Emotions play a huge role in our lives, our actions and our relationships. Yet, most of us know surprisingly little about what they are, how we experience them and why we have them in the first place. Some psychologists might say we’re low on “emotional literacy.”

This lack of emotional literacy leaves us ill-equipped to manage the variety of emotions we experience on a normal day, let alone during a pandemic. Focusing on naming, expressing and dealing with our emotions — the ones we like and the ones we don’t — is important for our mental health. By learning more about your emotions and how to name them, express them, and deal with them, you can use them to better navigate your daily life, make better decisions and feel more at ease.

What are emotions?  

Emotions are sort of like our internal road signs or stoplights, but with the lights flashing in different parts of our bodies in different ways. There’s a subjective part, which is how you feel in the moment — what we might call happiness, sadness or fear. There’s a physiological component, which is how your body reacts to what you’re experiencing (clenched teeth? squeals of delight?). And then there’s often a behavioural component, which is the action you take in response to how you feel.

How are emotions felt in the body?  

Emotions physically manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Your breathing or heart rate might speed up or slow down. Your body temperature might rise or fall, leading you to feel warm or cool. Your facial expressions and body language might change — furrowing your brow and slumping your shoulders when you’re feeling frustrated, for instance. And finally, emotions might trigger movements, like tapping your foot or twirling your hair when you’re feeling nervous or impatient.

Why do we have emotions?  

First and foremost, emotions are thought to serve an evolutionary purpose. Our ancestors who felt fear and ran away (red light!) when they saw tigers survived, while those who felt nothing did not.

Another way to put it would be to think of emotions as motivators. We are motivated to do things that lead to comfortable emotions (green light!) and avoid doing things that lead to uncomfortable emotions. Once again, this plays a key role in our survival, leading us to seek out food, avoid danger and reproduce.

Emotions also help us communicate and collaborate with others, and therefore play a key role in helping our society run smoothly.

How does naming our emotions help?  

Putting our feelings into words can reduce the intensity of negative emotions and make them more manageable.

For example, in a study of people with a spider phobia, researchers found that when participants described the anxiety they were feeling in the presence of a giant tarantula, they were better able to manage their anxiety when they were exposed to the tarantula one week later. In fact, the participants who described their anxiety in greater detail actually experienced the least amount of anxiety, including dulled physical responses like less sweaty palms.

Putting feelings into words is thoughti to decrease activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that drives our responses to fear and stress, and increase activity in the prefrontal control regions, parts of the brain associated with regulating and making sense of emotions.

How emotions connect us with others 

According to emotion scientist Marc Brackett, the Founder and Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, labeling our emotions also helps us describe what we’re going through, which helps us get help from others. We can’t empathize without being in touch with how we’re feeling ourselves, so this language of emotions helps us provide support that matches what someone is feeling, foster connections, commiserate and solve problems together.

By better understanding our emotions, becoming more aware of their effects and labelling them more accurately, we’re better able to make sense of how we’re feeling and act in ways that contribute to greater emotional wellbeing. That’s the power of getting real about how you feel.

If your emotions are overwhelming, persistent and/or are interfering with your daily functioning, it’s important to seek mental health support.

Sources:   

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/emotion/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201701/emotions-in-the-social-world

https://www.scn.ucla.edu/pdf/Torre(2018)ER.pdf

https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/that-giant-tarantula-is-terrifying-but-ill-touch-it-expressing-your-emotions-can-reduce-fear.html

https://www.marcbrackett.com/a-word-is-a-world/

Affect Labelling Lieberman, M. D., Eisenberger, N. I., Crockett, M. J., Tom, S. M., Pfeifer,J. H., & Way, B. M. (2007). Putting feelings into words: Affect labeling disrupts amygdala activity in response to affective stimuli. Psychological  Science18(5), 421–428. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01916.x

 


Originally posted on www.cmha.ca

One of the most traumatic and difficult events we can experience is the death of someone we know.

News of a death can cause intense emotions. Even if the loss is not a surprise (due to illness), it can feel shocking. Grieving is the period of coming to terms with the realization that the deceased is no longer with us. For some people, it can bring about strong and sometimes delayed reactions.

What reactions can be expected during the grieving process?

