Challenging Times—Understanding Grief and Our Experience with The Pandemic

In these difficult days, have you noticed that you can feel fine one minute only to feel sad, confused, disengaged, or overwhelmed the next? If so, you’re not alone.

What’s the cause?  Believe it or not, you may be experiencing grief. We’ve lost a lot this year either directly or indirectly. While many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, all of us have lost our sense of normalcy, our connection with the friends we used to see, or the activities we used to participate in. With COVID-related church closings, we have lost many of our spiritual coping tools.  In many ways, we’ve even lost our natural coping skills—we just can’t do the things we used to do to take down our stress and get the break that we all need. Although we tend not to recognize it, all of these losses are producing a massive, world-wide grief reaction resulting in heightened emotions and often unpredictable mood swings.

But why is grief so difficult to manage? The Theology of The Body reminds us that although grief and loss is part of this life, God never meant for us to experience grief or loss and he intends to restore all things to us when we are one with him. The world tells us that loss–whether the loss of a job, a relationship, our health, or a loved one–is an ending.  In our broken world, the most natural response to loss is to give up; to settle. 

Seen through the eyes of faith, loss represents an opportunity to enter into a deeper experience of Gods mercy, providence and abundance.  “Blessed are those who mourn for they will be consoled.”  God wants us to approach loss differently.  He wants us to see him, not the world, as the source of all good gifts. Nothing is ever really lost to someone who loves God.  Whatever it is that we think is lost to us–our ability to provide for our needs, the people we care about, the situations or people we depend on—God wants us to turn to him for guidance on how he wants us to respond to that loss.  If we ask God to help us deal with our losses gracefully he will show us how to fill up the hole thats left inside by the things we’ve lost.

Here are three ways that God calls us to respond to our grief:

Be gentle—In challenging times, we must be gentle with ourselves and others. We often have high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations we think, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I do what I used to do?” Be gentle and change this hurtful thinking to something more helpful, like,  “What do I need to do to feel taken care of in this moment?” “What is one small thing I can do now to take a step in the right direction?”

Seek connection—our natural response to grief is often to hide out, shut down, and withdraw into ourselves. This is the opposite of how God wants us to respond. God calls us to seek connection, to find community, and reach out to others who can walk with us and support us effectively through our experience.

Honor what we’ve lost—Working through grief requires us to honor what we’ve lost. We can honor a loved one by calling to mind their strengths and the ways they were a gift to our lives, then intentionally working to display those strengths in our own lives and being a gift to others in similar ways. We can honor the activities that we’ve lost by finding connection with them in new ways. If our kids are missing school we can ask them what they’re missing most about the school day and do our best to recreate some of those experiences at home. We can honor the connections they’ve lost by helping to keep them connected to their friends, or by encouraging them to draw pictures or writing notes to send to the people they care about. If we’re missing participating in certain events, brainstorm other productive and enjoyable things to do with that time.  The key is not simply sitting around waiting for someone else to program our life again, but to take charge and start living more intentionally.  By taking this approach, we honor the parts of our life that we miss while actively creating the new life God is calling us to grow into.

If you would like to seek support and find help working through your experience with grief, contact us at CatholicCounselors.com 

Stop Labeling Yourself: 3 Steps to Stop Holding Yourself Back

The terms “mental health” and “mental disorder” are extremely common, but research from biological anthropologists are calling into question these definitions in relation to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

New research published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology posed the question, “What if mental disorders like anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder aren’t mental disorders at all?” A summary of the results indicated that, “With a thorough review of the evidence, they show good reasons to think of depression or PTSD as responses to adversity rather than chemical imbalances. And ADHD could be a way of functioning that evolved in an ancestral environment, but doesn’t match the way we live today.”

So what does this mean for our mental health and treatment for such mental health difficulties?

As evidence has shown, we have a tendency to identify with our “emotional problems” in a way that we don’t identify with “physical problems.” When we contract a virus, we don’t say, “I am flu.” We say, “I have the flu.” But when we struggle with anxiety (or other emotional difficulties), especially if we deal with chronic disorders, we do often say, “I am anxious,” or “I am high strung,” or something similar. It becomes an identity statement. The problem is, when we personally identify with the anxiety we feel, we begin to think of it as a necessary part of who we are.

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For more on this topic, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety
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How do we, then, break free from these labels and finally identify with our healed, healthy, “true” selves?

