Growing up I don’t think I ever fully appreciated all the things my mom had to do to fulfill all the roles that she played. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, and an employee among others. As a kid, and particularly as a male child, I took it for granted that she would take care of me, regardless of what she was going through. It never occurred to me that what was happening at work, or what was happening between my parents, could affect my mother deeply. All I ever really knew was that my dinner was going to be cooked, my clothes were going to be washed, my sheets clean, and the home I lived in well kept. Those things I never doubted.
It wasn’t until I became a therapist and saw a pattern among my clients that I realized how physically and emotionally draining it can be for one person to take on all those roles. I see women who always put others before themselves and it wears them out. When I ask questions like “What would you like to do for yourself?” they often just sit and shake their heads, unable to think of anything. These women literally have not thought of themselves as anything except a mother/employee/wife in years. I might then ask another way, “If you had some magical ability to make the world stand still and you could do ANYTHING, what would you do?”. Given the freedom of imagination that affords unlimited power and resources what would a mother choose? I’ve heard “I would love to just take a nap!”, and I’ve heard “I’d love to be able to spend time with my kids without worrying about _______ (my job, my father, my bills, etc.).” This simultaneously speaks to how dedicated mothers are, that they cannot even imagine a world where they don’t worry about their family first, and it also says a lot about our social structure, that we expect women to be so self-sacrificing that they can’t even imagine doing solely for themselves.
We have shifted culturally from the sort of 1950’s “ideal” American family in which the husband went off to work every day and the wife stayed home and took care of the house and the children. Despite expecting women to work a fulltime job to help support the family financially we still have the same cultural expectations about division of labor within the household. This creates role strain and role conflict, often in physically and emotionally damaging amounts, for many women. (Learn more about role strain and role conflict here). Nor is this a new phenomenon of the 21st century with our fast paced, technology based society. In 1966 the Rolling Stones wrote “Mother’s Little Helper” about housewives of the day taking (and often becoming addicted to and/or overdosing on) prescription sedatives. Today women still do the majority of housework while also working outside the home. A 2010 study showed that women spend about 25.9 hours a week taking care of home and children to men’s 16.8 hours. The women who I’ve spoken with feel driven and even if they could sit and try to relax after work most would feel too guilty. Is it any surprise then, that so many mothers feel anxious and/or depressed? What a tragedy that these women who take care of us all are, arguably, underappreciated.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to share my appreciation for my own mother. I may not have fully appreciated everything that you did for me growing up and I certainly took for granted that you would always be there, but now I recognize that if not for you I would not be the compassionate and thoughtful person that I am today. These traits are essential to who I am as a therapist and as a person, and for that I cannot ever thank you enough. I love you, mom.
Do you experience role conflict and role strain? I’m happy to help you sort through these complex emotions and learn to let go of some of the anxiety and/or depression that comes as a result. Call (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail me at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com to setup a time to talk.
My daughter is a senior in high school. That means we have spent much of the past year focusing on ACT testing and scores, college applications, essays, etc., etc. On February tenth all of the hard work, anxiety and stress of this past year came to an end as she received her acceptance into her number one choice of schools, which also happens to be both of her parents’ alma mater, so to say we were all thrilled would be putting it mildly! But something else also happened once the dust settled, I realized that very soon my first born will be leaving for college, not only a huge life change for her but a major life transition for me. While the abstract idea has always been there, now it is staring me in the face and is something I can no longer ignore. What does that mean for me? The past 18 years my primary focus has been on parenting my kids, and in two short years they will both be in college. So part of my “job”, and a lot of my identity is going to change. While I will always be mom to my son and daughter my role in their lives will without a doubt soon be different. I am sad about my kids leaving home but I also realize once I have readjusted there will be many positive aspects of my new life, such as more time for me and my husband to do things on our own without worrying about 2 other people’s schedules, and time to begin focusing more on myself and consider other interests in my life I may not have had time for before. I joked as senior year started that I wasn’t quite ready for this but it was coming whether I was ready or not. Life moves on and changes are going to happen, whether we are ready or not! Getting married, starting a new job, moving into a new house, having a child, the list goes on and on, are all positive changes in life. But even the positive changes are stressful and can be hard to deal with. There may be mixed emotions, I can absolutely relate to feeling very happy and very sad at the same time as we approach graduation day. There might be feelings of loss, even about a much anticipated event, and there can also be an identity shift, all things I can currently relate to. Major life transitions cause stress, that is a fact. If you don’t take care of yourself the stress can lead to increased anxiety, health problems and even depression. During major life transitions it is important to pay attention to yourself and take care of yourself.