  • Grieving is a normal process, but people grieve for different amounts of time, in different ways. These things depend on your relationship with the deceased and your history of personal loss.
  • Part of the grieving process is coming to terms with the fact that the deceased will not come back. Over time, the person’s loved ones learn to live with the memories that remain.
  • For many, grief is experienced through different stages. These can include denial, sadness, anger, disorganization, acceptance, and reorganization. Some of these stages may affect your normal day-to-day functioning.
  • The stages of grief don’t happen in any set order. Instead, they often happen in cycles. You may move in and out of different stages at different times. In the very early stages, after hearing the news, you may go from feeling numb to feeling intense waves of grief. Over time, these waves may return when certain events rekindle the feelings of loss. This could be the person’s birthday, the first office party without the person, etc.
  • Your reactions may include feelings of sadness or anger. You could be questioning the meaning of life in general, or of your own life. You may need more solitude or more social support than usual. You could also experience concentration problems, irritability, or fatigue.
  • You may find it harder to work while grieving. Many people experience problems such as difficulty focusing and making decisions.
  • Everyone works through the grieving process in their own unique way and at their own pace. Although it’s different for everyone, over time, you will start to come to terms with what has happened. You will begin to regain a sense of stability, though you may still feel different than you did before.

How can you best manage your grief?

  • First, do not try to neglect or minimize your emotions. It is normal to need time to accept loss. The time required for dealing with loss is unique to every person.
  • Give yourself permission to share your feelings with those people you feel comfortable with. This could be your family, friends, or others.
  • Stay as active as you can. Structured activities and some form of exercise are proven to be very helpful for coping through grief. Even 10–20 minutes of walking a day can help. Walking with someone you are comfortable with can be good for both of you.
  • Resume your favourite activities, particularly those that energize you. Consider trying new activities that may support your well-being. It’s easier to choose positive behaviours than it is to change our thoughts or emotions.
  • As much as you can, reflect on how this event has impacted you. Share these thoughts with the people closest to you.
  • Give yourself permission to move forward and gradually regain your normal sense of self.

It’s natural to be affected by the news of a death. But eventually, we all need to get back to our regular lives. The path to “normal” may take days, weeks, or months. If you are finding it difficult to carry out your responsibilities, consider addressing this with your manager. You could also talk to a trusted coworker. If you hold a job where other people’s safety might be impacted by your grieving process, discuss this immediately with your manager.

 


Originally posted on www.wellnesstogether.ca

The largest study of treatment-resistant depression in older adults has found that augmenting commonly used antidepressants with the antipsychotic drug aripiprazole can induce remission of depressive symptoms in 30 per cent of patients.

The results of the Optimizing Outcomes of Treatment-Resistant Depression in Older Adults (OPTIMUM) clinical trial have just been published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CAMH and the University of Toronto collaborated with leading institution the Washington University School of Medicine and several other research centres on the study, which included 742 participants over the age of 60 with treatment-resistant depression, meaning that at least two courses of treatment had been unsuccessful in improving symptoms. Up to one in three people diagnosed with depression are considered treatment resistant.

“There are a lot of myths about depression in older people.  It is a myth that older people have higher rates of depression and it is a myth that depression in older people is more resistant to treatment,” said study co-author Dr. Benoit Mulsant, Clinician Scientist at CAMH. “This study shows that there are effective treatments for older people and they can recover and live happier, healthier lives.”

The study compared the efficacy of different medications: One group had aripiprazole (brand name Abilify) added to their existing anti-depressant. Another group had the drug bupropion (brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban) added instead. A third group had lithium added while a fourth and fifth group tapered off the anti-depressant they were using and switched to bupropion or nortriptyline.

Participants in each group reported improvement in their mental health over the 10-week course of treatment, but those who were given aripiprazole improved the most, with 30 per cent of participants showing remission in symptoms, compared to 20 per cent who improved when switched to bupropion.

Typically, when patients do not respond positively to a first course of treatment for mental illness, physicians will try one treatment after another until they find something that works and does not have debilitating side-effects. For example, problems with balance can be a risk factor for some anti-depressants that increase the risk of falls and injury and have a devastating impact on older patients.  The OPTIMUM study found that while patients who received aripiprazole or bupropion both showed similar improvements in mental health, those taking bupropion were at greater risk for serious injury due to falls.

“By establishing the likelihood that different treatment options will be effective, and the risks attached to each treatment, we can ensure that we are choosing the best option to help patients with treatment-resistant depression,” said co-author Dr. Daniel Blumberger, Clinician Scientist at CAMH and Director of the Temerty Centre for Therapeutic Brain Intervention. “We may not know for certain which treatments will work, but we know which ones are most likely to. In this way, we can quantify that we are making the best choices for our patients.”