1. Identify with strengths, not weaknesses—To counter the tendency over-identify with our emotions it is important that we make an intentional effort to focus on our strengths. Write down at least one thing you did well every day. Identify the strengths that you displayed in that situation in order to handle that moment well. Prioritizing this thought process enables us to begin to identify with our healthy, true selves, rather than identifying with the areas where we may be struggling.

2. Stick to a routine, create “healthy habits”—No matter what we deal with in our daily lives, having a routine helps us to stay on track and cultivate healthy habits. Routines, like getting up and getting ready at the same time every day, doing chores at the same times every week, and going to bed at the same time every day, help us create order out of chaos and make us feel like we are on top of things. Make time for the things that help you feel good, such as journaling, prayer, exercise, or your favorite activity/hobby.

3. Be a gift to others—Look for ways to serve others, nothing is too small. Bake cookies for a friend, hold the door open for a stranger, let someone in front of you in line, reach out to someone you love or someone you haven’t checked in on in a while. Use your gifts to in big and small ways to be a gift to others. When we reach out to others in this way, we are able to make a positive impact on their lives AND feel good about what we have to offer at the same time.

For more on breaking free from labels and becoming the person you were created to be, visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com and check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety.

The Resilient Person – Overcoming Burnout

Are you feeling tired? Uninspired? Like there’s too much to do? You’re not alone. These are all typical signs of the very common experience of burnout. But the good news is, you can overcome burnout and build your resilience in your every day life just by making a few simple changes. 

Theology of The Body reminds us that although the world is fallen, God is working through us to build the kingdom or set the world on fire. That rebuilding starts in our lives and our relationships. Sometimes that job can feel too hard, like we can’t do it on our own, and of course we can’t. But there are a few tips we can draw from the Theology of the Body to persevere even when we feel burned out. First we need to keep our eyes, not on what’s in front of us, but rather on how God wants to work through us to make the situation into what he wants it to be. Second, we need to remember that it isn’t all up to us. We need to keep bringing the situation to God and asking him to help us discern the next small step. Third, we need to lean into virtue. We need to prayerfully ask, “What are the virtues or strengths we need to apply to this situation to glorify God in our response?” Fourth, we need to look at failure–not as a closed door–but as feedback that we bring back to prayer and then leads us back thought these steps until we find the solution. If we can work this process, we can fulfill the promise that St Paul makes in Romans 8:28 that to those who love God, all things work to the good.

Here are three, small, concrete changes that will help you overcome burnout and build your resilience:

1.  Center Yourself– When you’re struggling to recover from a setback or disappointment, before doing anything else, the first step has to be centering yourself.  First, bring the situation to God, pray, “Lord, help me rest in you, trust in your grace, and gather the resources and support I need to make a plan and see this through.”  Then refocus on yourself on a goal–any goal–that represents the next small step you can take.  You’ll feel less like running away if you can identify the next step forward and focus on gathering the resources to help you take that next step.

2.  Get Out of the Tunnel–We often find it hard to bounce back from disappointments because tunnel vision causes us to get stuck trying to find the ONE BIG THING we can do to solve this problem ONCE & FOR ALL.  Especially with more complicated situations, there is rarely one thing you can do to make the problem disappear. Instead, concentrate on the next small thing you can do to EITHER address the problem OR insulate yourself from the problem OR BOTH.  Focusing on small steps you can take in several areas– instead of searching for ultimate answers to the one big question–allows you to come out of the tunnel and begin to see new options on the horizon.

3. Make A “Got It Done” List–We all know about To-Do lists but what about making a “Got it Done” list?  Sometimes we struggle with bouncing back from a problem or setbacks because we feel like we’re  just not up to the challenge.  You can combat these feelings by intentionally calling to mind–and better yet, writing down–all the PAST times in your life when you were sure you weren’t up to a challenge but, through God’s grace and your good efforts, you managed to succeed.  Making a “Got It Done List: will help you remember that you have conquered many difficult situations before and remind you that between you and God, there is nothing you can’t handle moving forward.

For more on overcoming burnout and effectively handling the stress in your life, check out Unworried—A Life Without Anxiety and visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Road to Recovery: Psychotherapy or Medication—Which Is Right For Me?

