The 4 most obvious signs of anxiety in pregnancy

While the rates of mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about mental health challenges in pregnancy. Prenatal anxiety is just as common as postpartum depression.

signs of anxiety in pregnancy

Though mainstream conversation wouldn’t have you believe it, anxiety in pregnancy is just as common as postpartum depression. In discussions about the transition to motherhood, we hear the term “postpartum depression” quite commonly. Mental health struggles during pregnancy however is a neglected topic. It’s no wonder that no one seems to know about the mental health matters that so many women suffer from in the months and weeks after conceiving. While the rates of these mood disorders in pregnancy and in postpartum are exactly the same, we remain tight-lipped about the former.

And I want to change that. 

It shouldn’t be news that women experience anxiety and depression in pregnancy. Women carrying a baby have been struggling with their mental health since… always.

Just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. But because we don’t talk about it, many women feel isolated in their experiences. So. If you’re pregnant and feeling worried, down, anxious or just having a hard time managing your mood, the first piece of good news is that you’re not alone. The second piece of good news is that all of your symptoms are treatable. And I mean all of them.

Society may have you thinking that pregnancy is simply a blissful period of basking in the prenatal glow. I’m here to debunk this myth.  Truthfully, pregnancy can be a challenging time. I mean, why wouldn’t it be? Your body is going through immense change and your entire life is about to shift!

If you’re having a hard time recognizing your own anxiety, you’re in the right place.

Below are the four most obvious signs that you’re struggling and might need some extra support.  

1. You feel nervous, agitated, or uneasy.

You can probably think of a time recently when you felt nervous about something (that awkward conversation with your mother in law, the one-on-one call with your boss). Physical feelings of jitteriness, discomfort and unease are sensations you can usually feel in your body. 

You know that uncomfortable stomach-dropping, heart-pounding feeling that you have before a major pitch or presentation? 

Sometimes we struggle with those anxious sensations for seemingly no reason in our day-to-day life. If you’re feeling like that consistently throughout the day, that’s a problem and a huge sign that anxiety is playing too large a role right now. There are many simple ways to manage that! Listen to your body—it’s saying something.

2. You’re having stomach issues and difficulty breathing, or sleeping.

Anxiety often shows up in your body in more than a butterflies-in-your-tummy kind of way. Oftentimes, people even mistake physical symptoms of anxiety for something else. (In my experience in early motherhood, I didn’t recognize my anxiety and thought I had problems with my lungs!)

Constantly having pain or a queasy feeling in your stomach or having diarrhea are physical signs of anxiety. Many also express difficulty sleeping which can take a toll when nights of poor sleep quality accumulate. A common physical symptom of anxiety (and one that women especially talk about ) is shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and just feeling like you can’t get enough air. 

Have you experienced one or more of these symptoms since becoming pregnant? Your body is always giving clues when things are out of balance—paying attention to these clues is a pretty good step to get your health (physical and mental) back to where you want it.

3. Scary or disturbing thoughts.

In the time since you found out you were pregnant, you may have started to experience unsettling thoughts. Unwanted images or scary scenarios that pop into your mind out of the blue are called intrusive thoughts. They’re SO common especially during pregnancy and early motherhood.

We’ve all had that experience of driving down the road and suddenly envisioning ourselves veering into oncoming traffic or driving off a bridge. It’s a scary scenario we’ve imagined, it flashes into our mind out of nowhere and it’s quite disturbing. That’s an intrusive thought. 

The phenomenon that causes that dark traffic accident thought is the same one at play during pregnancy. In pregnancy, intrusive thoughts might involve you getting hurt and losing your baby or having a complication during labour. This is really common but we can add it to the list of perinatal mental health concerns that society ignores.

Because intrusive thoughts aren’t commonly discussed, most women don’t know that this sign of anxiety actually has a name. Nor do they realize that it happens to the majority of pregnant women—not just them. (If only we had realized how normal this is, we would have spared ourselves so much guilt and shame…)

How to know if these thoughts are dangerous: 

If you’re experiencing intrusive thoughts which revolve around harm coming to you or your baby, consider if these thoughts are in alignment with what you want. If you’d NEVER be OK with that scenario coming true, then they’re likely a sign of anxiety. If the thought is in alignment with what you want, then you do need to reach out for help (call 911).  Most of the time, intrusive thoughts are merely a sign of anxiety—which is why we find them disturbing.

There’s no shame in that.

4. Worrying about the future.

If you’re spending a lot of your time running possible scenarios through your mind or stressing about the “what ifs,” that’s a sign that you may be suffering from anxiety in pregnancy. Your inner dialogue might run a string of worries like “What if my boss doesn’t give me enough time off?”, “What if my husband is a bad dad?” or “What if something bad happens when I go into labour?”

There’s a difference between anticipating what’s ahead and getting stuck fretting about what could happen way down the road. If the hypotheticals of the future have you unable to properly live in the present, that’s a sign of anxiety. If you’re feeling stuck in this anxious thought cycle, know that you absolutely can move past this state of worry.

Even though some anxiety during pregnancy is completely normal, it’s not spoken about often enough in our society. When we don’t acknowledge these painful experiences, women feel isolated in their struggles. Feeling as though you’re the only one with these experiences creates a sense of shame. That just makes it even more difficult for women to reach out and get support.

If any of the above signs of anxiety during pregnancy describe what you’re going through, just remember that you’re not alone, and each of these symptoms is completely treatable.

You deserve support. You can feel at ease in your own mind with the proper tools, information and skills.