Dr. Mulsant says that research into mental illness treatments for older adults has been lacking compared to other age groups. He and Dr. Blumberger are two of a small number of senior scientists in the world specializing in treatment-resistant depression in late life.

“Over the past 15 years CAMH has become a leader in North America in research into geriatric depression,” said Dr. Mulsant. “That is why colleagues from places like Columbia University and UCLA want to work with us.”

About The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

CAMH is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit camh.ca or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

 


Originally posted on www.camh.ca

What is stress?

Stress is something we all experience. When we talk about being stressed, we are referring to a mental state of worry and anxiety. This is usually a result of being exposed to a stressor (a perceived threat, harm or event).

Stress serves a purpose and isn’t always bad. It can protect us from harm, such as when we need to drive safely in bad weather. It can also motivate us (such as when we need to study for an exam). But stress that is intense and lasts too long can be harmful to our physical and mental health.

Stressors vary in intensity (how severe they are) and duration (how long they last). Daily hassles like heavy traffic are short-term stressors. Meanwhile, life events like losing a job or the death of a loved one are longer-term stressors. Living in poverty or poor housing is also a type of long-term stressor.

The physical effects of stress

Studies have found that intense and sudden stress causes changes in heart rate and breathing, muscle tension and sweating. Long-term stress can lead to high blood pressure, clogged arteries and obesity.

When we experience a stressful event, the brain sends a distress signal to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This area of the brain then communicates with the rest of the body through the nervous system, giving us the energy and drive to respond. This is called the fight-or-flight response.

This response is helpful at times, such as when you need to leave a building during a fire alarm. But if the stress response keeps happening even when there is no threat, it can be hard on the body and mind.

How do you know if stress is having a negative impact on your well-being?

Signs of stress include:
  • irritability
  • moodiness
  • fatigue
  • sleep problems
  • constant worry
  • trouble concentrating

High levels of stress can also cause physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach upset, muscle aches and chest pain. If you’re experiencing these signs, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to rule out any other medical concerns.

Many of the strategies introduced in Well Central’s courses can help you manage stress. You may also want to consider seeking help through counselling. This can help you address the underlying reasons for the stress.

It is helpful to build stress-relieving activities into your everyday life. Use a variety of strategies, including exercise, to manage stress on a regular basis.


Helpful strategies for managing stress

A wide range of activities can help reduce stress and boost well-being. Consider the list below and make note of the ideas that fit for you. Do a few of these activities every day.

Talk it out

Talking about how we feel often provides a sense of relief. Carrying our troubles within ourselves tends to make them more of a burden. If the matter is deeply personal, consider sharing your situation with a trusted friend or with a counselor.

Get active — work it out

Exercise helps to reduce stress and strong emotions. The most effective approach is to make physical activity a part of your daily routine.

Journalling

Writing things down in a diary or journal is a good way to express emotions, especially when they’re difficult to talk about. You don’t need to be an experienced writer. You could write down thoughts, key words, or even doodle to express yourself.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness brings awareness to the present moment. This helps you recognize and acknowledge the emotions you are experiencing. You don’t need to judge them or do anything about them at that moment — just notice them. Being mindful also helps to avoid worrying about the future or focusing on a past you can’t change.

Problem-solve

Try to address the root cause of your stress. Take a problem-solving approach to focus on a specific problem that is troubling you. Consider your options, choose one and follow through with a plan to deal with it.

Be creative

Use creative outlets to soothe stress and strong emotions. This includes things like listening to music, making art, or other hobbies that use your hands and require your focus.

Get distracted

Sometimes we just need a break from our worries and stress. Play games, do puzzles or watch a comedy. These are great ways to lift the spirits and provide some stress relief.

Human touch

If you have people in your life you are close to, hugs and affection can reduce stress and boost the immune system. When no one is available, it can be soothing to rub some lotion on your hands, or massage your face or neck.

Reach out

When you are dealing with lots of stress, don’t carry it alone. Reach out to friends, coworkers, family or health professionals to get support.

 

Originally posted on www.wellnesstogether.ca

Around three million Canadians have an anxiety disorder. One in four will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lifetime.[1]

Anxiety disorders are one of the most common types of mental health disorders in Canada. They have a major impact on the lives of those affected. It’s important that we understand what anxiety disorders are, and what they look like. Then we can learn techniques to support ourselves and others through anxiety.

