The Mental Health Benefits of the Holidays

woman with christmas socks and mug relaxing by fireplace

Often when we talk about the holidays, we tend to focus on the stressors and challenges of this time of year. Nonetheless, the holiday season isn’t all bad, and there are certainly some powerful positive benefits for our mental health this time of year.

It Gives Us Some Much Needed Downtime

For most of us, the holiday season is a period of high stress and represents a strong departure from our regular routines. This disruption can be challenging to manage. On the other hand, it is also a period in which we experience a much-needed escape from our regular obligations and responsibilities. Continue reading The Mental Health Benefits of the Holidays

Why the Holidays Are Difficult for People With Addictions

christmas dinner beer wine glasses cheers

The holidays can herald challenges for everyone: awkward family issues, travel stress, gift expenses, religious conflicts. Those with mental illnesses might encounter triggers for various symptoms and issues. Addiction is no exception and can be especially burdensome.

During a time of excess and indulgence, it takes even more self-control for people in recovery to abstain from substances. Friends and family members might offer them a drink or invite them to smoke. There is a higher frequency of ads for alcohol. It seems the entire world is consuming without a care, yet those in recovery need to be more cautious than at any other time of year. Continue reading Why the Holidays Are Difficult for People With Addictions

Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

woman giving birth doctor and nurse treating her

Giving birth can be one of the biggest events in a person’s life, and it’s a loaded experience. Everyone has expectations about what a “good birth” looks like, but birth doesn’t always go as planned. For some parents feelings of disappointment, fear, or stress about the events surrounding the birth of a beloved child can transition into something more serious: birth trauma, also known as perinatal PTSD. This condition is a lot more common than you might think.

Our expanding understanding of psychological trauma has highlighted the fact that PTSD is an issue much broader than the emotional aftermath of experiencing combat. Any intense traumatic experience can have psychological ramifications, whether someone has a history of mental health conditions or not, and no matter how well-prepared someone might be. Birth, accompanied with intense physical and emotional experiences, is no exception. But the myths surrounding pregnancy and childbirth can make people uncomfortable when it comes to speaking out, or uncertain about whether what they’re experiencing is normal. Continue reading Birth Trauma — Perinatal PTSD — Isn’t Unusual, and You’re Not Alone

How to Deal With a Family Member’s Mental Illness During the Holidays

family Christmas dinner

When I was growing up, my family and I made an annual trip to Tampa, Florida to spend the winter holiday with my mom’s relatives, the Lebanese half of my racial identity. We always stayed at my Teta and Jido’s house (grandma and grandpa in Arabic). There was a consistent source of drama, stress, and hurt during these visits: my Teta. My mother dreaded Christmas because she associated the day with Teta driving her crazy, twisting every errand and conversation into a test of emotional stamina.

For many years I was too young to understand exactly why my grandmother was such a toxic person. Her and my Jido fought nightly, and I could hear them yelling through the walls in Arabic or French. I couldn’t fathom why their relationship was so strained, though. Because she was clearly unhappy, I felt sympathy for her. I didn’t have enough context to place blame. Continue reading How to Deal With a Family Member’s Mental Illness During the Holidays

I Took Care of People My Entire Life and Then I Broke

stressed out mom illustration

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been a caretaker. When I was five and our father left our family, I became my pregnant mother’s little helper, rubbing her feet and bringing her snacks and tea. I took care of my sister when my mother was busy working or tending house. And when my sister couldn’t sleep during those nights we’d stay at our dad’s house, I’d lie with her until she drifted off. Somehow, I was the one in our family that everyone relied upon — the responsible, wise, compassionate one.

I see now that this wasn’t the most appropriate role for me to take, since I was only a child, but it’s the role I seemed to naturally gravitate toward. And it’s a role I have found myself in throughout my adult life as well. I find myself drawn to needful people, and to professions that require care and compassion. I have always worked in caretaker industries: my jobs have included babysitter, preschool teacher, college instructor, soup kitchen volunteer, nursing home assistant, postpartum doula, breastfeeding counselor — and of course, mother to my two sons. Continue reading I Took Care of People My Entire Life and Then I Broke

Holidays and Mental Health: My Family After One Year of Trump

family arguing thanksgiving wine glasses

The majority of us acknowledge the world’s precarious state. In fact, according the APA, a survey of 3,440 Americans found that 63% feel the “future of the nation” is a very or somewhat significant stressor in their lives.