Scary Thoughts In Pregnancy And Postpartum

During pregnancy and new motherhood, intrusive thoughts can take a lot of forms. Most frequently, they center around the idea of harm coming to your baby or kids.

Scary Thoughts In Pregnancy And Postpartum - Kate Borsato

Let’s be frank: motherhood is hard. Adjusting during the postpartum phase is a huge challenge for most new moms. And I get that. My mission with my work is to support moms and moms-to-be with the really complicated stuff—and to actually keep it real and give you the truth, from a psychological perspective, unedited.

Because I believe in being honest with the facts, I’m talking to you about a touchy, often not discussed topic: intrusive thoughts. This is when unwanted or disturbing thoughts pop into your head. They can be unnerving and unsettling which is why I’m breaking down what these thoughts look like, why they happen, what to do about them, when to seek help and how to best preserve your mental space so that these scary thoughts become less prominent in your day-to-day life.

What are intrusive thoughts exactly?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted thoughts or images (usually about your baby or child) that pop into your mind seemingly out of nowhere. They’re often disturbing or upsetting and they don’t align with what you want for your child. They just happen. It’s like they flash into your mind out of nowhere..

Because these thoughts are so dark and unsettling, we don’t often discuss them. I mean, I get it: imagining dropping your baby while changing her diaper doesn’t exactly make for light chit-chat over coffee. As a result, you probably have NO idea how common this is. As a mental health therapist for moms, I have tons of anecdotal evidence of moms experiencing these scary thoughts. If you’re more of a concrete numbers person, consider that studies have turned up results indicating that 95 to 100% of mothers have experienced exactly this.

So what does that statistic mean then? If this kind of invasive mental imagery is this common, it means you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, you’re not losing your mind and you’re not a bad mom.

What do these thoughts often look like in postpartum?

During the postpartum season of motherhood, intrusive thoughts can take many forms. Most frequently, they center around the idea of harm coming to your baby or kids. A common theme could be that you, as the mom, is causing harm either intentionally, or by accident.

Here are the common themes that intrusive thoughts typically fall within, along with examples of each:

    • Sickness related. You’re scared your baby or toddler will be exposed to harmful bacteria or that you’ll contract the coronavirus and put them in harm’s way.
    • Centered around them getting hurt. You picture your child falling or getting in a car accident. Your imagination conjures up an incident where she harms herself with a utensil in the kitchen. You imagine dropping your baby and causing irreparable damage.
    • Thoughts around sexual abuse or molestation. You think about what would happen if you touched your baby inappropriately or what would happen if somebody else molested your child.
    • Harm that could come to you! Out of nowhere, you think about what would happen to your child if you got in a car crash or got sick with COVID and died.

What does this mean about me?

When these intrusive thoughts happen, so many women fear that it means something about them. There’s the thought, followed by internal dialogue about that thought… “What is wrong with me?”, “Am I mentally ill?”, “Could I be a danger to my kids?” 

I want to remind you that there’s nothing wrong with you, although I understand that these thoughts can be incredibly distressing. Remember that these thoughts are common among most mothers, they’re just thoughts, and they don’t actually mean anything.

The key thing to keep in mind is that these imagined scenarios are things that you don’t actually want to happen. That alone means that you’re NOT a risk to your family. Many moms fear that these thoughts mean that they’re unsafe or that they might do something bad. But the thoughts themselves are not that powerful.

Ask yourself this: Are these thoughts in alignment with what I want? Would I be OK if this happened? Usually that’s a hard and solid NO. That’s why you find them so disturbing in the first place.

When should I seek help? 

Let’s pause there for a moment. If you ask yourself the above questions and you feel that you would be okay with these scenarios happening, or you want then to, that’s a medical emergency and you need to reach out for help. If this is the case, call 911, a doctor or a therapist. Feeling as though you actually want to harm your child or yourself is an indicator that you need support (Postpartum Support International is a great resource to start with as well)

If the unsettling scenarios that pop into your head are NOT what you want, then that’s a basic thinking error. This doesn’t mean anything about you as a mom, and it doesn’t mean you’re dangerous or unsafe. What it could mean is that you’re experiencing anxiety.

If intrusive thinking is interrupting your day, becoming hard to manage, causing a lot of upset, or you’re having these kinds of dark thoughts all the time, reach out to a therapist and get some support. This kind of destructive imagery is unnerving, disturbing and it can be tough to live with and process. The good thing is that you absolutely can learn to shift your mind away from these thoughts. You definitely can heal from this but you shouldn’t expect to do this on your own.

OK, so how do I deal with intrusive thoughts?

I’ve written a more in-depth, comprehensive guide on intrusive thoughts linked here. For now, I’m going to walk you through a quick but effective step-by-step for managing these intrusive thoughts so you can get on with your life and enjoy your family.

Step 1: Learn About Intrusive Thoughts

The first thing you’re going to want to do is educate yourself about intrusive thoughts (which is what you’re doing right now). The more you can understand what is happening, the less alone and scared you will feel. Once you understand that your experience is quite common, you might find that your worries start to fade already.

Step 2. Avoid Making Meaning Out of Your Thoughts

The problem with intrusive thoughts is that so often we put weight and meaning into them. We think that they are significant and so we give them power. By putting energy into them (like believing them, or worrying about what they mean about us or the future), we make them worse.

If we have the thought and get scared (or think there’s something wrong with us!) it becomes harder to deal with. On the other hand, if we have the thought, take a breath, remember that it’s normal, recognize it as JUST a thought that doesn’t mean anything, you can start to take the power away from it. When we think “Yeah it’s just a thought, it doesn’t mean anything,” we take the power away. (I know it sounds easy but with practice, it gets easier…)

SO: you’re just witnessing the thought, you’re not going to add more meaning to it, you’re going to remind yourself that this is normal and that yes, you ARE a good mom despite this thought.

