The College Mental Health Strain

College is a time of huge transformation- many freshmen have never lived away from home. If your child is going to a college/university far away from home, it can be an intense change. This is to be expected. Everyone looks forward to this move but not many anticipate the feelings that may appear when it happens.

I am years away from sending a kid to college, but Cameron starts high school in August. I AM NOT READY.

The Big Move

College does have its good points- so much freedom! You can pick the time of your classes (kinda), when you come in at night (let’s get real if you come in) and many other choices. I loved not having classes before 11 am.

This was fantastic until I transferred universities and the only classes left towards my major (Clinical Psychology) were all at 8 AM at the new university.

UGH. Throw in two toddlers and things get outrageously fun.

The Factors Add Up

However, things can get stressful. There’s a lot of pressure. Grades are a thing. Scholarships depend on grades, as does most of the financial aid. Many college students work. Working plus studying can create stress. If you have other factors adding to it- kids, issues with parents, etc, things can seem almost unbearable.

Another factor is coming into college with a mental health condition, either diagnosed or not. The extra stress can exacerbate these illnesses and contribute to “breaks”, in which someone loses touch with reality and almost always needs hospitalization. Many of those with severe mental illness (SMI) have the first break around college age. A break can also mean a severe depressive episode.

This is just a short list of mental health conditions that are seen in many college-age students:

  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depression
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-injury
  • ADHD
  • Addiction/other Substance Abuse Disorders

This information can be found at: Affordable Colleges Online

Colleges and Universities Have Options for Care

Your child has an option right on campus- may have an office for mental health care. It’s usually free or very low cost. Some take insurance, some don’t, depending on the school.

They are run by graduate-level psychology students and faculty. The major downside is that they can only offer so much help due to their limited training, hours and other factors. These offices can, however, refer patients out to local therapists or other locations like the ER in case of emergency.

Another option is a more difficult one- reducing hours or even taking a semester off. This can mean a loss of financial aid in many cases. Nobody wants that. Many don’t want to take time off, even a semester, especially not for mental health issues. It makes the condition come out in the spotlight.

Some colleges and universities are seeing the issue and doing more to help- therapy dogs during finals week, encouraging students to seek help earlier instead of waiting. They are also encouraging students to look out for their friends. This can be a huge help. Some are including self-care topics in their freshmen seminars.

From (Not So) Far Away

What can you do?

  • Talk to your child. Ask how things are really going. Let them know it’s okay to struggle a bit. It doesn’t have to be easy all the time.
  • Encourage your child to look out for their friends- not like they already don’t. This is a different kind of looking out.
  • Remind them they can come to you if they don’t feel okay. You’re here to help them.

College can be a great experience. It’s full of change, fun and sometimes really dumb things. Growth is scary. That’s why our baby birds need to know they can always come back to us.

Pictures courtesy of Pixels

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For further reading: Learning and Performing Under Pressure

Have you had a child go off to college? How was it?

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5 Steps To Create a Life Audit

Life can get a bit overwhelming. Work, relationships, hobbies, friends, family, kids, and more. There comes a point in which you may need to stop and take a look at what is working and what isn’t. This can happen after a major illness, life change, or just being tired of how your life is going.

You also have to figure out what you want more and less of. This might sound super easy to think out, but once it hits paper, your thoughts make a lot more sense.

Writing pic

What Is a Life Audit? How Can It Help Me?

Looking at your life on paper can help you realize where you are, where you want to be and how to get there. You may be able to understand what needs to change to move forward. An audit looks at the four main sections of your life:

Physical, Social, Mental and Professional Health

A physical health audit can help you take a deep look at your health, what needs to be changed, and how you can do so. You can also set goals and reminders to get you to your best health. For example, I could make a list of appointments I need to make so that my thyroid and RA meds are where they need to be so that I stay healthy (as possible).

This includes blood work at my PCP and rheumatologist’s office. This also includes a checkup with my new rheumatologist (same practice- my former one moved). This can also be a time in which you can decide to try a new sport or class that is fitness based or get back into the gym.