Depression is often an ongoing struggle, which can make it difficult to know what approach is best for us to find lasting healing. New research, however, gives us a deeper look into understanding how to treat our depression in a way that does not just lessen our symptoms, but works with and through our depression symptoms to achieve sustainable healing. 

A new study out of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health in Australia, shows that psychotherapy should be the first approach for depression treatment, with medication being a secondary option. 

This research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal, reveals that individuals ranging from 15-25 who received psychotherapy alone experienced equal improvement in their depression symptoms as their counterparts who received psychotherapy and medication treatment. 

These findings demonstrate the reality of the common misconception that medication treatment for depression should be a first approach. Often it is said or believed that medication should eliminate all of our symptoms of depression and that once we are on medication, ‘everything will be fine.’ This, however, is not the case. 

Medication helps to address or alleviate the physical symptoms of depression such as body aches, fatigue, and lethargy. What this really means is that medication is helpful in allowing us to feel ‘better’ enough to do the work towards directly addressing our depression and finding lasting solutions. 

Essentially, medication functions on the level of addressing our limbic system (our emotional reactions/the physical symptoms of depression), whereas therapy also focuses on our cortex (our thinking brain) to help us work through our thoughts and emotions in order to find and achieve health and healing. 

To think of it another way, if depression ran on a scale from 1-10, and without treatment we are constantly living at a ten—feeling excessively lethargic, achy, entirely disinterested—typically this means that we can’t get out of bed or do anything to effectively work towards healing. When this is the case, medication can be a helpful approach in lowering that scale—from, say, a ten to maybe a five or a six. Lowering our symptoms from a ten to a six is extremely helpful, but it doesn’t mean our depression is completely gone. What it does mean, however, is that we are now at a point that we can get out of bed, we can face our struggles, and we have the energy to do the work we need to do to lower or even eliminate our depression. 

This and other research suggests that psychotherapy should be the first approach for sustainable depression treatment, especially for younger individuals. Medication is best reserved as a secondary approach and has been found to be more effective for older adults. 

If you are struggling with depression or other mental health concerns, Catholic Counselors is here to help you find faith filled answers to life’s difficult questions. For more information or to schedule an appointment, give us a call at 740-266-6461 or visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com.

The Small Changes That Lead To Greater Happiness

Do you ever just feel “off,” but you don’t know why? Everything seems to be fine, daily life is running along relatively smoothly, but you just feel down, melancholy, or disconnected from life/others?

A new study out of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and Texas A&M reveals that making small changes—such as smiling more—can make an impact on our emotions and overall mood. It seems like a small change, but a meta-analysis of 138 studies demonstrates that smiling really can make us happier. 

“We don’t think that people can smile their way to happiness,” lead researcher, Nicholas Coles, said. “But these findings are exciting because they provide a clue about how the mind and the body interact to shape our conscious experience of emotion.”

If simply smiling more can make an impact on our emotions, what are some other ways for us to lift our mood and feel reconnected?

Acts of kindness—Buy coffee for the person behind you in line, pick up flowers for your significant other on your way home from work, volunteer at the local food pantry. Acts of kindness give us the opportunity to go outside of ourselves and do something to help and bring joy to others. In return, this helps us to feel more positive, purpose driven, and connected to others!

Set daily goals—Setting small, daily goals allows us to feel proactive, productive, and in control. These goals can be anything from doing one load of laundry, to spending five minutes outside, or even simply brushing your teeth on days where accomplishing a larger goal just doesn’t feel doable. Choose whatever small, attainable goal appeals to you each day. It’s not about the task itself, its about the feeling of accomplishment!

Pray—Take time to pray each day. Share with God what you are thinking and feeling. No emotion is too big or small for God to handle. Ask God to help you express your emotions in ways that glorify Him. Setting aside time to pray, or simply praying as we go about your daily activities helps us to feel reconnected to God, to our surroundings, and to our purpose. 

Listen to music—Listen to music that reflects the mood you want to be in, not the mood that you are in. Often when we are sad, angry, etc. we listen to music that reflects that mood. This typically causes us to remain in this mood, however, listening to music that reflects the mood you want to be in (i.e. listening to happy music when you are sad or listening to energetic music when you are tired) actually causes us to adjust to a mood that better matches the music we are listening to. Surprisingly, this can make a big difference in our emotions throughout the day. 

