By: Dr. Tanya Cotler, PhD, CPsych
Why is it so hard for me to decide what to make for dinner since becoming a mom?
Mothering and parenting often involves a barrage of daily decisions, many of which we don’t even notice. How often do you wish someone else (maybe your partner?!) would figure out who is wearing clothes three sizes two small and what the kids are going to have for dinner? Or what about when your child asks if they could go out for lunch or stay at the park after school and you feel like they are asking you how to initiate world peace?
The difficulty with making these sometimes basic decisions is that as mothers our every day routines require decisions. All the constant choosing and deciding wears out the primary decision maker (for many that’s mom!)
Below are some of the reasons decision making is compromised:
- One of the symptoms of depression, and specifically postpartum depression, can be difficulty making decisions. When someone is struggling with depression and feels things are more hopeless or they themselves feel helpless- this often translates to seeing minimal options available or feeling that your power or your agency over your choices is missing.
- Anxiety: there is a lot of research to support how anxiety can actually inhibit decision making by disengaging the prefrontal cortex- the area of the brain specifically responsible for executive functioning, planning and judgment as well as flexibility in decisions. The prefrontal cortex allows for “calm” decision making- it removes the intensity of emotion from decisions by quieting the amygdala (the part of the brain that runs on raw emotion and instinct). The research shows that anxiety seems to interfere with being able to limit distractions, making it difficult for the person to weed through the muck so to speak. Distractions can be physical but also emotional such as thoughts or worries. Anxiety numbs some neurons in the prefrontal cortex that are specifically involved in choice making and accordingly anxiety selectively shuts down mechanisms needed for clear choice making.
- Motherhood as a period of change and loss: During a phase of life when you are inundated by so many changes (hormones, physiology, psychological, relationships etc) and losses (relationships, identity, expectations and hopes) it can be unbearable to add to the exhausting list of changes and losses. With every decision comes a loss, as well as one more thing to think about and one more thing to grieve -or at least one more thing to adjust to. Simply put, the decision- even just what to make for dinner- feels like one more thing to consider when the mind is already overwhelmed with making adjustments.
- Guilt: with guilt often comes an increased difficulty decision making. This is because part of what complicates decision making is the sense of “loss.” As described above, with every decision there is something you “gain” and something you “lose.” If someone is already feeling worried or concerned about wrong doing, or not being good enough it becomes harder to decide anything else for fear of making more mistakes.
- Insecurity and lack of trust in oneself or fear of feeling exposed or judged: With so much noise on how to mother, combined with the general idealization of motherhood, many mothers fear they will fall short or won’t be able to measure up to the expectations held out for them. This can also affect decision making. The more one feels insecure about how they are performing in their mothering role, the less likely they are going to be to rely on themselves for anything. Every decision feels like a challenge when you feel you can’t trust yourself.
- The tendency for the mothering one to take the primary role with the emotional load or otherwise termed emotional labor. The mothering one’s mind is often responsible for the executive functioning of parenting (think of it as mom as the organizer, planner, thinker, holder of all detail from who needs socks to what’s for dinner to program registration and more). This role can often keep a mom up at night running through her to-do list fearing what she missed or will miss. The perpetual cycle from “emotional labor” to anxiety to sleep deprivation to anxiety to emotional labor and back again, makes it inevitable that decisions are increasingly difficult for many moms. It’s just too much for the mind to compute constantly!
- Decision Fatigue– Mothers are constantly needing to decide everything from bedtime routines to what to wear (themselves, their children, their partners!) It can become exhausting and utterly depleting to be in charge of any additional, even minute, decisions like what’s for dinner. Decisions require conscious thought and attention and even when invisible (or we aren’t cognizant of it) our brains go through a process of weighing pros and cons and thinking through. An element of expending energy occurs with every decision whether we want it to or not. Taking this together, more decisions mean diminished energy reserves and willpower impacting future decisions.
There are ways we can mitigate these difficulties making decisions. If we learn from prominent leaders in our world- one trick when in a position of power and high decision making power- is to minimize other competing decisions which may be of less importance.A quick look at some business or world leaders (I.e Steve Jobs or Barack Obama) and you can see how many leaders openly talk about wearing the same color scheme everyday or limiting wardrobe to few pieces to minimize daily choice and allow more space for bigger decisions.
Of course in addition to limiting the number of less crucial decisions what’s also required is some advanced planning. For example, having a daily menu of meals that rotate each week.
Also important is to ask for help and to attempt to share decision making power with others you trust such as a partner. Like in any business partnership, this requires dividing roles. If you feel that a lot of the “mental labor” is falling on you, talk about it with your partner. Perhaps your partner becomes in charge of wardrobe while you are in charge of meals. And maybe you divide seasonal ownership over activities registration or doctor appointments.
Ultimately if you are struggling with decisions try to identify which of the many possible reasons might be contributing to your decision difficulty and then try to plug in some solutions or help accordingly. All this needs to be couched in the fact that no one can do this alone mama, we all need help, and with help it’ll feel easier.
