Managing Mood: Circulation, healthy eating and bedtime routine

Talk therapy is an important part of mental health. Uncovering the cause of your depression, anxiety, or other treatable concern, is the most important step to mental health, but you would be surprised how much time of my day is spent talking about diet, rest, exercise and self care. There are many times that we cripple the healing time or impede progress when attention is not given to healthy food, movement and time for re-centering. Here are some in-a-nutshell tips for those of you wanting to achieve a more peace-filled life, with or without the use of prescription drugs.

Since I do not prescribe drugs, I am often sitting with clients who have received care from a general practitioner (pediatrician, MD, etc) and we have to work within the parameters of the drugs they have been prescribed. I should probably find time to blog about how to manage your doctor as he/she manages your mental health….maybe next time… In short, drugs for mental health issues cannot be managed like you manage an ear infection with antibiotics. Dosages must be observed over time and played with until you find what works for you, with the least side effects. It is a process that can be time consuming, but if combined with good counseling, you may find a life rhythm that makes you feel like yourself, only better!

Most of my clients do not like taking prescription meds because of how the drugs make them feel…Hello! If you cannot get the drugs to make you function at a higher level, there is something terribly wrong. They are meant to improve life, not hold you back. So let’s uncover some tips to try before going the prescription route or during the process of finding a medical solution…

CIRCULATION IS A MUST FOR EVERYONE WHO STRUGGLES WITH A MOOD DISORDER

When life is getting us down, it is easy to put aside good health practices, become sedentary and increase the use of food and alcohol. Let’s be real, binge watching a new series on Netflix is sometimes easier than going for a run and eating a salad. But the fact of the matter is, healthy living promotes mental health!

Thankfully, the newest studies are showing that bursts of exercise are actually better for the production of serotonin (the happy hormone) than a long walk. That is not to say that leisurely exercise is not good…just that “running like you are scared” for 20 seconds gets that part of your brain charged in a way that helps overcome mood issues. I recommend running up a flight of stairs, doing 25 jumping jacks or jumping on a mini-trampoline when you start to feel the dark cloud or experience that anxiety bubble starting to creep up inside. Additional tip: If you can do this in the SUNSHINE, you increase the production of serotonin, since sunlight produces Vitamin D, which leads to the production of serotonin…or maybe just sit in the sun for a good 10 minutes after you run around the block.

For those of you on mood altering prescriptions, this is especially important. Drugs need to be moved through our systems. If they get “hung up” somewhere in the circulatory system, you can experience a “dump” at times, which results in nasty side effects. Make sure you schedule time in your day to get the blood pumping so that you keep side effects to a minimum.

HEALTHY EATING DOES NOT HAVE TO RUIN YOUR LIFE

When you are fighting mood disorders, there are a few things to keep in mind. Some substances that present as energizers or “calmers” are actually depressants and make the struggle worse. Unfortunately, they are also the things many people first turn to when they start to feel yucky: sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Since I am an all-things-in-moderation kind of gal, I don’t think you have to cut these things out of your life completely, but understand the effect they might be having on your mood.

When you are having a particularly bad day, be sure to minimize the use of sugar, caffeine and alcohol rather than increase the amount you add to your diet. While it might feel really satisfying to eat a hot fudge sundae, the effect you experience later will not be worth it. For my Colorado clients and friends…medical marijuana has the same tendencies so please be careful and ideally, switch to CBD oil without THC. You won’t get the high but you will actually improve your symptoms rather than experience the tendencies toward depression that follow the use of THC. (Were you wondering why the suicide rate increased in CO after we legalized marijuana?)

BEDTIME ROUTINE

Clients often complain that when their sleep is off, their symptoms increase. That makes sense. We all need good sleep when battling anything other than normal. When we struggle to get to sleep or wake up anxiety-filled in the middle of the night, we risk entering a “bad cycle” of starting the day feeling icky and fighting adverse symptoms throughout the day.

Try making bedtime a routine that invites calm and restoration. Dropping into the sheets without proper preparation, can often lead to a restless night or unproductive sleep. If you want to actually be asleep at 11pm, make sure to give yourself some lead time and begin this process between 10 and 10:30.

Things to try:
1. Shut off devices that cause mind stimulation; TV, phones, iPads, etc. While you might feel like you are zoning out on these devices, your mind is still being stimulated and it can sometimes be difficult to shut that down.