For more on increasing positive emotions, check out Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety and tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

You Can’t Judge Depression By Its Cover

“They seem/seemed so happy.” “They have everything together.” “I/They don’t have any reason to complain.”

Chances are you’ve said at least one of these things about someone, or maybe you’ve even said them about yourself. 

Researchers are discovering a surge in this topic that many are calling “smiling depression,” or the more technical term, “atypical depression.” These terms describe individuals who seem to “have it all together,” who appear happy—but under their external facade or appearance are struggling with depression. 

One article describes, “It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.”

This type of depression can be difficult to identify, especially with the influence of social media and the norm to only share the highlights of our lives or only post what we want people to think about us. Furthermore, it can be difficult to know how to reach out for help when we are the ones experiencing this “atypical depression” because, “maybe others won’t understand,” or “I can’t let people know I’m struggling, everyone knows me as a happy and put-together person.”

So what do we do to overcome this struggle within ourselves and support those who may be dealing with atypical depression?

Make Prayer a Two-Way Communication—Often we feel as though we have to recite written prayers, or share with God our every need or dream in an eloquent, well thought out manner. While these prayers can be helpful—and all prayer is good—it is important to remember that our relationship with God should be, as with any other relationship, a two way street. While God loves to hear our prayers and our voices, God wants to communicate with us, He wants us to listen to Him. To do this, it is important that we try spending time each day sharing our prayers with God, but then spending time in silence, listening for His voice, for His direction, for His love. This is an incredible way to not only strengthen and deepen our relationship with God, but it also allows us to feel less alone and less as though it’s all up to us. God is there for us, we just have to provide the space and the silence for Him to speak to us and work through us. 

Honesty is The Best Policy—So often I hear, “my friends can always count on me to be there for them, but I can’t expect them to be there for me.” As described in the first point, relationships are—or at least are intended to be—two way streets. Allow yourself to expect from others what they can expect from you. With this mindset, be honest with those who you feel a connection with. Maybe it’s a family member, maybe it’s a close friend, or maybe it’s a co-worker or someone who you enjoy talking to but aren’t extremely close with. Sharing your feelings with the latter individual may allow for a new, beautiful friendship to blossom. No matter who you share your feelings with, be honest. Put down the appearance you so often carry, and be yourself—the put together parts, the struggling parts, and everything in between. 

Likewise, be that person for someone else. Be the person who your friends can be honest with. Ask questions about them. Remove the barriers of appearance. We will all be a lot happier when we can be our true selves with others. 

Random Acts of Kindness—Kindness and happiness can have a ripple effect. Hold the door for someone, smile at that stranger, say thank you, pay for the coffee of the person behind you in line. These seemingly tiny acts can make such a big impact. Not only do these acts touch others lives in beautiful ways, they make us feel good, positive, hopeful. These small acts bring light to the world. They allow others to feel seen, to feel cared about, they allow us to go outside of ourselves, be a positive influence on another person’s life, and do something good. Pay attention the next time you do this for someone. How do they react? Are they surprised? Do they smile a little more? Do their eyes light up?  How do you react when you practice an act of kindness, or when someone does this for you? This little moment of joy, of hope, of positivity can influence us and others in bigger ways that maybe we simply didn’t notice before. 

For more ways to overcome the daily challenges of life and bring more peace and joy to yourself and those around you, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130. And be sure to visit us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Stay-At-Home Moms and Depression: 4 Things You Need To Know

Being a stay-at-home parent is hard, but does it cause depression? A recent discussion at Peanut Butter and Grace raised this important issue. It turns out that there is more to this question than meets the eye.

Survey Says…

A 2012 Gallup poll found that 28% of stay-at-home moms (SAHMs) had been diagnosed with depression compared to 17% of employed moms (defined as mothers who have both a full or part time job and children under 18).

Of course, this alone doesn’t necessarily mean SAHMs are more depressed than employed moms.  For instance, it could be that working moms are just as depressed as SAHMs; but, between work and household responsibilities, they just don’t have time to seek professional help.  In fact, a 2015 Pew Research poll found that the majority of working moms continue to be frustrated by the uneven division of labor at home.   As sociologist, Arlie Hochschild observed, working moms often feel that, at the end of the work day, they have to go home to work their “second shift” as a homemaker.   Many working moms are not only depressed, they also don’t have time to do anything about it.