Social health is important, and this part of an audit can help you look at your interactions with others. How do you give back to the community? Do you get out with friends often, even if you are an introvert? Do you network with others? Socializing can get tiring but can enrich your life in many ways.

A major part of your life audit is looking at your mental health. If you are not healthy in this area, the others will suffer in some capacity. This isn’t about having a full mental health evaluation completed, but more about where you are at the moment. Are you taking time to check in with yourself? Are your relationships with others healthy?

In the post 5 Ways to Set Healthy Boundaries there are tips to help with setting boundaries. In this section, list the issues that you want/need to work on and how to do so.

Professional health entails looking at your employment, the perks and not-so-good points. How secure do you feel in your career? Is there something else you would rather be doing or are you pleased with where you are?

Look at your income- is it time for a raise? How is your work/life balance? Does it need to be better? How can it improve? These are just some ideas that you can ponder.

Thinking woman

What’s Next?

This is the fun part- deciding what needs to go and what can stay. Ask yourself these questions:

What is making me happy? 

What is stressing me out that I can get rid of without major impacts? 

Would I sign up for this now if I wasn’t doing this? (This is meant for volunteer or other non-mandatory things in your life.) 

What would I lose by not doing this anymore? What am I gaining by doing this? 

Do I enjoy this? 

After going through the elimination process, the list of your life’s tasks should be a lot more manageable. If not, go through the four sections again.

Going through what is important in your life may show you that there may be things that you don’t need, want or enjoy. Why live the one life you have that way?

Have you done a life audit? Did it help? Leave a comment! 

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of Elanalyn

Mystigal

 

 

 

Confessions of a Former Perfectionist Mom

When I thought about becoming a mom, I imagined things being a bit messy but still fun. I imagined kids being noisy, toys everywhere and maybe a couple of pets adding to the mix.

This is what I got- but I didn’t count on anxiety, depression and other things happening. I became a perfectionist mom and I didn’t even realize it. I wasn’t happy, I didn’t even like myself at one point.

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Becoming Someone Else

Things started getting out of control shortly after Lily began First Steps therapies for her developmental delays right after her first birthday in 2009. She had occupational, speech and physical delays- she needed speech therapy until she aged out of First Steps at three years old in 2011.

I was deeply anxious about getting things right with her after feeling like I had messed up. I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time with her. I blamed myself for having her at 37 weeks. (This was not a reason for her delays)

I wanted to get things right. I wanted to be a better mom. I paid close attention to what her therapists did and said. I made sure the boys were occupied during the sessions to avoid interruptions, the house was clean and that dinner was ready to be made as soon as they were over.

I had the sessions scheduled for the same time every week. In fact, after speech therapy ended, we felt weird on Wednesdays at 4 PM because Denise wasn’t coming over anymore. It was like something was missing.

This somehow spread to more than just trying to set up a routine and keep things smooth. I felt the tension between Matthew and I build in this time and he was in denial. To avoid more of his anger and lower my anxiety, I started cleaning more, to the point that I had a sheet on my refrigerator detailing what had to be cleaned each day. I wouldn’t go to bed for the night until it was done.

It was the only thing I could control. If something wasn’t done before Matthew got home, I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t sit down and eat dinner. I’m glad the kids barely remember this time because all they would remember would be me running around the house cleaning up behind them as they made a mess.

As Lily’s delays were resolved, Julian’s behavioral issues became obvious. In fact, the two issues overlapped for a time. I barely functioned because I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. The fights got worse, no matter how clean the house was.

I kept the house spotless but it wasn’t enough. I worked full time, cooked, cleaned and took care of the kids. It was never enough. Running around after three kids wore me down. I just wanted out.

A Turning Point

I had a mini-stroke in 2013. This was brought on by a migraine that went terribly wrong- you can read about that in Invisible Changes According to my (then) new neurologist, I needed to make some serious changes in my life and fast. I was only 30 and way too stressed out. Being a perfectionist was not working for me.