Anxiety and anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a normal, temporary reaction to stress. On the other hand, anxiety disorders involve intense and prolonged reactions. They can have debilitating symptoms. Some examples are shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and irritability. These symptoms don’t match up with the reality of the situation or the risks it poses.

Key differences:

  1. Stressor. A stressor is something that causes an anxiety reaction. For example, writing an exam could be a stressor. So can preparing for an interview, or having an argument with a friend. Those with an anxiety disorder may not be able to manage these situations. They might experience continued uneasiness and tension. This impacts their ability to move beyond the event. In turn, it disrupts and influences future behaviour.
  2. Intensity and length. Anxiety disorders often produce intense and lengthy emotional responses. These responses are often very intense relative to the stressor. Anxiety is fleeting, whereas anxiety disorders are ongoing and hard to overcome. Anxiety disorders can also impact your physical health. Physical symptoms may include headaches, dizziness, and in some instances, high blood pressure.
  3. Impairment. Anxiety disorders may impact your day-to-day functioning. Avoidance is a common tactic used to prevent anxiety episodes. People might want to avoid environments where stressors may occur. This can cause isolation, as people withdraw from daily life.

Causes of anxiety disorders

Researchers are learning that anxiety disorders are like allergies: They can run in families, and have a biological basis. Anxiety disorders may develop from a complex set of risk factors. These include genetics, personality, and life experience.

Here are some theories on how anxiety disorders can develop:

  1. Medical. In some cases, medical issues may be a contributing factor (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, trauma). Most anxiety disorders develop in childhood and adolescence. Yet, a medical cause is more likely to be a contributing factor later in life. This is because people are more likely to develop health problems as they age.
  2. Genetics. While science has yet to identify an exact gene, it’s believed that genetics play a role. Genetics may increase the risk of developing an anxiety disorder. Scientists believe that chromosomal irregularities connect genetics and anxiety disorders. (Chromosomal irregularities are missing, extra, or irregular portions of the chromosomal DNA.) Dr. Amy Przeworski is a researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She says that “individuals inherit a predisposition to being an anxious person.” She also said that “about 30 to 40 percent of the variability is related to genetic factors.”[2]
  3. Psychological. There are several psychological theories on the causes of anxiety disorders. However, each theory only explains one part of the diagnosis. Anxiety disorders can be caused by interpersonal conflict or dysfunctional thought patterns. An example of a dysfunctional thought pattern is overestimating a situation’s danger level. They can also be conditioned responses learned over time. These are only some of the psychological causes. We should also consider the overlap with other mental health conditions like depression. These can make someone more likely to develop an anxiety disorder.[3]

There are many factors that could cause someone to develop an anxiety disorder. With more research, we may be able to come up with exercises or measures to prevent them. These measures could limit the prevalence of anxiety disorders.

Types of anxiety disorders 

There are six major categories of anxiety disorders. Each one has different symptom profiles.

  1. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). One out of every 20 people suffers from GAD in Canada.[4] People with GAD may experience chronic, excessive, and uncontrollable worry. Some other symptoms of GAD are tension, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating or falling asleep.
  2. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Compulsions are repetitive, sometimes stereotypical behaviours. (In this case, “stereotypical” means the behaviour does not serve a specific function.) Some examples are handwashing, skin-picking, or rocking movements. They can also be mental acts that the person does to prevent or reduce their anxiety. Even if they try to resist it, people may feel an urge to perform the action.[5]
  3. Panic Disorder. Panic disorders are often marked by repeated fears. These fears can last for several minutes or longer. They often occur unexpectedly in the absence of a threat. In these situations, they tend to peak rapidly and cause symptoms of panic. This is often accompanied by a sense of imminent danger. [6]
  4. Phobic Disorder. One out of every 10 people in Canada has a phobia.[7] The fear is often considered excessive and disproportionate. This is because it often does not match the situation’s actual danger level. When someone with a phobia is exposed to the thing they fear, it triggers an anxiety response. These responses can sometimes grow into full-blown panic attacks.
  5. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). One out of every 10 individuals in Canada will experience PTSD in their lifetime.[8] PTSD develops after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. This can cause intense fear, helplessness, or horror. This could include responses to powerful one-time incidents or chronic/repetitive experiences.
  6. Social Anxiety Disorder. About eight percent of Canadians will experience social anxiety disorder in their lifetime.[9] People with social anxiety disorder get nervous and uncomfortable in social settings. This is regardless of whether the situation is formal or informal. This can often lead individuals to become isolated. This leads them to minimize their contact and engagement with others.