This month we thought we would introduce you to the world of Osteopathy. Osteopathy is a non-invasive manual therapy that works on the muscles, joints and spine to enhance your body’s natural health. In other words, an osteopath will stretch your body for you, allowing the muscles and joints to move more freely.
What can it treat?
Ok, ok, we’ll be a bit more specific. Osteopathy is great at treating any and all sports related injuries as well as that chronic pain (read headache) that just doesn’t seem to go away.But beyond that osteopathy can help those things you may not think about when it comes to manual therapies. Our osteopath Marine is able to treat things such as insomnia, gastrointestinal problems and varicose veins! Definitely something to look into!
And for all you breastfeeding Moms out there- Marine has techniques that could help stimulate milk production! To me, this sounds much better than downing Domperidone and Fenugreek!So if any of this sounds like something you might need help with book with Marine today!She is available on:
Wednesdays 8:30am-12pm, 3:30pm-7pm
The connection between how you carry yourself and how you feel
We’re always advocating for good posture –whether sitting, standing, and sleeping. Posture is so important for a variety of health reasons that we’ve mentioned here on the blog before. You’ll likely recall that bad posture can result in chronic pain, poor circulation, headaches, and damage to your spine.
But what about your mood? Many studies suggest that everything from our body language, to our carriage, to our posture can have a direct impact on how we feel –not just physically but emotionally. Here are some of the ways in which the positioning and use of your body can affect your mood or mind.
Feel more energized: When we optimize our posture, it helps us to feel more alert and awake. When you slouch, slump or recline, your body may relax but also understand it’s time to rest or shut down. When you consciously sit up straighter and hold your head up, you’re sending a signal within yourself that it’s time to be alert and productive. Certain postures also allow for freer, faster movement which can get more of your muscles working, elevate your heart rate and help you feel a sustained energy. Think of slumping down a hall with your head down, versus striding with a straight back and eyes forward. The second posture allows for much more efficient and energized movement- and much happier muscles and spines!
Feel happier: Studies also show that people may feel less depressed when their body language conveys traits like enthusiasm, joy, and energy. In addition to the psychological connection that may exist between how we present our bodies and how we feel, there are obvious physical reasons why good posture may keep your mood elevated. Optimized movements and positioning can reduce stress to your body like muscle pain, strain in your joints, or headaches. Eliminating those physical symptoms can help to prevent irritability and roadblocks to productivity that result from discomfort. Just think about how difficult it is to concentrate and sit still when you have a sore back. In this way practicing good posture can help keep you feeling comfortable, capable and calm.
Feel more confident: Another study had subjects place bets while sitting in two different postures. Those in a more open, expansive posture took more risks, while those who kept their limbs tight and body closed off were more conservative. As these studies remind us, we instinctively position our bodies to reflect our mood and mindset. Amy Cuddy’s incredible TED talk discusses the connection between our body language and behaviour in detail, suggesting that we can manipulate our body language to reflect (and help achieve) our desired mental state. We highly recommend you check out her compelling talk.
When we consider argument’s like Cuddy’s, we start to see that slumping, slouching, and closing our bodies off is doing twofold damage- not just to our chiropractic health and wellbeing, but also to our confidence, happiness, and success.
Now if that isn’t a reason to stand a little straighter and walk a little taller, I don’t know what is!
by Maya Hammer, M.A., Counselling Psychology | www.mayahammer.ca
We all know about the “baby blues”, a common experience of emotional ups and downs in the first week or two postpartum. Many of us, however, have never heard of the “baby pinks,” or The Highs, a feeling of intense happiness or euphoria following birth.
Symptoms of postpartum hypomania include:
-being very active
-decreased ability to concentrate
-impulsivity, e.g., shopping
-decreased need for sleep
These symptoms can be triggered by childbirth and usually subside after 6-8 weeks postpartum. In some cases, however, postpartum hypomania is an early indicator for bipolar disorder, depression, or psychosis. Therefore, it is very important to seek treatment if you or a loved one you know is experiencing.
Pregnancy and childbirth can trigger mental imbalance because of physiological changes such as stress, dysregulated cortisol, increased inflammation, decreased serotonin, and hormonal fluctuations. In addition, psychosocial factors can impact mental well-being including disrupted sleep, the demands of caring for a baby, lack of support, life stress, marital difficulty, or trauma. Genetics plays a part too: a personal or family history of mental illness, in particular bipolar disorder, predisposes a woman to prenatal and postpartum mental illness.
It is important to seek treatment immediately if you notice unusual behaviour in your partner or loved one. Treatment can involve:
1) mood stabilizer medication
2) therapy to stabilize mood and regulate daily schedule
3) support and education for partners and families
For further reading, check out these resources:
A blog post on postpartum hypomania and mania
A mom’s experience of hypomania induced by anti-depressant medication
A study on the prevalence of postpartum hypomania
And another study demonstrating that hypomanic symptoms can be used to correctly diagnose postpartum bipolar disorder.
As well, check out an article in Today’s Parent, and Maya’s appearance on CTV Canada AM talking about the baby pinks.