Haven Making: Emotional Health Part I

Haven Making: Emotional Health Part I

For the past few posts in this series, I’ve been focusing on health as part of making a home a haven. Today and in the next few posts, I will focus on emotional health because it is absolutely foundational to having a peaceful, happy home.

If I am suffering with chronic irritability, melancholy or depression, anxiety, apathy, or exhaustion, it is really hard to be the mom that I want to be and to create a haven for my family. Overcoming these angst-filled emotions and being patient, creative and affectionate becomes an every.single.day.battle, especially when the days are long.

Anxiety and mild to moderate depression is part of my life story. I’ve been a worrier since I was very young, even though I grew up in a very loving and stable home. I worried about something happening to my parents, I worried about getting a terrible disease. If there was nothing to worry about (which was usually the case), I’d think of something. Managing my emotions led to a long struggle with binge-eating that started in my teens.

Because I’ve struggled so much over the years with anxiety and mild depression, I’ve had to learn ways to manage these symptoms. I’m ever in the process of un-learning the unhealthy patterns I’ve used to manage anxiety and depression in the past (bingeing on carbs and sugars).

Anxiety for me leads to low productivity. When I’m feeling anxious, I tend to think, probe and analyze, as if fixing the problem depends on it. (Picture Winnie the Pooh sitting on a stone wall, scrunching his eyes together, tapping his head saying, “Think, think, think.”) Instead of taking action or working down my to-do list, I sit and ponder, or I talk to others about the problem, or I google or order books to read about the problem. When I’m anxious, I have a hard time focusing on the non-urgent and I feel distracted. Not only do I need to manage my anxiety to be emotionally available to my children, I need it to maintain the productivity level required to stay on top of all the needs of a busy young household.

I’ve found there are two important pieces to managing anxiety: the first is to focus on physical health, the other is to work on the emotional/ spiritual side of health. I’ve tried wholly focusing on one or the other and found that to be emotionally healthy, both are essential, and one is not successful without the other.

Here are some of the things I’ve found I must do for my physical health in order to help manage anxiety levels:

  • Eat a diet high in protein and vegetables, and low in sugars. I’ve found that a Whole 30 / Paleo diet provides a great balance for me. (Paleo is grain-free, sugar-free and dairy-free, and focuses on naturally raised meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds and fruit). A Paleo plan is extremely helpful in balancing blood sugar levels, and balancing hormones – both essential for stable, healthy moods.It also is free of foods that frequently cause inflammation. The typical American diet has many foods that not only cause inflammation to muscles and joints, but also to the brain. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, soy, corn, additives, food colors and dyes and gluten are common agents that can contribute to mental and emotional issues.These foods are also highly addictive. They make you feel better temporarily, but then there is a crash, which makes you want to go back to the well to feel better once again. Being on a Paleo diet helps break and stay away from these addictive cycles.
  • Ensure I have adequate nutrition: I have a wonderful doctor who does blood tests for missing nutrients and coaches me on what supplements to take. For example, a recent test showed I am low in Vitamin D. As the saying goes, we aren’t what we eat, we are what we absorb. Even a highly nutritious diet won’t provide all the needed nutrients if there is low absorption. Low B vitamins and Vitamin D can contribute to mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • SLEEP. The best diet in the world, best supplements, the best counselors, books, etc. cannot replace adequate sleep. If I consistently get poor sleep, I struggle more with anxiety and general negativity. Getting proper sleep is mission critical for me to avoid emotional eating.
  • Exercise – There is a ton of research out there on the emotional benefits of exercise. It raises endorphins and is a natural happiness booster.
  • Sunlight – inadequate sunlight contributes to low Vitamin D levels and to depression. I personally can tell a difference in my moods when I haven’t been in the sun much.
  • Limited Caffeine – I absolutely love coffee (Putting my nose down in a freshly ground bag of coffee is my aromatherapy!), but I have to be careful not to drink too much caffeine. Without fail, too much caffeine earlier in my day contributes to anxiety and irritability as the day progresses.
  • Rescue Remedy and Chamomile Tea: Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a very helpful natural remedy for stress and mild anxiety. I also like some of the calming herbal teas, such as chamomile, although I typically save these for close to bedtime because they are a little tooo relaxing.

These things all help me to stay balanced and to have the emotional and mental energy I need for my days and to accomplish my goals. Whenever I get a little off-balance in any area, my body reminds me I need to make an adjustment. Recently I’ve shorted myself on sleep (so tempting to do to get quiet time when you have little ones!), but have been quickly reminded this is not an area I can cut corners.

In this way, my struggle with anxiety is a blessing because it pushes me to take care of my health.

One caveat: At times, medication (such as an SSRI) is needed to help manage emotions. I don’t want to negate this fact with the above, only to say that all these factors (sleep, nutritious diet, etc) are critical contributors to mental and emotional health.

If you are like me and have struggled with mood disorders, what have you found that has helped you? Please share in the comments!

Coming up, I will post about the emotional / spiritual side of managing emotions.

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