Step 3: Be In The Present

Next, focus your attention on being in the moment, which is essentially what mindfulness is all about. You see, you can’t be in two places at once. So if your mind is in the present moment, you can’t possibly be worrying about anything else.

So, try managing these unpleasant thoughts by turning your focus to the present moment, asking yourself: What am I seeing? What am I hearing? What am I reading?

It’s likely that the thoughts will come back, that’s normal! Just draw your attention back to the present moment. This is what mindfulness is all about and it may take some practice at the beginning. Sometimes you might need to change your scenery. Head to the backyard or a different room or pour yourself a cup of coffee and focus on that. The point is to put energy into whatever is happening right this second.

Another tip:

Be mindful of the content you expose yourself to. 

Now, more than ever, we need to be mindful of what we allow into our lives… and when! The news can create images that are disturbing and hard to shake. If that’s the case for you, limit it. Sometimes reading about or talking about others’ intrusive thoughts can be upsetting or can plant the seeds to make this intrusive thought phenomenon worse. Scary movies are, for obvious reasons, upsetting and can give your mind content to latch on to. You don’t have to welcome all of these images into your life right now.

Be aware of what makes your mental health worse—even more so during pandemic times—and create boundaries. It’s OK to be protective of yourself especially during pregnancy and postpartum. Remind yourself that it’s absolutely OK to say “No, I don’t want to watch that horror movie tonight,” or “No, I don’t want to watch the news today.” That’s just self care.

Give yourself permission to be clear about what’s allowed in… and what isn’t.

One final resource…

Mama, I hope these tips make you feel less alone, more normal and more at ease. For continuing to improve your overall wellness and mental health, I’ve prepared a Postpartum Mental Health + Wellness Workbook. You can work through this at your own pace to make yourself feel less anxious, more grounded and more supported during this time.

 

How To Deal With Mom Burnout (tips from a Therapist)

Burnout happens to the best of us. We tend to think that if we can just get x,y, and z done, we’ll feel better. What you actually need to do is take a breath, slow down, and let go.

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“Burnout” might seem a little like a buzzword these days but if you’re a mom tending to the needs of young children (during a pandemic no less!), you know that its effects are real.

Burnout is that feeling of complete emotional and physical exhaustion. It’s that sense that you’re running on empty and have nothing left in the tank. You might feel like your mothering responsibilities are mounting up with no end in sight. Whatever the case may be, I’m going to teach you how to recognize burnout and then walk you through some non-overwhelming steps to fix it.

 

How to Recognize Burnout

If you’ve been feeling stressed to the max and endlessly spread thin, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re experiencing burnout.

You might notice an overall sense of feeling like you have just nothing left to give. Feeling like you just can’t catch up, like you never feel rested or grounded or like you’re overwhelmed by the responsibilities on your list are all indicators that it’s time to slow down.

Some mothers notice that they’re irritable or impatient with their partner or their children. Oftentimes, they explain that they’re not experiencing much joy anymore.

Others feel more emotional than usual and get weepy eyed easily. All of these are great signs that you’re depleted. I mean hey, being a mom is tough. Your kids need a lot!

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that your day-to-day flow of life can be stressful—there are going to be times when your energy levels run low.

Noticing The Shame

As a mental health therapist for moms and moms-to-be, I see women experiencing so much shame and guilt. That overwhelmed and run-off-your-feet feeling is bad enough. Add in a heavy dose of shame and we make matters infinitely worse.

I know you have an idea of how you want to be as a mother. I know you have expectations for how you should act towards your kids. When you’re burnt out, it’s so hard to show up the way you want to. It’s hard to be supermom and act perfectly towards your children all the time.

You don’t always act your best when every little demand feels like an attack on your system. And that’s OK!  I want you to notice when that shame sneaks in (telling you you’re not doing a good enough job).

Instead, what if there could be times in life when “average” is enough? What if you can’t meet all your expectations all the time? Could that be okay?

Energy in Versus Energy Out

Take quick stock: how much energy is flowing in and how much of your energy is flowing out?

If you’re burnout, that ratio will be totally out of whack.

Actually, there’s a good chance that you don’t have any energy flowing in at all! You know that saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup”? That metaphor is really speaking to the same thing here – being completed depleted and having nothing left to give!

When you’re depleted, exhausted and fried, you do not have any of your personal resources left to give to others. OK, so what the heck do we do about that?

A Three-Step Guide to Managing Burnout: 

Sure, burnout is quite common among mums of young kids. The good news is that it’s also treatable. And no, I’m not about to give you annoying, non-realistic advice.

I’m a mother of two young kids too so I know that carving out alone time sometimes isn’t possible and that a bubble bath isn’t exactly going to fix your woes.

Here’s what will:

1.Notice what’s going on for yourself.

As a mom you’re in tune to your kids’ and your partner’s needs, schedules, emotions, etc. There’s a lot of attention going outward without much care going inward.

Stop for a minute and take stock of how YOU feel. What happens when you’re overwhelmed? How does your body feel? Notice the ways your mood changes. Some people might feel irritable or snarky whereas others might feel sad and low. Pay attention to the conversations you’re having with yourself too. What’s your inner dialogue right now?

What do you feel like doing? Some people want to stay in bed, others get angry and some moms just want to check out or distract themselves. Understanding the ways you specifically experience burnout is the first step.