How to manage symptoms of an anxiety disorder

It is possible to manage the symptoms of anxiety disorders. Use the techniques below when you feel anxious.

  1. Connect with others. Loneliness and isolation set the stage for anxiety. By connecting with people who are supportive, caring, and sympathetic, you can feel less vulnerable. Vulnerability can contribute to anxiety manifesting. Make it a point to regularly be part of a community. The community can be composed of friends or family, self-help groups, or support groups. You could even share your experience with a trusted loved one or a counsellor.
  2. Practise relaxation techniques. Practising relaxation every day can help manage anxiety symptoms. It can also increase relaxation. This benefits your emotional well-being over time. There are many things you can do to relieve feelings of anxiousness. They include meditation and deep breathing exercises. Another technique is progressive muscle relaxation. This involves controlling your body’s muscular tension.
  3. Exercise regularly. Exercise is a natural stress and anxiety reliever. When exercising, your body produces endorphins. These are chemicals that combat fatigue and stress. Rhythmic activities are especially effective. These activities require moving both your arms and legs. This includes activities like walking, swimming, or dancing.
  4. Get enough sleep. Sleep is one of the most important ways to manage anxiety. Those who struggle with anxiety often have trouble getting to sleep. If you struggle with sleep, try meditating before bed to help clear your mind. It is also important to create the right environment for sleeping. For example, it’s best not to eat an hour before bed. In addition, keeping a consistent sleep schedule increases your quality of sleep.
  5. Be smart about caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol.
    1. If you struggle with anxiety, you may want to try drinking less caffeine, or cutting it out completely. Caffeine increases cortisol levels, which can lead to anxiousness.[10]
    2. Many people think nicotine is a relaxant, but it is actually a powerful stimulant. It produces epinephrine (adrenaline) when inhaled. This causes a spike in glucose levels that changes your bodily functions. It increases your blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. All these changes increase the likelihood of anxiety.[11]
    3. Since alcohol serves as both a stimulant and a depressant, it is a key factor if you struggle with anxiety. When you drink alcohol, your blood alcohol content (BAC) rises. This causes your mood and emotions to change. However, as your BAC decreases, anxiety can develop. This also comes with depression and fatigue.[12]
  6. Train your brain to stay calm. Worrying is a mental habit you can learn to manage. Set aside dedicated time in your day to focus on difficult events or tasks. Write them down to assess the scenario. Reflect on how to approach or manage the situation. You can build resilience by challenging anxious thoughts and learning to accept uncertainty. This can reduce anxiety and fear.

Regardless of diagnosis, we can all benefit from a better understanding of anxiety and reduction techniques. If you feel you or a loved one may have symptoms of an anxiety disorder, speak to a healthcare professional. They can help you get proper diagnosis and treatment.

References:
  1. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2015). Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Canada. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.canada.ca/content/ dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/publications/ diseases-conditions-maladies-affections/mental-mood-anxietyanxieuxhumeur/alt/ mental-mood-anxiety-anxieux-humeur-eng.pdf
  2. Waszczuk, M., Zavos, H., & Eley, T. (2013, June). Genetic and environmental influences on relationship between anxiety sensitivity and anxiety subscales in children. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878378/
  3. Tracy, N. (2016, June). What Causes Anxiety Disorders to Develop? – Anxiety Disorders – Anxiety Panic. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.healthyplace. com/anxiety-panic/anxietydisorders/what-causes-anxiety-disorders-to-develop/
  4. Canadian Psychological Association. (2014, December). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/ PsychologyWorksFactSheet_GeneralizedAnxietyDisorder.pdf
  5. Canadian Psychological Association. (2009, January). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Publications/FactSheets/ PsychologyWorksFactSheet_ObsessiveCompulsiveDisorder.pdf
  6. Canadian Psychological Association. (2009, May). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Panic Disorder. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.cpa.ca/docs/ File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_PanicDisorder.pdf
  7. Canadian Psychological Association. (2015, January). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Phobias. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.cpa.ca/docs/ File/Publications/FactSheets/PsychologyWorksFactSheet_Phobias.pdf
  8. News, CBC. (2008, September 18). Almost 1 in 10 Canadians has posttraumatic stress at some point: study. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/almost-1-in-10- canadianshas-post-traumatic-stress-at-some-point-study-1.773448
  9. CMHA. (n.d.). Mental Health. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https:// www.cmha.bc.ca/documents/social-anxiety-disorder-2/
  10. Veleber, D. M., Templer, D. I., & California School of Professional Psychology – Fresno. (1984, September). Effects of Caffeine on Anxiety and Depression. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar. org/f29a/18c89b6f6d464e9398c898699451d555af5d.pdf
  11. Psychology Today. (2017, April 17). Nicotine. Retrieved May 17, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/nicotine
  12. Wolitzky-Taylor, K., Brown, L. A., Roy-Byrne, P., Sherbourne, C., Stein, M. B., Sullivan, G., Craske, M.G. (2015). The impact of alcohol use severity on anxiety treatment outcomes in a large effectiveness trial in primary care. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 30, 88–93. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2014.12.011