Election Night 2016 was an intense and polarizing event for the vast majority of Americans. Last year many people saw their holidays soured by the state of the world and their fears for the future. Others were frustrated with their families for not giving then President-elect Trump a fair chance to prove himself and provide for the country. Most were simply exhausted from the politics of the past couple years, hoping for a reprieve from the constant arguments.

The political climate rapidly tore my own family apart. My mom has always been pretty socially liberal and compassionate — and raised me accordingly. Social issue voters seemed to have a clear option: Hillary Clinton, who I support wholeheartedly to this day. My mom, however, voted for Trump. Continue reading Holidays and Mental Health: My Family After One Year of Trump

Can Childhood Traumas Cause Panic Disorder?

mother and father arguing sad daughter with teddy bear

I’ve had severe panic attacks on and off since I was 16 years old. Although I may never be able to pinpoint their exact cause, I’ve long suspected that some of the traumas I experienced as a child (divorce, abandonment, custody battles, and verbal abuse) contributed to my panic disorder.

Recently, though, my therapist mentioned something in passing that illuminated the whole phenomenon for me in an entirely different way. She said that when we hold our emotions inside, they tend to kind of morph into conditions like anxiety and panic.

A lightbulb went off in my brain then: I could picture myself, a young girl, witnessing and experiencing all sort of things that I now know were most certainly traumatic, and basically just standing there absorbing them all. I was always the “good girl,” whom everyone thought was so resilient despite all the difficult things that were unfolding. Continue reading Can Childhood Traumas Cause Panic Disorder?

4 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

mom dad arguing on couch sad daughter on floor

Co-parenting is never easy, but co-parenting with a narcissist is a whole different ballgame. Narcissists are self-centered and incapable of putting anyone’s needs ahead of their own — including the needs of their own kids! Narcissists love chaos, drama, and control. Truly personality-disordered narcissists keep you off balance by forcing you to ride a roller coaster of abuse and seduction.

Here are four strategies that will help you build your strength and reduce stress:

1. Manage Your Expectations

A narcissist will not change, so it’s critical that you remember that the chaos and drama he creates is not about you. In the relationship, did he make you feel like you were walking on eggshells, always second-guessing, never good enough? Putting others off balance is a narcissist’s secret weapon, and he won’t give that up no matter what. Don’t expect him to step up, become empathetic, or give up his desire for emotional control. Managing your expectations will make things easier. Knowing that he won’t change establishes the groundwork for the next strategy. Continue reading 4 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

The Emotional Impact Of Frequent Moves During Childhood

unhappy girl arms folded moving with parents

By the time I was 12 years old, I had moved 10 times — more if you count the separate moves my parents made after they split up. My parents were hippies (or beatniks, if you ask my mother), always up for an adventure, and always hoping that a change of place would fix their problems and make them happy.

In certain ways, I see the moves we made when I was a kid as part of a wild, interesting, beautiful ride. But mostly, I hated moving, and I think of the moves my family made as symptomatic of their impulsive, unstable behavior — and at least one of the triggers of my lifelong anxiety and panic disorder.

Melissa Moreno, LCSW-R, a Talkspace therapist, agrees that frequent childhood moves can contribute to anxiety for some children. “Frequent moves can bring up some uncomfortable feelings such as anxiety and impact one’s ability and desire to build and maintain relationships,” she told me. “Some individuals link frequent moves to lower life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being.” Continue reading The Emotional Impact Of Frequent Moves During Childhood

Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage

teddy bear in empty child room

Miscarriage and stillbirth are emotionally intense and very unique forms of grief and trauma, ones that often occur in privacy and silence. For parents eagerly anticipating the arrival of a new family member, fetal death — whether it occurs early or late in pregnancy — can be devastating. The shroud of secrecy that hangs over these topics may make it challenging to talk about, but it’s critical to bring these conversations into the light.

I talked with two experts, Boston-based psychologist Aline Zoldbrod and Doctor Elizabeth Fitelson of Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry, about the emotional and cultural issues surrounding miscarriage and stillbirth — and how to approach this very distinctive life experience. Continue reading Why We Don’t Talk About Miscarriage