Confession #1: I probably should have gone to therapy at this point but… I got there in 2015. I wasn’t into self-care nearly as much as I should have been. I was just trying to keep going. I did, however, toss that damn cleaning sheet and have never made another one. I’m lucky if the kitchen floor gets wet mopped once a week. I’m still pretty intense about cleaning my countertops and hate vacuuming but the house doesn’t look bad.

Dr. Plato also recommended doing what makes me happy. I realized that keeping my house spotless was not making me or the kids happy because I was constantly yelling at them (yes, yelling, something I am still working on) to keep things clean all. the. time.

This is also not a thing anymore, and their rooms are slightly less than clean. I have a teenager and two preteens so I will let you imagine what these bedrooms look like. Confession #2: I make the kids clean their rooms once a week. Lily’s room looks like a kid’s version of the show “Hoarders” whether it’s clean or not, so this just helps keep it down a bit.

I clean daily, and I run a daily tab in my head of what I did get done in my head. This gives me a small sense of satisfaction so that I don’t feel useless. I also developed a routine of not cleaning anything after 8 PM. If something isn’t done by then, it’s just not getting done.

The first tip was something that my former therapist helped me with, because I hate the idea of feeling useless, and this helps a lot now that I am staying at home. The second one was a rule that I started to help me sleep better (and more) at night because one of my biggest migraine triggers is not sleeping well. Confession #3: These things help me from slipping back into being a perfectionist and counts as self-care, so yay for me.

Avoiding the Hole of Perfection

  • Set limits for yourself. If that means you have to set a time to stop a task, do so. It is worth it.
  • Remember that you are worth more than what you get done each day. I forgot this- big time. I thought my worth was only found in what I was able to get done each day and how well I could do it.
  • You are not a failure if you don’t do something perfectly. I would get so upset over not getting the living room spotless or one of the kids’ rooms was dirty hours after I got it cleaned. Life happens. Everything isn’t your fault.
  • Self-care is important. It is okay to take 15 minutes a day to focus on yourself. The dishes can wait while you read, do a face mask, or nothing at all. You’re worth it.
  • Some things can wait. It is also okay to not do those dishes at all in the afternoon- let them wait until after dinner. Let the kids help or even your partner. You don’t have to do everything yourself.

It may be a bit difficult to try being easier on yourself, but the weight off your shoulders is well worth it. Perfectionism, as a mom or not, can put a damper on your daily life.

Do you struggle with perfectionism? How do you deal with it?

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Not Just the 3 of Us

A Guide to the Holidays: Staying Emotionally Healthy

The holidays can be a difficult time for many people. Many deal with stress and/or depression, grief, or other issues like toxic family members. Some even go through the holidays alone. This can be especially hard. It’s important to know how to stay emotionally healthy during this time so that you can enjoy the holidays and possibly be able to help someone you know.

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If You Are Alone

This situation is caused by different factors- distance, family issues, financial issues, and so on. There are ways that you can make this a positive time of the year:

  • Reach out. Many people will offer to extend an invitation to someone they know may be alone for the holidays. Let them know if you are available, offer to bring something. If you have friends who wouldn’t mind an extra person, ask if you can join them for a celebration.
  • Create alternative traditions. “Friendsgiving” potlucks have become popular in the last few years among those who aren’t able to see their families. I’ve gone to a couple, and it’s a lot of fun. Everyone brings a dish, decide on a fun activity, and let the fun begin.
  • Pamper yourself. Do something you enjoy- a day at the spa, nails, a new book, shirt, etc.
  • Help others. This can take many different directions- volunteering at a homeless shelter, animal shelter, etc. This can help remind you of how fortunate you are and it’s a good experience.
  • Travel. If you can afford it, go out of town for a couple of days. If you can’t, try a “staycation” and go places in your city that you haven’t been to.
  • Self- care. Check in with yourself daily- feelings, hygiene, etc. You don’t have to be cheerful 24/7 during this season, alone or not. If you realize you are having a hard time, reach out. Please see my Resources page for more information.