2.Ask yourself: “What can I remove?”

A great action to take is to evaluate your calendar and decide which things you need to say no to or cancel completely. When you’re feeling depleted, it’s absolutely essential to clear some space. By freeing up your schedule, you’re ensuring that you’re no longer going to be operating in such a frantic mode.

Trust me on this one—it’s important!

You can also let go of expectations.

OK, I’m not suggesting you drop your expectations forever or that you give up on the things that you care about. No. What I’m advising is temporarily lowering expectations during this phase.

Since you’re not going to be operating at your normal level (it’s just not realistic), it’s incredibly smart to lower the bar. Self compassion is meeting yourself where you’re at. Take those expectations down for now to allow yourself room to bounce back.

When you drop your expectations a little bit, you meet them more easily. That feels good! That’s motivating! Pick the most important things and focus on just those, and see if you can let some of the other things go.

3.Now add something to your life that’s just for you

Going back to that energy-in-versus-energy-out point, you want to bring something back in.

Is there anything that you can add that you as a mom enjoy? Are you currently doing anything for yourself? If you’re not doing much for yourself at the moment, that’s OK.

During this time, figure out what you’re missing. Give yourself something small that will bring joy to your day. Make it super simple and easy. For example, play your music, not your kids’ or partner’s. Or, clean a small space in your home and spend a few minutes there.

I like to get outside for five minutes to feel the sunshine on my face. In the mornings, I take time to drink my coffee HOT. Commit to something small that’s going to give you a little bit more ease.

 

I’m going to leave you with one final thought. Burnout is normal and it happens to the best of us. It can be so tempting to try to push, push, push. We tend to think that if we can just get x,y and z done, we’ll feel better.

What you actually need to do is take a breath, slow down, and let go.

How New Moms Can Manage Overwhelm + Isolation Caused by Coronavirus Pandemic

The Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has far-reaching consequences for people across the entire globe. For moms who already live with a sense of overwhelm and isolation, this reality just got that much more challenging. If you’re a mom struggling to make sense of all this, or to find any sort of peace with what’s unfolding, I hear you, I’m with you, you’re not alone.

 

 

Here’s what I want you to know about creating calm, steadiness and resiliency during this uncertain time of coronavirus pandemic. 

YOUR EMOTIONS

The first thing I want you to know is that you’re allowed to feel however you feel during this time. 

You might feel scared, angry, numb, in disbelief, anxious, or sad. You might feel all of these things at different times. 

For me, I have felt huge waves of sadness that I couldn’t put words to at the time. My advice to you is to allow the emotions to come up and don’t feel the pressure to understand them or to “fix” them either. 

If you’ve already contracted Covid-19, you might be terrified of transmitting it to your family, and feel shame about contracting it yourself. This can intensify your sadness, depression, anxiety and sense of fear and isolation.  My hope is that you can let go of any shame and focus your energy on healing your body, and being kind to yourself in the process. 

Sometimes emotions are greater than we can fully understand in the moment. This is okay. You’re allowed to feel however you feel, and no one can tell you it’s wrong.

If you’re a new mom, or have young kids in particular, you’re probably quite concerned about the increased isolation over the next few weeks or even months. The idea of being trapped at home with the kids isn’t a welcome scenario. 

The increased pressure to entertain and educate your kids at home has already upped the expectations and mental load of motherhood – so notice the mom-guilt as it creeps in and see if you can check those expectations.

And if you’re struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression, this is an important time to get support where you can (likely through online avenues) and continue to maintain as much self-care as possible. We know that as stress rises, so do mental health challenges. 

The most important thing you can do to manage your overall stress during this time is to stick to the coping strategies that work for you. What that means is that if you know you need exercise and 8 hours of sleep to feel well, then don’t go off path. Hold on to these tools, they’ll be the best thing you can do for your mental health. 

But with social distancing and schools, daycares, camps and extra-curriculars closed, postponed or cancelled, you’re going to need to get creative about this. 

Google at-home body weight workouts. 

Get outside and soak in nature, at a distance from everyone else. 

Set up FaceTime family dinner parties. 

I urge you to find new ways to meet these needs. Don’t drop your self-care because your usual methods are no longer available. 

HOW TO NOT LOSE YOUR MIND AT HOME

Okay, so I get it, I’m a mom too – a big concern coming out of this situation is that we’re now at home all the time with the kids. A honestly, this is a terrifying thought.

Moms are feeling worried about how the isolation will impact them, and how they’re going to get through this all without completely losing their minds (not to mention get any work done). 

Here’s some strategies to help you manage being at home during Covid-19 (coronavirus) Pandemic.

Limit your time reading news, social media, or talking about Coronavirus. 

Although the news always makes you feel like you need to watch it 24/7 for breaking updates, it’s not good for your mental health.

When you’re constantly plugged in, your brain is perpetually fed anxiety-provoking content. This can activate a threat-response in your nervous system (because it logically perceives this all as very threatening) which is hard for your body to deal with for prolonged periods of time. 

Hearing about the pandemic all day can be very upsetting. 

I urge you to get protective with your energy and emotions. Let in the information required to be informed and make good decisions, but otherwise unplug and allow your system to settle and your attention to go to other important areas. 

Create a schedule. 

Saw this coming, right? ?

I’m not talking about a super rigid schedule that causes more stress than it relieves, but just something that creates structure. Kids thrive on structure; parents thrive on happy settled kids. It’s a win-win. 

