The term ACE has been used a lot in the news recently. What is it? It stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. Everyone has an ACE score that runs from 0 to 10. Having a perfect and uneventful childhood would get you a score of 0. On the other hand, growing up with family dysfunction, abuse, addiction, etc, can get you a score up to 10. Many times in my practice, I meet with individuals who think that they have left their childhood issues behind them. But what I often discover is that our childhood experiences shape who we are and impact the narrative we create about ourselves.
For example, if you grew up in a volatile household where you weren't sure if you were going to get yelled at from one minute to the next, you may have created habits in which you aim for perfectionism. You would have created the narrative that if you do everything right then no one gets yelled at. No one gets in trouble. This perfectionism may have served you well. You graduated high school with good grades and were able to go to college. Your hard work got you a great job. However, there is no such thing as perfect. Your narrative has created an illusion that you have control over chaos. When things do not go as expected you may not have the skills to navigate through the chaos.
This narrative creates dysfunction because your thought process is faulty. Shifting your focus and changing the way you think takes time. It is difficult, but the results are life changing. Imagine not being tied down by your past, possibilities become limitless. You are worth the work to become your best self.
I am constantly encouraging my clients to prioritize their own needs. Often times the needs of our partner, children, boss, etc. come before our own. This can lead to less sleep, less exercise, poor diet and little time for emotional outlets. When we put the needs of everyone else before our own, our mental health suffers.
I love the analogy of your source of energy coming from a cup. When you wake up refreshed, your cup is 100% full and you are ready for your day. After feeding everyone breakfast, making sure backpacks are packed, and sending the kids off to school you might have 80% left in your cup. After a long day of running errands, caring for your kids or completing projects at work you are left with maybe 20%. You still need to figure out dinner, clean up the house, do a load of laundry and try to get everyone to sleep. If you are like most people chances are that your cup is totally empty by 7:00pm. The challenge is to engage in activities throughout your day that fill your cup.
I love the quote “don’t live a life that you need to take a vacation from”. Many people are running on empty. This can lead to irritability, depressed mood, feelings of unhappiness, etc. When you have nothing to give to those around you, your relationships can suffer.
Many times my work is helping my clients find activities that fill their cup. What brings you joy? What do you look forward to? How can you carve out time for yourself on a regular basis? It can be as simple as starting your day with a delicious cup of coffee. Maybe plan a regular walk with a friend. Whatever it is, prioritizing yourself on a regular basis gives you the energy you need to be your best self.
What fills your cup?
Struggling to find what brings you joy? Check out the following posts for more strategies to fill your cup:
As you move through the life cycle, past trauma can creep up. When you have experienced a traumatic event or lived through years of abuse, you develop beliefs about yourself. That message could be that you are unlovable, worthless, perhaps that you are helpless. You may not be aware of these beliefs, but find that you are sabotaging relationships, never satisfied at work or not functioning to the best of your ability. Think of these beliefs like a pair of glasses that you are wearing that distorts the way you navigate throughout the world. These glasses blind you to your successes and highlight all of your flaws. You experience a benign situation but feel guilty about it or anxious. These glasses prevent you from being your best self.
Healing from trauma can be done. There is hope that you can begin taking off those dysfunctional glasses and see your world more clearly. You can take off the coat of shame that holds you down. Your past does not define who you are. It is not all of you. You can create your own narrative. Healing takes time and a commitment to change. Individual therapy can guide you during this process. Yoga has also been proven to help people cope with trauma. A recent study found that yoga was more helpful to veterans suffering from PTSD than psychotropic medication or therapy. Creating a social support network is also critical to healing. Being surrounded by people who are encouraging and understanding can aid in the healing process.
What is the mental load? It is the work that it takes to run a household: planning, organizing, chores, appointments, you get the picture. More and more studies are revealing that although heterosexual relationships are becoming more and more equal in regards to careers and chores at home, woman continue to manage the biggest share of responsibility. It's not so much bathing the kids, cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry. The mental load has more to do with scheduling doctor appointments, canceling the cable, planning birthday parties, buying gifts, remembering anniversaries, enrolling the kids in school, knowing when you need to buy toilet paper.....Exhausted yet? Many women are.
This mental load or mental burden causes stress. Medical researchers aren't quite sure how stress directly impacts heart disease. According to Medicinenet.com:
If stress itself is a risk factor for heart disease, it could be because
chronic stress exposes your body to unhealthy, persistently elevated
levels of stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Studies also link
stress to changes in the way blood clots, which increases the risk of
It's easy for me to understand how heart disease is the number one killer of women. Stress impacts sleep quality, weight, mood levels, etc. Not only does this mental load impact a women's health, but it impacts her relationship in the form of resentment. Resentment can build over time after years of feeling alone with the burden of mental load. Have you just exploded at the end of a long day for what might appear to be “no apparent reason”? But the reason is clear to you. You are tired, you are stressed, yet you still have the laundry to do, homework to review and kids to put into bed.
You do not have to continue suffering from feeling overwhelmed and alone. I am going to offer you just a few strategies to begin tipping the scales back to a more manageable balance.
1. One long term solution (and I mean long term) is to begin setting a different example for your children. You can stop perpetuating the myth that women do it all. This might be encouraging your kids to become a bit more independent. They can make their lunch and breakfast. They can wash their clothes and put them away. I was shocked years ago when I found out that my oldest was spending most days in Montessori preschool folding clothes and shining shoes.
2. Acceptance. You can't change the way your partner has been socialized. You will probably continue to be the one carrying the weight of "what needs to be done". What you can change is how you express your needs. You can begin by writing down how your partner can help. It will not be done the way that you would do it, but that’s okay; it’s part of the acceptance. Setting expectations with our partners and verbalizing our needs can begin to reduce the burden.
3. Let go of perfection. Several years ago I read an article about how American mothers are the unhappiest mothers in the world due to unreasonable societal expectations. Thanks, Pinterest!! Does a birthday party need to be perfect? Does the kitchen need to be spotless? Take some time to enjoy your children. The house will be clean one day.
4. Take some time for yourself. I cannot stress enough how important self care is for primary caregivers. If you overexert yourself you can end up feeling angry most of the time and passing out the same time your kids go to sleep. Don’t give and give and leave nothing for yourself. Study after study reveals how incredibly important exercise is for mental health. Take a walk, stream yoga from Youtube, read a book, engage in feel good hobbies, etc. Taking time for yourself can re-energize you and help you develop better life balance.
I am a mental health therapist practicing in Henderson, NV. I have found that most of the people that I work with have lost themselves on the road to success. A key component of my treatment approach is assisting people in rediscovering their passions and restoring balance to their lives. This blog contains slivers of wisdom that I continue to discover while assisting people become mentally fit.