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For Those That Are Grieving

Grief is a hard process any day of the year. The holidays can be harder on someone that is grieving than most people realize. If you are grieving or will be celebrating the holidays with someone that is, these tips may be helpful.

  • Take care of yourself. Grief can affect people differently. Depression can cause a person to not care for themselves as they did before the loss. Self-care is important, even the tiniest steps like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, etc.
  • Don’t rush the process. It may take years for a family to feel like holiday gatherings are “normal” again after a loss. Do not rush through your grieving process for others. Everyone grieves differently and this should be respected.
  • Plan ahead. Do you really want to host Thanksgiving this year? Can someone else do it? Think about where you are in the grieving process and how comfortable you feel hosting holiday events. It might not be for you this year, but in a year or so, it might be okay again.
  • Share stories. This might be hard, depending on the situation, but it can also be helpful. Sharing stories can be good, however, when they focus on the good times with the person, acknowledging that they are missed.

If you are going to a gathering with a family who has had a recent loss:

  • Offer help. Maybe the family needs help with shopping, cleaning, decorating, etc. This can be a huge relief to them. It’s one less worry in an already tough time.
  • Ask how everyone is doing before attending the gathering. It may be a somber or joyous gathering, but you will not know unless you ask beforehand.
  • Respect the right for everyone to grieve. This is very important.

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Holiday Cheer or Holiday Stress?

There’s a lot of pressure to spend lots of money on presents, spend time with family that we may or may not get along with, get our kids everything they want and so on. How do we remain, or even get, cheerful about the holidays? How do we deal with the stress?

  • Tune out the noise. The holiday specials, songs, and movies can be a bit too much. If it becomes too much, turn it off. I can’t stand the radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music- starting before Thanksgiving.

Can we get through Thanksgiving first? It’s a bit much for me to hear this music for over a month, so I don’t even turn it on. I am stuck with it when Matthew and I are in the car together because he loves it- there’s a thing called compromise.

  • Set limits for presents. This can be a number of presents, price, or even both. We have four birthdays within 2 weeks after Christmas, so we really try to watch how much we spend. (Those birthdays are mine, Matthew, my father in law, and Cameron.) Plus, there’s the battle of making sure each kid has the same number of presents. Kids need to know that money doesn’t come easily and that they may not be able to always get what they want.
  • Toxic people need to be shown the door. Not everyone in your life is meant to be there, and that includes family. Your time is valuable- why spend it with people who don’t value you? Be realistic about what you can handle.
  • Be grateful. The main message behind the holidays is counting our blessings and being grateful for what we have. It may be a good idea to make a list of the things you are grateful for, no matter how small they are. This can be a bit of a lift, especially on the harder days.
  • Have fun in moderation. You will feel a lot better if you don’t overeat, drink too much or overdo other activities. Everyone has their limits- don’t go past them or you may disappoint yourself.
  • Take care of yourself. This can be a very hectic time of the year, and self- care can slide to the bottom of your to-do list.

Example: If you’re a perfectionist, it’s okay to let things go a bit. You can find the perfect gift for everyone, but if you’re so stressed out finding it, you’ve lost the fun part. It becomes a drag. Try loosening up a bit- don’t spend hours online looking. If you need to, take a break after an hour and come back to it the next day. Start shopping earlier to relieve some of the stress.

  • Say no. This is okay. It’s possible to become overburdened with parties, work, and other activities. Saying no lessens that burden. It’s important to remember your needs.
  • Nourish yourself- physically and emotionally. Don’t entirely skip the good foods, because there are plenty out there. Try a smaller portion. Treat yourself. Try taking a bit of “quiet time” each day to read, write, draw, anything that helps you rest your mind a bit. You will feel much less smothered by the demands of the season.

Do you have any tips for a stress-free holiday season?

All pics are from Unsplash

Information from Psychology Today

My Random Musings