2. Chamomile tea, 3-6 mg of melatonin (your body’s natural ability to produce enough itself can be limited in times of stress), a bath with detoxifying epsom salts, listening to classical music…all these offer preparation for a deeper sleep that leads to real rejuvenation.

3. Diffusing lavender near your bed or using a lavender spray on your pillow can be sleep inducing. You might even try combining lavender essential oil with a carrier oil and rubbing it on your feet. (If you don’t like lavender, try rosewood, bergamot or chamomile oils instead.)

4. Make sure your room is dark. Your body creates melatonin better in darkness which leads to better sleep. That is why falling asleep with the TV on isn’t such a great idea for most days.

Creating a routine and sticking to it creates muscle memory. You may find that as you do this daily, your body will start to relax earlier in the process because it knows what is coming…ahhhh!

Life can be difficult so make sure you are doing what you can to support your mood.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Broken Things: God can’t use perfect people

I always wanted to be a counselor. From the time I was just a kid, I found myself sitting on couches, listening to people’s stories. When I suggested the idea to my parents prior to heading off to college, my dad seemed confused by the idea of it. He was the son of immigrants, grew up in a gang in East LA…he did not get the concept of sharing your story with a STRANGER. Plus we had church, which was supposed to be where you got that kind of support. So instead of focusing on an actual profession right at first, I attended a liberal arts college and studied Communications and Political Science and got a Masters in Education so that I could teach high school history and government. I loved teaching but even then, my favorite part of the job was building relationships with students and mentoring them in life. My revised plan became to continue in the field of education and be a school counselor someday. But marriage and my girls and a few moves across state lines changed all that. I now realize that our journeys are not completely our own, and there may have been just a tiny bit of wisdom in the madness of God’s plan for me.

When I finally went to seminary to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health, in my forties, I was actually thinking that I would use my degree in a ministry setting, since at that time I volunteered in those capacities on a regular basis. I was going to grad school again because I had a number of life experiences by this time that gave me some wisdom to speak into other people’s lives and I wanted to enhance that life experience with some big time book knowledge. But my time in my second-time-around grad school, mostly outside the classroom, broke me in so many more ways. Once again, life journey often outweighs book stuff. I have seen things now…hard things. I know now, all that real life was so that today, I can sit across from almost anyone and empathize with their situation, using an emotion I have once experienced, maybe not in the exact way, but similarly. It took me awhile to fully understand that it isn’t the perfect stories that minister to people, but rather brokenness and rebirth that encourages the downtrodden and broken hearted in their pain.

Have you ever been weary? Are you broken hearted now? Do you wonder what you have to offer anyone? My guess is that if you have endured trials in your life, you are more than prepared to be a mentor, a soul mate and an encourager. You might be just getting started in leaving a legacy of helpmate and friend. When people are perfect, they really have nothing to offer the hurting world. Who wants to be told how to live by someone who has not faced struggles? Are you ready to accept the challenge of taking your brokenness and turning it into service to the world?

When I look back at the times in life that I felt broken…when I was lonely, depressed, struggling in relationships, financially wrecked, betrayed and overcome with grief…I never felt that I had something to offer anyone. But once the wounds began to heal, because of God’s mercy, good counsel, the elapsing of time and support of other encouragers, I started to realize the power that comes from overcoming the battles of life. Do you have some power that has yet to be tapped into?

 

This morning, I was listening to this song…and I once again was reminded that in brokenness, we are simply in training for our calling. Are you ready to join in the hard work of turning your sorrow into dancing?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Holy Week Counseling: Make your life a prayer

I will be the first to admit I don’t get as much counseling for myself, as I would like. I have never had a manicure from someone with manicured nails either. It is probably true for most professions. Fortunately, I have some friends who are amazing listeners, good question-askers and love me, even in my weakness…so they are just like a good counselor!

Last week I had lunch with my friends Jayna and Carla. We met on a mission trip and there is something about serving side by side that builds a bond that is supernatural. We are able to share from the deepest parts of our hearts…the stuff that is raw and painful, but we can also be a source of hope for one another in this crazy world, as we encourage, pray for and crack jokes with one another that we think are hilarious. If you don’t have any friends like this, you need to find some.

We were having a conversation about prayer and how disappointing it can be when you pray so hard for something and the answer is…. silence, or no, or not now…. All three of us have some real prayer requests right now. We are all three in some trenches of life and if there is a magical formula for getting our prayers answered, we want to know what it is. Someone pass us the magic wand if you have been hogging it!

