it go... Now it's going to be stuck in your head all day. Sorry 'bout that.

That's my list. What would you add? Tell us in the comments!

Blessing upon blessing,

Jessi

 



 
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