Bridging the Gap:
The Ideal vs. Reality

Regardless, few people would argue that being a SAHM is easy.  And it’s clear that some SAHMs are happier in their role than others.  Similarly, because research shows that kids do better overall when raised by a contented and attentive SAHM than kids raised by either working moms or unhappy SAHM’s, there are certain women would feel they should be home with their kids, but who genuinely struggle to make it work for them.

Is it possible to know which moms will be more likely to find real joy in being an SAHM?  Or, for that matter, if a mom has chosen to stay home, but is struggling with it, are there things she can do to feel better about her choice besides going back to work outside the home?

Here are a few things research can teach us about the circumstances that allow certain women to enjoy being a SAHM, along with some suggestions for those who value the role of being a SAHM but currently find little joy in it. (*See note below)

1. They Are Securely Attached

Research consistently shows that SAHM’s who were raised in affectionate, affirming homes that were stable, emotionally supportive, and employed consistent, gentle discipline are much more likely to enjoy being SAHM’s than less securely-attached women.  The term “attachment” refers to the degree a child has a gut-level sense that she can count on her parents to provide the temporal and emotional support and guidance she needs to thrive.

By contrast, women raised in less emotionally-affirming families-of-origin tend to exhibit either anxious or avoidant attachment.

Anxiously-attached women tend to be extremely scrupulous about their parenting, constantly worrying that every little misstep will ruin their children.  Their constant fear of failure and hypersensitivity to perceived (or actual) criticism makes it hard to truly enjoy anything about being home with their kids.  These SAHMs tend to experience both an extremely high commitment to being a SAHM with very low satisfaction in their role.  Depression can be a symptom of laboring under the constant weight of feeling that they are always wrong, always, failing, and never good-enough no matter how hard they try.

Likewise, avoidantly-attached women raised in unaffectionate, unemotionally supportive families-of-origin tend to struggle to enjoy relationships in general.  Things like giving affection and being nurturing tends not to come naturally to them—and may even grate on them.  They tend to focus on the tasks of motherhood rather than cultivating rewarding relationships with their children. Although every mom gets tired of cleaning a room just to have to clean it again, avoidantly attached moms tend to primarily and almost solely view motherhood as a never-ending mountain of tasks that can never be completed. They may experience depression as a result of never being able to feel that they have accomplished anything.

WHAT TO DO: If you struggle in this area, the good news is that there is such a thing as “earned secure” attachment.  Anxiously attached women can learn to stop beating up on themselves, and avoidantly attached women can learn to enjoy being human beings rather than human doings. Books like Dr. Tim Clinton’s Attachments: Why You Love Feel and Act the Way You Do or Dr. Amir Levine’s Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment are good places to start seeking healing. Professional counseling can also offer tremendous assistance in healing attachment wounds.

2. They Chose It

It is difficult to feel good about something that was forced on you.  Research shows that mothers who feel obliged to be SAHM’s primarily because of social pressure, or poor alternative child-care options, or other reasons, are more resentful of their role and more inclined to depression as a result.

 By contrast, mothers who choose to be SAHM’s primarily because they see, not just intellectual or practical value in the role, but also emotional value in nurturing a deep relational connection with their children, creating meaningful family experiences, and maintaining a cozy home are much more likely to experience real joy in their role.

WHAT TO DO:  In psychology, an external control fallacy is the mistaken belief that I am a helpless victim of my circumstances.  This unhealthy thinking pattern makes us passive-aggressively push back against our “fate,” causing us to “phone in” our effort which, in turn, leads to a sense that nothing matters, nothing is enjoyable, and I can do nothing to make my life more meaningful.  Anyone can fall into this trap, but avoidantly-attached moms are particular prone to this tendency.

There may well be compelling, practical reasons for being home with your children, but don’t ever let that stop you from bringing your creativity, your intelligence, and your whole self to the roles you choose to play—whatever they are!  Happy moms don’t always love every part of parenting, but they make sure to put their own stamp on what they do and the way they do it.  Even when they are struggling to find the energy to do it, they treat homemaking and child-rearing as worthwhile professions that they are committed to being accomplished at and taking joy in.    Research on burnout shows that when we feel uninspired by our work and roles, one key to recovery is making ourselves learn new ways to do what we feel are the “same old things.”  Each morning, ask yourself, “How will I create meaning, joy, and connection today?” Make these goals your priority, and resist the urge to simply coast through the day doing as little as possible, and doing it the same old way you always do. Books like Overcoming Passive-Aggression by Dr. Tim Murphy and The Corporal Works of Mommy (and Daddy Too!) by Lisa and Greg Popcak can be a huge help in these areas.  Counseling can also be a great help for reclaiming your sense of competence and creativity.