See if you can involve your kids in creating the schedule. Ask them what kinds of things they’d like to learn about, what they’d like to explore outside, what they want to help you make for dinner.  And I know, sometimes their idea of “help” actually just adds 30 minutes of mess for you to clear up afterwards, but you’re rolling with it all, right?

Having a schedule also allows you to pass on some accountability to your kids (yes, even young ones) so that you don’t feel like you’re bossing them around all day. It also removes the decision-making energy for the billion on-the-spot requests like “can we go play” and “can I do painting now”… to which I say:

“Is it in the schedule?”

Don’t forget that the schedule can be fun and create some space for you.

Make sure you schedule quiet time where everyone does their own thing. If you have young children, I encourage you to purposely take time just for you and let them see this. For example, sit on the couch and reach a book for 30 minutes… they’ll probably interrupt you 47 times initially, but they’ll eventually understand that mommy needs some down-time too. 

And what do I think about scheduling screen time? 100% do it. I am leaning on devices, unapologetically. There’s nothing wrong with weaving in some screen time for learning and just for the fun of it! 

Allow yourself a break!

Don’t expect yourself to run a home-school. 

You’re a determined and committed mom, I know. That’s why you’re reading this right now. So of course you’re thinking about how you can create a stimulating learning environment. 

But before you start stressing yourself out about planning educational blocks and buying new workbooks, I want you to notice your expectations. Have you given yourself (and your kids) time to adjust to the changes? Have you allowed yourself (and them) a break? Are you expecting yourself to step into home-schooling-mom-mode with zero background in this? 

Create a new rhythm of life that works for you. 

This takes self-awareness (paying attention to how you’re feeling and how Coronavirus is affecting you), and then adjusting accordingly. It also takes compassion for your family. How are they adjusting? What do they need? 

While the school and daycare systems have to create schedules that work for them, you have the opportunity to let your family flow into it’s own unique way.

When do your kids naturally wake up? What’s the easiest flow to your day? 

Let it be simple. Let it be easy. Don’t force it. 

HOW TO WORK FROM HOME WITH KIDS

It’s one thing to adjust to a lack of playdates and closed coffee shops, but quite another to figure out how to work from home (sometimes with your spouse there with you) while also parenting. 

The challenge compounds for families who’ve lost their normal support like daycares, libraries, and access to grandparents or other friends. 

The truth of the matter is that your work will likely be disrupted.  And so my first suggestion is to see where you can surrender and let go of this stress, if possible. Particularly in situations where you’ve been required to stay home, there’s little you can do to control the situation. Is there a way you can step back, take a big huge breath, and surrender?

When you have to juggle parenting and your paid job from home, you’ll have to get creative and dial in your efficiency, and it all comes back to that schedule. 

When are your littles most occupied? Can you plan to get your most time or attention-consuming tasks done (or at least started) during these chunks? 

You can also experiment with working alongside your kids at the table – they do their learning activities and you type away on your laptop. It’s completely okay to tell them that you are focused on your work for a period of time, and that you’ll be able to play with them afterwards. 

Of course they’ll pull for your attention. Of course you’ll feel guilty. But it’s okay, all of it!  Remind yourself that this isn’t ideal, but it’s tolerable and it’s what needs to happen. 

Another reminder: it’s good for kids to get bored sometimes. Boredom leads to creativity. When we solve the boredom problem for our children by putting something interesting in front of them, we rob them of the chance to solve it for themselves. 

Validate their boredom with kindness, and tell them that you’re completely confident they can find something to do. Then get back to work. 

What I find works well for my family is to set a timer and let them know that when they hear the bell, I’ll put my work away and we can do something together. This also keeps me accountable to my promise.

DEALING WITH ISOLATION AND LONELINESS

Social connection is the most important factor for mental wellness in postpartum years and beyond. We need each other. Meaningful connections are not a nice-to-have, they are essential. 

So how do we reconcile this during the Covid-19 crisis? 

Well, I think we have to get creative, and refuse to disconnect from those who are most important to us. 

Maybe you dislike talking on the phone, or texting feels impersonal, but I urge you to put that aside for a while and connect in whatever way you can digitally. Some connection is better than no connection. 

Create time to hang out with friends on Facetime or Google Hangouts video, or even have a Facetime party with multiple friends.

The same goes for your kiddos. They’ll be missing their friends too, even if they don’t express this. Allow them time to have connection with their pals through the phone or video chat even if this isn’t something you’d normally do. 

You might also consider social media platforms that help you feel heard and validated, as well as online meeting spaces offering support.

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT COVID-19 (CORONAVIRUS)

This entirely depends on the ages of your kids. But usually your kids can pick up on more than you’d think. They are so smart! Even if they can’t understand your words, or the extent of what’s happening, they can certainly pick up shifting energy in the home. They can tell you’re worried. They notice that the routine is off. So you need to talk to them about it. 

Filter your messages to your kids and only share basic and simple information. Try to explain in a way that they’ll understand, and also reassure them that they’re safe. Tell them that you’re doing everything you can to keep the family and your community healthy, and that you understand they might be sad about some things like cancelled playdates, camps, or prolonged absences from school. These are all understandable. 

Also, kids don’t have the ability to put this in perspective.

They care more about their missed playdate than the global crisis because they don’t understand the global crisis. They don’t have the capacity to understand it’s full extent, and that’s okay. Let them have their emotions. Soothe them, and reassure them of their safety. 

I encourage you to limit their exposure to news as well. Again, since they don’t understand, they can create scary ideas in their minds and fear can quickly escalate to anxiety. Helps them manage this by limiting what media and conversations they’re exposed to.