The following article by Dr. Shannon Kolakowski talks about ways to make the most of life transitions and has some good pointers on how to take care of yourself during major life changes.
I believe one of the most important things to do during any stressful time is to rely on your support system. It can be helpful to turn to supportive people in your life during these times. If you feel like you need some added support surrounding a major change or transition in your life give me a call or send me an email and we can set up an appointment, 706-425-8900 or firstname.lastname@example.org Beth Jackson, LCSW Alpharetta, Georgia
If therapy is exercise for your brain, that makes me a personal trainer. Time to rethink my work wardrobe!
I have a confession to make. If you promise to keep it just between us I will tell you. Agreed? So, sometimes my clients will say to me “Hey, this was really helpful. I appreciate what you’re doing for me.” My response is generally, “I’m so glad you found our session helpful.” But inside? Inside I’m thinking “I have no idea why this was helpful. I really thought we didn’t get much done today.” Rest assured, I’m not some dope who’s faking his way through being a therapist. Every therapist I know has a similar story.
There’s an excellent book on the subject that has eased my mind and helped me make sense of what might be happening for my clients in therapy. It’s called Why Therapy Works: Using Our Minds to Change Our Brains by Loius Cozolino. It has to do with the concept of neuroplasticity and how thoughts actually change our brains functioning. According to Cozolino neuroplasticity “refers to any changes among, between, and within neurons as a result of learning or the natural processes of healthy development. It is the ability of the nervous system to change in response to experience and to encode that experience into its structure.” In other words, our brains literally change in response to our experience. I liken this change to the growth we see in our muscles because of exercise.
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of hanging around with some serious weightlifters you might have seen them nudge each other in the ribs, give a head nod towards someone walking by, and snicker. Then in a conspiratorial whisper one says, “Someone skipped leg day.”
Your brain is not a muscle. In fact, it is the fattiest organ in your body. It makes up only about 2 percent of your bodies total mass but is uses 20 percent of your body’s energy. No wonder it’s so exhausting when you’re anxious all the time! (For more brain facts click here)
Okay, but what does that have to do with your brain and therapy? Well, therapy is exercise for your brain. If you have had depressive thoughts for a while your brain has developed to easily have those thoughts. Meanwhile, your ability to experience “happy” thoughts is undeveloped. You might say that you’ve been skipping happy day. When I’m asking clients in therapy to describe what they would like to be doing differently, what they might prefer their life to look like, I am like a spotter in the gym encouraging them “C’mon! You can do this!” At first it can be very hard for someone who has felt depressed for years to even imagine what “happy” is for them. However, with practice they can literally change the structure of their brain so that it becomes easier to bring to mind those “happy” thoughts. The same concept applies to people who are anxious all the time. They are well practiced at having anxious thoughts. Their brains have been shaped by these experiences and so they come “naturally”. Through therapy we will do the work necessary to reshape the brain.
Is it easy? No. Is it fun? Sometimes, but it can also be painful just like any other workout. Is it worth it? DEFINITELY!
If you’re constantly plagued by depressive or anxious thoughts, contact me today and let me be your personal brain trainer. I can be reached via telephone at (706) 534 – 8558 or e-mail at Aaron@ca4wellbeing.com.