3.  They have supportive, involved husbands 

(and other supportive relationships).

A recent Today survey found that 46% of moms find their relationship with their husband more stressful than their relationship with their children.  These moms complained of critical, unhelpful, husbands who were poor helpmates around the house, disengaged fathers, and demanding spouses.

Happy SAHMs have husbands who are vocal about their support and praise for the work their SAHM wives do, are active helpers around the house, effective disciplinarians with the children, and engaged dads. Research by the Gottman Relationship Institute also shows that husbands of happy SAHM’s exhibit strong emotional intelligence; that is, they demonstrate both the ability to genuinely value and appreciate her perspective (even when they don’t agree) and an openness to respecting and learning from her expertise (as opposed to just going along to get along).

Happy SAHMs also do what they can to cultivate other supportive friendships, but it is important to note that having supportive friendships does not tend to make up for having an unsupportive spouse in terms of the risk of depression for SAHMs.

WHAT TO DO:  Know that you have a right to the support you need from your husband to be a great mom. If your husband is a greater source of stress than your kids, seek marriage help today.  Go to Retrouvaille.  Seek professional, marriage-friendly counseling.  If you were sick, you wouldn’t ask permission to go to the doctor.  Your husband doesn’t have to agree that you need counseling (in fact, he won’t if the current arrangement is “working” for him).  Talk to him about it, but whether he wants to or not, make the appointment.  Let him know you’re going with him or without him and you’d prefer he be part of the changes that are coming.  Get the help you need to have the husband you deserve and give your kids the father they need.

4. They Can Meet Their Needs.

Happy SAHMs  feel confident in their ability to meet their personal, financial and other needs—both on their own and with the support of the people in their life.  They are confident in their right to say to their husband, “Honey, I need your help with X.” whether that involves getting a shower in the morning, getting help with a discipline issue, getting assistance with household chores, or any other temporal, financial, emotional, relational, or spiritual need they have—and they are confident that such help will be forthcoming.

If their needs are not being met, they see it as a problem that must be solved, not as a trial that must be endured.  Silently.  With much sighing and hand-wringing because they dare to even have needs much less hope that one day they might be met. Depression can result from the accumulation of unmet needs and the hopelessness of ever being seen as anything but a vending machine.  Anyone can fall prey to this habit, but anxiously-attached moms are particularly prone to this tendency.

It is admittedly difficult to find the healthy balance that allows you to attend your children’s needs, your spouse’s needs and your own needs, but happy SAHMs see this as a challenge, not as an impossible dream.  They use their creativity, assertiveness, and intelligence to find ways to achieve balance, gather new tools, and get the support they need to get their needs met.  They work hard to avoid polarized thinking; acting like they have to constantly choose between meeting their needs or anyone else’s.  They recognize the challenges involved in maintaining good self-care, but see it as a task the requires ongoing collaboration and communication with their husband and children.

WHAT TO DO:  Stop assuming that you are supposed to be a super-hero who is not allowed to have or express your needs much less expect that they should be met.  On the days you spontaneously feel even slightly more connected to your “best self” write down the things that happened that made this possible.  Did you get more rest?  Exercise? Time to pray?  Did you do something enjoyable? Pace yourself differently?  Prioritize your relationships over certain tasks?  These are needs.  Prioritize them.  Talk with your husband and (to the degree that it is appropriate) your children, about how you can all work together to make these things happen on a regular basis.  If your spouse or family are either not receptive or hostile to this idea, seek professional help immediately.  This is an unhealthy dynamic that will undermine your mental health and the stability of your marriage and family if it is allowed to continue.

One book that can help you do a better job of identifying your needs and finding the balance that allows you to be a healthy, fulfilled SAHM is Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood by Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak.  And, as above, counseling can be a great help to developing these skills.

Bringing it Home

No doubt you can think of many other challenges that make the life of the SAHM a challenge, but chances are, most of these other things fit into one of the above categories.

The more you have the skills and resources associated with the above four categories, the more likely you will naturally be able to find real joy and meaning in your role as a SAHM.  By contrast, the more you oppressed (or depressed) you feel by your role as an SAHM, the more likely it is that you are missing some or all of the above.