WHY WE NEED GRATITUDE + APPRECIATION MORE THAN EVER

When your social media feed is covered in posts about Covid-19 and your entire life is off-routine because of it, not to mention if you’re sick or someone you know is unwell, there’s no shortage of fear and concern. Now, more than ever, we need to work to create balance in our minds and emotions. 

The way to do this is by creating (or returning to) a gratitude practice so that you also include the awareness of positive things in your life. They are there. There are many things that are the same, or that still bring you joy. We need to tune into these areas so that we don’t drown in the negative. 

Is there a way to look at your situation in a way that serves you better, that doesn’t feel so daunting and scary? Is there something you’ve been wanting to do that now you might have some time for? Have you been longing to slow down, to spend more focused time with your kids? 

When you focus on positive things in your life, you reinforce pathways in your brain that with time, become stronger and eventually fire on their own. Our thoughts are directly related to how we feel, so if you think about happy things you’re more likely to be… happy:)

And remember, gratitude isn’t about ignoring the severity of the situation or living in denial of the Covid-19 tragedy that’s unfolding, but rather, to allow your brain to create some sense of balance, and to hang on to the things that lift you up. 

Sending love, ease, and compassion to you and you families. 

 

Kate Borsato

 

Worried About Your Teen’s Smartphone Addiction? Parents, Put Your Phones Down!

Worried About Your Teen’s Smartphone Addiction? Parents, Put Your Phones Down!

If you aren’t already concerned about your teen’s possible smartphone addiction, then now’s the time to pay attention!

And while many adults tease (and even ridicule) younger generations for their addictive tech behaviour, we need to focus a little more on what we’re modelling to our always-watching kiddos.

Sometimes the best way to change another person is to change yourself.  So if you’re concerned about what might look like a smartphone addiction, start by putting your phone down.

Sounds harsh?  I know.  It feels harsh.

But the truth is, we all need to hear it.  I strongly believe that we must reflect on our own behaviour before we expect so much from our kids. 

Kids These Days…

They’re glued to their phones. They don’t know how to play outside, to entertain themselves, to use their imaginations. You’ve heard this all before, haven’t you? And while clearly this is not a complete picture of teens, it does have a ring of truth.  Yet what’s missing is the acknowledgement of where teens learn to behave this way.

When we look at adults and teens together, their digital footprint isn’t all that different. We, too, love to surf our socials, get lost in Netflix, escape in video games. We send emails all day, message our friends, send videos, take pictures of everything. Edit them, delete them, send them. Rinse. Repeat.

Let’s look a some numbers:

Almost all (87%) teens have smartphones; half feel addicted to their phones, and 2 thirds of parents think their teens spend too much time on digital devices (learn more here).

Sure, teens are major tech consumers, we already know this.  But let’s acknowledge that parents are just as into it! In fact, parents of tweens and teens actually spend slightly more time on social media per week than their kids do! (6hrs 20 minutes compared to almost 7 hours!) (see the study here).

And on a given day, these parents average more than 9 hours of screen media each day (including work time (read the report here).

So. there’s that.

Get Realistic, Shall We?

I know I’m not the only one who finds some parenting advice a little unrealistic…annoying…out of touch with reality.

We are human beings after all, and most of us encounter a lot of stress every single day which makes it challenging to always be the parent we want to be.

So, no, I am not going to tell you to banish tech from your household.  Forget that!  I would actually lose my mind if I couldn’t put a Netflix show on every now and again so I could take a breath!

FACT:  Technology is not bad; You don’t need to give up your smartphone to be a good parent; A bit of screen time isn’t going to hurt your child; Your kids probably won’t become addicted to technology.

ALSO FACT: Many families overuse technology and feel disconnected from each other; Many parents worry that their kids don’t want to do anything else but use tech; Many kids have social problems due to overusing technology; Social media can be brutal for self-esteem.

All of these things are true!

What I ask of you is to develop a complete picture of technology. The good and the bad. Nothing is black and white, and technology certainly fits that model. The challenges always fall within how we actually use technology, the role it plays in our family, and the limits we put in place.

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The fact is, there hasn’t yet been a generation of kids who’ve been raised by plugged-in parents. We don’t actually know the impact yet. Sure, many of us had parents who were “disconnected” in other ways, either through work, travel, or other circumstances.

But we certainly didn’t grow up wondering why our parents stare at the phones all the time. Competing for attention with their iPads. Learning that being connected to some kind of device most of our waking hours is tolerable.  Being interrupted with dings and buzzes. Sitting on the sofa together while everyone couldn’t be further away.

This wasn’t our experience, but it is for many teens today.

The biggest problem is that technology interrupts in-person connections. 

When out of balance, tech devices gets in the way of family relationships, which ultimately form the foundation for how children feel about themselves, and learn to relate to others.  If that foundational connection (or attachment) is shaky, then it becomes really difficult for kids to build confidence and solid connections in the future.

Be Brave and Take Responsibility

What I hear time-and-time again goes something like this:

“This is the time we live in. Everyone is plugged in…we live in the technology era after all.”

Sure, this might be true. But you’re reading this because you’re concerned about your family. You know that it doesn’t feel right to be plugged in all the time, and you’re not sure what to do about it.

And just because the world is getting more and more engulfed in technology, doesn’t mean that it’s a good thing (normal isn’t always good, remember?).

Be brave to challenge what’s perceived as normal.  Give yourself permission to question it all. To refuse to go along with status quo. And to follow you gut about the potential impact of technology

For starters, I encourage you to get brutally honest about what is happening in your family. And don’t blame the cultural era or norms, but instead, take more responsibility for what is going on.