Of course there is no magic wand. Sometimes in life, our challenges don’t go away with the wave of a hand. Sometimes there are struggles that sit next to us for long periods of time and the more we pray and the more the answer is no, the more we want to give up hoping.

Jayna knows about cancer. Her beautiful daughter has been battling brain cancer most of her life. I can tell Jayna that my numbers that had been going down, went up again and she knows what that feels like to hear. She knows what hope has to be mustered if you are going to stay in the fight and that even when God is silent, He is working.

Jayna encouraged me to make my prayers an act of worship. She reminded me that prayers are not just about asking for what we need, but they are petitions ensconced in praise to our Lord who walks beside us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death…where we need not fear.

This week is Holy Week, a time when we reflect on the suffering of Christ and the liberation of our souls when He is resurrected. I wonder how many times in His life, even prior to the week leading up to his crucifixion that He felt lonely and sad, frustrated that life wasn’t just a little bit easier in the day to day. I wonder how many times He wished his Dad would just “fix it”. But we know that Christ continued to battle for our hearts, our souls and our minds by living His life to the fullest. His life was lived sacrificially, in obedience, one foot in front of the other. And in that, He pointed to heaven.

Who is with me, to start today…to live in a way that we point to heaven in our struggles and even when the answer is silence, no or not yet, we remain faithful because the God we serve is our hope, our redeemer and the reason we live? Who is ready to make their life a prayer that allows God to be all He is both in heaven and here, on earth?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

You did me wrong song: Boundaries after forgiveness

As I walk beside people in the counseling setting, I have found that forgiveness “in the moment” is difficult for most of us. It is hard to look the other way when someone has made us hurt, or move on from a toxic situation where we keep getting burned. There is a struggle between wanting to get over a situation and wanting to give it every available inch of your mind space, 24 hours a day until you feel good and ready to release it. Sometimes that inner dialogue is hard to turn off when you are feeling pooped on.

It is important to understand that forgiveness can walk right alongside the execution of good boundaries, allowing people to forgive almost immediately. It is possible to feel confident to move on from blows that are bound to come, if you live in this world where miscommunication, unfortunate life circumstances and dishonesty in relationships can bring painful interactions. I have found that it is possible to forgive, even forget (although not at the risk of losing the wisdom that comes from remembering what you have learned). No bill-paying, full-fledged adult has to put themself in a position to be clobbered by the same person or situation if they choose not to! Forgiving and walking away is an option!

In life, there are situations that occur when people you think have your back, just don’t. Depending on how much you invested in the relationship, the pain of betrayal can feel like a big ol’ kick in the stomach. I feel like I have had this experience in life plenty…enough to know that the pain is real. But I also know that it does not have to be debilitating. To be clear, I can look back and remember times where I was so debilitated by people wronging me that I experienced situational depression…bad enough to sit and stare at a wall for days on end. But not today…not today. Forgiving and walking away is an option…did I already say that?

Forgiveness is not saying that what happened is okay. Forgiveness is the acknowledgement that we all screw up at times and grace is an important gesture if we are all to live, work and grow side by side in the journey of life. But any person with good boundaries has a responsibility to self protect after the extension of grace and in some situations that means it is best not to interact for a time or for forever.

When forgiveness and boundaries work hand in hand, a person who is trying to spend less time lamenting and more time living life, can forgive whole heartedly, but also realize that there are times when people and situations are not meant to be. Sometimes we can forgive from across the room, or across the city or across an imaginary world from the person who betrayed us. Sometimes the best way to keep the situation from taking over our mind space is to literally move on with life by acknowledging that hurting people hurt others, and you can choose to not be the human punching bag for the family member, friend or co-worker who makes you their target. Removing yourself prevents the toxicity from taking over your life….it gives you freedom to be the positive-you that you want to be.

When I counsel people, I liken this to standing on a train track when there is an oncoming train. The first time it hits you, you might blame the train. Maybe the conductor didn’t see you on the track or tried to put on the brakes but not in time.  But if you stand in the same spot and get hit again, the responsibility might lie on you to get off the tracks and get out of the train’s way. People who get hit over and over by the same oncoming train might need to get away from the train. Yelling and screaming at the train, thinking they will for sure stop THIS time is not healthy for anyone. Remember:  Forgiving and walking away is an option. (The teacher in me knows that if you read this 3 times, you might remember it for the test. The bold print should help with that too!)