No one can force you to be a SAHM.  If you genuinely don’t want to do it, you are certainly free to do something else.  There are many paths. But if there is any part of you that values the idea of being an SAHM, regardless of your personality or circumstances, you can find greater fulfillment if you commit to getting the resources you need to find meaning and joy in your role.  It might take time, and it might take a little more effort than you thought it might, but your happiness and wellbeing–and the happiness and wellbeing of your family—is absolutely worth it.

To discover more resources to help you be a happy, healthy, fulfilled mom, including professional, Catholic tele-counseling services, visit me at CatholicCounselors.com

*NOTE:  Presumably, all of the above information applies to stay-at-home-dads as well. My experience in counseling SAHDs over the years certainly suggests this to be the case. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough research on SAHD’s to be able to draw definitive conclusions.

Spiritually-Integrated Psychotherapy as Effective as Meds for Longterm Relief from Depression, Says Lancet

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Researchers in the U.K. have found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) may offer just as much protection from depression relapse as antidepressants, with no significant difference in cost, according to a new study published in the journal The Lancet

“Depression is a recurrent disorder. Without ongoing treatment, as many as four out of five people with depression relapse at some point,” said Dr. Willem Kuyken, lead author and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford.

What is MBCT?

MBCT teaches people with recurrent depression to recognize and respond constructively to the thoughts and feelings associated with depression relapse, thereby preventing a downward spiral into depression.  It is often considered a more spiritual approach than traditional cognitive therapy because it employs meditation-based practices to teach clients how to step outside of their emotional experiences, observe their circumstances in non-judgmental fashion and, as a result, respond more proactively (rather than reactively) to stressful circumstances.

According to Dr. Richard Byng, from the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, while medication is the most common method of keeping depression at bay, “there are many people who, for a number of different reasons, are unable to keep on a course of medication for depression. Moreover, many people do not wish to remain on medication for indefinite periods, or cannot tolerate its side effects.”

How Effective Is It?

The study involved 424 adults with recurrent major depression who were taking maintenance antidepressant medication. Participants were randomly assigned to come off their antidepressant medication slowly and receive MBCT (212 participants) or to stay on their medication (212 participants).

MBCT participants attended eight 2-¼ hour group sessions and were given daily home practice. They took part in guided mindfulness practices, group discussion and other cognitive behavioral exercises.  After the group, they had the option of attending four follow-up sessions over a 12-month period. Participants in the maintenance antidepressant group kept taking their medication for two years.

Over two years, relapse rates in both groups were similar (44 percent in the MBCT group vs. 47 percent in the maintenance antidepressant medication group).

“As a group intervention, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was relatively low cost compared to therapies provided on an individual basis and, in terms of the cost of all health and social care services used by participants during the study, we found no significant difference between the two treatments,” said study co-author Dr. Sarah Byford, from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London, U.K.

Christian Concerns Over MBCT

Many Christians approach MBCT with caution or even suspicion because many clinicians use eastern-based approaches to meditation to teach MBCT skills, but MBCT does not necessitate indoctrination in non-Christian spiritualities.  MBCT experts correctly note that every major spiritual tradition has its own meditative practices which can be respectfully and effectively employed to teach MBCT skills. For instance, in my own tele-counseling practice, where I work with a primarily Catholic population,   I employ approaches to meditation developed and taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Because St Ignatius’ work is greatly respected by Christian spiritual directors and is completely orthodox, by using his teachings, I am able to offer my clients the opportunity to benefit from MBCT in a manner that is completely respectful of their own spiritual heritage.  I discuss some of these approaches to treating depression and anxiety in my book, God Help Me,  This Stress is Driving Me Crazy!  as well as in my upcoming book, Broken Gods: Hope Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart.

The Takeaway

Medication is often a helpful component to depression-recovery but, at best, it treats one dimension of depression–the physical.  Depression, as a syndrome, doesn’t just attack the body.  It attacks the mind, our spirits, and our relationships as well.  Spiritually-integrated approaches to psychotherapy like MBCT enable clients to achieve healing on every level and experience the emotional freedom they deserve.  If you or someone you love is struggling with emotional difficulties, be sure to take advantage of all treatments that can help you build the life you were created to live–physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.