 

Originally posted on www.wellnesstogether.ca

As a parent, it’s common to experience stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed at times.  But these challenges can get amplified for parents also managing a mental illness. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder before the birth of my children. I walked into parenthood knowing it would be just a little different than the experiences of some of my peers.

Understanding mental illness and its impact on parenting

Mental illness can affect all areas of life, including parenting. For some parents, depression or anxiety can make it challenging to find the energy and motivation to engage with their children.  Social anxiety may affect a parent’s ability to attend school events or engage in playdates, which may impact their child’s social development. However, mental illness can be managed. There are things a parent can do to support themself to reduce the impact on their children.

The stigma of mental illness

Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding mental illness can cause parents to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or guilty about their condition. It can lead to feelings of isolation or a reluctance to seek professional help.

As a parent with a mental illness, it’s important to recognize that you are not alone. One in five people will experience a mental health problem during their lives, and parents are not immune. It’s helpful to seek a support network of fellow parents or mental health professionals who can offer guidance and understanding.

Coping strategies for parents with mental illness

One of the most important things parents can do is to develop coping strategies that work for them. This may include seeking therapy, practicing mindfulness, or finding healthy ways to manage stress.

It’s also important for parents to be honest with themselves about their limitations and to communicate those limitations with their children and partner. For example, a parent with bipolar disorder may need to temporarily take a step back from parenting responsibilities during intense mood swings. My partner has had to step up many times while I took care of myself.

Balancing self-care and parenting responsibilities

It’s easy for parents to neglect their self-care in favor of their children’s needs. It becomes even harder when you’re managing your mental health on top of it all. However, it’s important to remember that caring for yourself is essential to being a good parent.

This may mean setting aside time for exercise, meditation, or other self-care activities. Self-care looks different for everyone. It may also mean enlisting the help of friends, family members, or professional caregivers to provide support when you need it.

Talking to children about mental illness

As children grow older, they may become curious about their parent’s mental health. It’s important for parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about mental illness and to provide age-appropriate explanations of their condition. My own children were naturally curious about the medications I take every day. When they were younger, I explained that I had a “buzzing brain” that needed medicine, and as they’ve aged, we’ve had more in-depth conversations about my bipolar disorder and ADHD.

Talking to children about mental health can help children develop empathy and understanding for their parent’s struggles. It can also help them learn to communicate effectively about mental health in their own lives. Some illnesses have a genetic component, so it’s helpful for children to recognize the symptoms in themselves so they can reach out for support if the time comes.

The importance of seeking professional help and support

One of the most important things parents with a mental health condition can do is seek professional help and support. This may include therapy, medication, or support groups for parents with mental illness and their partners.

It’s important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. When I first began my parenting journey, I felt horrible about needing support and medication, but my partner helped to put things into perspective for me. I wouldn’t think twice about taking medication for a physical ailment, so why did I see this differently? By taking steps to care for your mental health, you’re setting a positive example for your children and helping to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Embracing your journey

Parenting with a mental health condition can be a challenging journey but also an opportunity for growth and resilience. Parents with mental illness can provide a loving and stable home for their children by developing coping strategies, seeking support, and prioritizing self-care. Being a parent with a mental illness does not automatically mean your children will have an unhappy or unstable home life.

Remember, you are not alone. There are millions of parents around the world who are navigating this journey alongside you. By sharing your experiences and seeking support, you can overcome parenting challenges with a mental health condition and embrace the joys of parenthood.

 


Originally posted on www.mentalhealthcommission.ca