Being able to forgive and move on is freeing. It enables even the most wounded of people to remain positive and life-giving in a world that can be exhausting. Forgiving others allows you to get your sleep back and enables you to focus on the people and situations in your life that motivate and encourage you. If you have a situation in your life that is taking up your mind space and keeping you from being all you were made to be, ask yourself if it might be time to get off the train tracks…

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #6: Date Night

When I started doing things socially with my husband of 27 years…back in 1990…we were not really dating. We had known each other in high school (yes…you all know…he was my high school boyfriend’s friend…it is a story but not what you think) and we were simply hanging out a lot because we were back in our home town, working, without many people we knew who were our own age. I was teaching at California High School and he was in an entry level sales job…fresh out of college. We had money to spend because we were young and didn’t have a lot of expenses. He liked high school football and I liked having a super cute someone to go with me to those games. It took us at least 2 months to finally admit we were thinking it might be a relationship worth investing more in…

Mike and I were raised a little differently. I was raised in the Christian-live-by-guilt home where we were always having to consider the starving child in Africa or China when we bought something not on sale or didn’t eat our peas. Mike’s family knows how to party. There is always a reason to celebrate. When Mike and I started to actually call our relationship something more than “besties”, my heart was overwhelmed as he treated me to dinners, an evening at the ballet (I had never been!), a concert that was not something he necessarily would choose, and a bunch of other super fun stuff.  He would say, “There is a place I think you would like…”

When dating ends and real life begins, there is often a shift in marriage relationships. That may be why counselors often encourage suffering spousal relationships to re-instigate “the date”. Obviously there are major challenges to this when you have kids or are just super busy trying to build a future or a retirement fund. But bringing back the date has saved many relationships from stagnation or becoming that “we are just roommates” horror!

When couples come to me for marriage counseling and I ask about their dating life, 9 out of 10 times, the role of planning anything social has become the wife’s responsibility. And in most of the relationships I am asked to weigh in on, the wife feels like if she didn’t care about connecting emotionally, no one would care. Did you read in my last blog that emotional connectivity is what leads to physical connectivity????….keep reading.

So hubbies out there! Hear me! This is such an easy fix! If you did it well once, you can do it again!!! Date your wife or lose her forever!

Dating as a married couple can actually be easier if you think about it! You already know that your spouse will say yes! You also know what kind of activities they like to do, what kind of food they enjoy and what their calendar looks like most of the time! If you plan time for just the two of you now, the message is simply, “I WANT TO SPEND TIME WITH YOU AND YOU ALONE.”

Here are some guidelines:

Have a date night idea jar: Sit down with your spouse and come up with things you wish you would do together, what restaurants you would like to try, etc. Write them on pieces of paper and fold them up and put them in a jar. Pick one out at the beginning of each month and let the planning begin.

Now that you are married, try taking turns with the planning: We all get busy with life but the job of saving a marriage through time spent together should never fall on just one person. If you are the one planning date night, you also have to get the babysitter. For some reason, a common complaint that I hear is that it takes so much work to get the date organized that it takes the fun out of it. If you alternate the planning, one person gets to just show up!

These times together can be inexpensive or you can choose to splurge: Set a budget for your dating life so that it doesn’t get tossed aside just because the bill for Johnny’s hockey or Brooke’s dance popped up and you can’t justify it. Keep in mind that your kids will be happier in the long run if their parents stay married and they miss an activity as an 8 year old. Also, sometimes saving money one month by just grabbing a coffee or going for a bike ride can put pennies aside for a fancier dinner out or a concert that reminds you of when you met!

Be present emotionally and physically on date night: Remember the effort that you put into date night when you were first going out? You wouldn’t dream of not choosing your outfit carefully or brushing your teeth. You were sure to look your special person in the eyes and talk about more than your crappy day at work. Be a person that is engaging, flirtatious, interesting and a friend who asks good questions. You might be surprised how much fun you have!

My married clients know that I believe that the most important relationship in the home is the one between the two people that are married. There is no other relationship in the home that should compete with it. A family where the parents are working as a team are the happiest families overall…and when there is discord at the top, it is felt by everyone, even the pets…so rekindle that love in one of the easiest fixes out there…date night.

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Marriage Seminar #5: Vows Then and Now

Today is 27 years for Mike and me…That feels like a super long time and yet, it seems like yesterday that we took the plunge. It has been hard and it has been easy to do life together: hard because life can be overwhelming, and easy because I could not have asked for a more loyal, encouraging and Godly man who is as committed as I am to live this marriage fully.