You, as the parent, are constantly making choices and steering the course of your family’s experience.  Sometimes these choices are really obvious (like taking away your teen’s smartphone for the night). And sometimes they are less obvious (like doing nothing about your son’s gaming for 6 hours straight). Inaction is still a choice.

If you are in a situation where everyone is over-teched and under-connected with one another, there have been choices that led to this (Gulp. I know. Thats a hard one).

Now, this is important to hear:

I encourage you to take responsibility not so that you feel like a horrible parent.  Instead, I hope that you can acknowledge your power in this situation. Would you rather feel like you have something to do with the problem or feel like a victim to the circumstance?

Sure, I appreciate that it’s hard to accept our role in a problematic situation, but at the end of the day, it’s much more empowering.

When you take responsibility, you also step into a place of control. By being involved in the problem, you are also involved in the solution. See how that works?

It Starts With You

My number one recommendation for parents is to focus on their own tech-habits if they want to impact how their children relate to technology.

You are their most influential teacher (not their school teachers or friends…YOU!). Your values, behaviours, communication patterns, language, are literally imprinted on your children.

So rather than focusing on what they are doing with their smartphones, turn that energy toward yourself.

What are you modelling? What messages do you send to your family about technology? How important is technology to you? Is it more important than family connection?

And reflect on these questions:

Do you walk around your home with your phone in your hand?

Do you take your phone or iPad to the bathroom?

Surf on your device while laying bed?

Do you pick up your device during family hangout time, or dinner?

Do you touch base with your phone or ipad regularly through the evening?

There’s no magical formula for establishing healthy technology balance in your home. However, what’s consistent across the board is that parents’ technology habits directly relate to their kids’ tech-behaviour.  

What values do you want to pass along? How do you want your children to manage technology in their lives? And does your behaviour match what you hope their behaviour would be?

Here’s a couple more of my articles that dive a little deeper into how to create tech life balance in your home:

Tech-Life Balance in the Family

Mindfulness and Healthy Technology Use

All my best!

How To Use Mindfulness to Create Healthy Smartphone Habits

How To Use Mindfulness to Create Healthy Smartphone Habits

Most of us have this nagging feeling that we should be using our smartphones less. But there’s simply no denying that smartphones have transformed modern life – can you even imagine how you got through the day without them?  (I know, that sounds dramatic, but seriously consider how integral they have become in your everyday life).

We pick up our phones out of habit. Thoughtlessly, really.  But unfortunately, allowing ourselves to be constantly connected has negative impacts on what matters most: our connection to one another.

You know these scenes well:

  • You escape into the bathroom, phone in hand, and stay in there a little bit longer than you actually need to. Okay, maybe a lot longer.
  • You’re sitting on the couch with your partner watching Netflix.  Your wine, popcorn, and smartphone are all within arms’ reach.  Maybe you’re even carrying on a few message threads while you watch. You’re great at multi-tasking afterall.
  • You try to convince your kids to recreate adorable moments so you can capture the photos…. But you’ve interrupted your experience of being present with them.

This is the opposite of living mindfully.

And admittedly, I have done all of these things…for years.  

In fact, I’ve done worse.  I’ve layed in bed next to my husband, both surfing on our phones despite feeling exhausted. Despite wanting more rest. Despite wanting more connection and intimacy. Just one more article, message, pin, email.

We each indulge in different ways don’t we? For my husband, his constant news-consumption is certainly looked on more highly than my mindless social media browsing. But there we were, captivated by the digital world. Distracted from each other.

Smartphones have become interwoven in almost every aspect of modern life and have certainly enhanced the way things are done today. 

And still. I choose to NOT be controlled by my phone. I choose my relationship with my husband over being plugged in 24/7. I choose to model healthy tech-life balance to our young children.

It’s a choice.

A choice to only allow your smartphone into your life to the extent that it adds value, and nothing more.

This is where mindfulness meets technology. By bringing awareness and intentional decision-making into how you use your smartphone, you’ll begin to feel (and truly be) more in control of how tech fits with your life (rather that it controlling you!).

 

Here are 7 Mindful Ways To Transform Your Relationship With Your Smartphone

1. Turn off notifications.

While I can appreciate that notifications (the messages that pop-up when your social media or email accounts have activity) allow you to go about your day without actually opening your email or social platforms to check for messages, I don’t actually think they are doing anyone any favors.

When you allow notifications, you’re essentially handing over control to your smartphone. You’re literally saying, “here, YOU decide when to demand my attention. You have the power.”

Even if you don’t normally take action when you see notifications, they’re still incredibly distracting for you and whoever you are with, and interrupt your current thought processes. When you turn off notifications, on the other hand, you’re no longer at the whim of these nagging messages.

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2. Give yourself guilt-free designated surfing time(s).

Maybe it’s 30 minutes after the kids go to bed. Maybe it’s half of your lunch break. Choose a time and give er’! Shamelessly endulge til you heart’s content during this time, look at whatever you want, Google those tidbits of info that you’ve been wondering about, message your friends, whatever! And do it without guilt.

But when the time is up, it’s up. Maybe you need to set an alarm. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the intention you set to limit this time. 

When you have a designated smartphone surfing time, you can set expectations with yourself and those around you.  For example, I have no problem telling my daughters “I’m going to take 20 minutes and do some reading on my phone.”  This way, I have acknolwedged my actions, made a conscious decision, and set an expectation for myself and those around me.