I have mentioned before that our pre-marital counseling was done by a pastor, not a trained counselor, and when I look back on it, I almost laugh out loud. Could we have talked any less about what is really important in marriage? So today, I am going to walk through some traditional wedding vows, similar to those that I repeated back on March 14, 1992 and reflect on what I wish I knew then and what I want my own girls to know, should they decide to commit to marriage someday. It is also what I try to share with the many broken marriages that I speak into on a regular basis. 

“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward…

Being married is a partnership. It is a commitment to love your person when they are beautiful and fun, and when they are ugly and being a pain in the butt. It is waking up together, sharing conversation, whether you feel like talking or not, dreaming together but sometimes having to be okay with Plan B or C or D…. driving carpool and sitting at soccer games and dance recitals together… and at the sides of hospital beds.  It is learning to live with each other’s extended family in a way that honors those people, but protects the family you have committed to be. It means giving in when you can, and not making things like how you load the dishwasher a moral issue. It is loving your person when they are less than perfect, but also encouraging and even pushing them, to be their best self. It is agreeing that their dreams are as important as your own and being okay with the fact that there may be times when one of you has to sit on the sidelines. It is saying, “I don’t really like you right now, but I am not going anywhere.” It is committing to love them so much, your competitive self refuses to give up.

Having and holding is sometimes having a great sex life but being patient in those times that it is not going so well in the bedroom. It is realizing that intimacy comes from looking into each other’s eyes and asking good questions so that you each feel known. It is realizing that physical closeness happens as a result of emotional connectivity, not the other way around. It is foreplay that starts with making their coffee in the morning or running their errands so that they can relax a bit or setting aside time for just the two of you to sit with one another. Sometimes the best connection happens when you awkwardly dance in the kitchen or belly- laugh-til-you-cry together… or when you hold your spouse’s hand when they need encouragement during a dark time or that long hug when you are both too tired for life. It is a commitment to be available, to listen, to be present… for the good days and the bad ones.

for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…

Better, richer and in health are way more fun than the other options, but a spouse that comforts and battles with their person in the tough times often gets the reward of forever love. Most marriages experience something less than fabulous, where one or the other has to give up time, money and personal goals for the other. It is important to realize that when you sacrifice for your spouse, or get in the trenches with them as a fellow warrior, it is powerful for your long term marriage goals. If this kind of love is reciprocal, you can create a relationship that no life circumstance or stranger can come between.

Infatuation often grows in the good times but real love is found in the tough times of marriage. How you and your spouse respond to life’s stressors determines the long term success you will share together. If you are married and going through a difficult life event, you should not feel alone. Often people tell me I am LUCKY for the relationship that I have with Mike. Are you kidding me? Our relationship is what it is, because we have not always been so lucky. We have had some most amazing times but we have also had life steal our joy and our dreams, have been poor and have been sick… and in those times, we have held hands, locked arms and prayed on our faces. The blessing is that we are, because of our struggles, the closest of friends, bonded and more in love than when life actually gave us space to breathe. But let’s be clear, there was no luck involved.

BTW, it also means that when you have good times, laugh and love as much as you possibly can…and lift those hands that prayed so hard, to the Lord in praise. It helps fill the tank for the not-so-great times, and reminds us that all good things come from God.

to love and to cherish, till death do us part,

Loving and cherishing is a sort of having-your-spouse-in-your-heart-and-on-your-mind-all-the-time kind of thing. Of course, saying “I love you” should happen everyday but showing “I love you” means learning their love language and acting on it, protecting your spouse from people who mean them harm and acting honorably toward your person whether they are in the room or not. It is having hard conversations and learning how to communicate so that you understand one another. It is wanting to grow old with them rather than getting upset when they are aging. It is believing that what’s mine is yours, so I want to be respectful and take care of what is ours.

according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.”

Most marriages take place in front of God for a reason. That reason is that unless you are super-human, you are going to need supernatural intervention at least a few times to stay committed to that person you mistook for close to perfect. It is an accountability that should remind you that if you want God’s blessing in your marriage, you might want to consider some of the marriage advice He gives. He tells us to first seek Him, and then love each other fiercely and loyally. He tells us to even put aside ministry done for Him, if our marriages are not right. He tells husbands to love their wives as much as He loves us and wives to honor our men with our whole being. It is a pledge, not a warm fuzzy pinky promise…it takes serious commitment and selflessness, from both people, to fulfill… but if you truly want to grow old together, you may want to consider the benefits of starting now.

As always, let me know if I can help.

Love,

Sonia