Think about it: Wouldn’t you rather your partner tell you they were going to take 15 minutes to hang out with their phone rather than you catching them sneaking it during the kids bath, while laying in bed, or sitting in the car? I sure would. 

3. Get curious when you reach for your phone.

Use mindfulness to inquire about your own state when you go to pick up your phone: how are you feeling, what has drawn you in?  See if you can take a moment to notice what’s going on either within you or around you that caused you to check-in with your device.

Boredom? Habit? Avoidance? Needing a break? See if you notice a pattern and then focus your energy there.

For instance, I usually want to escape into my phone when I feel overwhelmed or I haven’t had enough “me” time. It’s as if I feel like I somehow deserve a break, as if that is a gift to myself. But interestingly, surfing my phone doesn’t exactly fill up my bucket, so to speak.

Once you start to notice why you tend to pick up your phone, you’ll understand the clues about what might need to change. For me, I needed more self-care and me-time. So instead of escaping into my smartphone, I started exercising more, reading actual books, connecting with friends.

Consider these examples:

  • If you’re constantly checking for social media “likes”, get curious about other sources of  self-esteem.
  • If you’re checking for work emails after hours, you might want to take a look at your work-life balance and set some healthy boundaries.
  • If you’re in bed and choose to stare at your phone instead of your partner, get curious about how your relationship is doing and where your energy would be better suited.

4. Create Space To Listen To Yourself

Smartphones are a brilliant distraction from ourselves, aren’t they?

They can even serve to absorb discomfort, awkward silences, anger, sadness. By taking us out of the present moment, they remove us from being in contact with how we are actually doing.

We are incredibly intelligent and intuitive beings. But self-awareness is a skill, something that must be honed and practiced. We need to foster the communication channels within ourselves so that we can listen to our cues, learn about ourselves, understand what it is that we really want, value, need.

We have allowed smartphones to cut us off from gaining self-awareness and being in contact with ourselves. 

Sure, they might “help” us avoid uncomfortable feelings at times, (and I have certainly benefited from this) but can we continue this way? 

Life isn’t about being comfortable and only experiencing pleasant emotions. The unpleasant ones are full of self-knowledge and internal messages.

We need to give ourselves space to hear them. Can we let ourselves be bored?  Sit in silence?  Can we be present with our children?  Can we stand in line at the grocery store and look around?  Make eye contact?

We must begin to give ourselves space to be. Space for nothingness, boredom, irritation, tiredness. Whatever we are, however we are, let’s pay attention. 

5. Resist Expectations of Constant Connection

My mom used to drive me crazy because she never answered her cell phone. Mind you, I could have been in labor and she’d have missed it. But that aside, she actually modeled a beautiful point:

“Other people don’t have the right to demand being in contact with me,” she told me years and years ago. “I don’t have to answer my phone just because you’re calling me!”

Well said, mom.

We have the right to resist the expectation that we will be reachable at all times. And, I believe we can do so in a respectful, connecting, and healthy way. Rather than just hard-ignoring people, we can communicate our boundaries by telling people what they can expect from us instead.

Tell your friends you don’t usually text back right away, that you don’t use Facebook regularly, or whatever describes your situation. Maybe you create an auto-reply on your email that gently tells people that you appreciate their messages, and you’ll get back to them within a couple days. 

Once you’ve established this, airplane mode might become your good friend. Feel the relief of turning your phone off, switching it to silent, or simply putting it away. 

6. Delete Time-Wasting Apps

I have to admit, I have deleted and re-downloaded my social apps so many times. I waffle between loving the ease of accessing different platforms on my smartphone, with detesting the unnecessary distractions and mindless checking for I-don’t-even-know-what.

Consider what apps you actually need to have access to this easily. Are they useful? Are they aligned with how you want to spend your time?

Another idea is to delete the apps that you use the most. Seem counterintuitive, but really, it’s brilliant. If you’re sinking tons of time in Pinterest on your phone, for example, maybe it needs to go. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Pinterest, but you get to save your pin-fest for indulge-o’clock, not whenever you’re bored.

The idea here is that it’s way harder to actually log-in to a profile to check Facebook or IG, and therefore, it gives you more time to be mindful and make an intentional decision.

7. Go Old School.

Buy a watch. And an alarm clock. Maybe even a planner. Just because smartphones have all the functionality, doesn’t mean you have to use them all. Of course I see the value of streamlining your devices and having everything you need in one place. However, this just adds to the number of times you pick up your smartphone and it becomes more and more important to you.  

I don’t want my smartphone to be that valuable, that integral in my life. So, rather than using all these functions (e-reader apps, wallet app, alarm clock, calendar, etc), maybe there’s a way to spread the love?

Consider reading paper books too. Sure, I understand the appeal of e-books but if you’re hoping to engage more mindfully with technology, it might help to limit how much time you are using any digital device in general. 

I also believe that constatnly being plugged in to technology puts us on a “digital wavelength” – one that’s starting to really bother me, to be honest.  I want to hold a real book. Turn pages. Write something down on a piece of paper.  Connect with what’s around me, not a device. Know what I mean?

Most people are shocked to learn that the average person engages in 76 smartphone sessions a day (read more about the study here). If you’re curious, try a smartphone tracking app, even for just a few days to see what your habits are.  You might cringe to see the real story.  (Here’s an article by The Guardian that gives some good suggestions for tracking usage).

The problem is that most people are not mindful of their own smartphone habits and have no clue about how distracting they early are. 

I hope you’ll join me by creating mindful and intentional habits with your smartphone.  Start with these ideas above and very quickly, you will shift the picture and take control back.

From one smartphone lover to another,