Friday, November 30, 2007

A Quarter Century of PEPS

As seasoned parents know, one tried and true way of dealing with parenting anxiety is to have a supportive network with whom you can share your parenting joys, frustrations, questions, and concerns. In Seattle, we are fortunate to have the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS) do the organizational heavy lifting for us. PEPS connects parents of similarly-aged babies within a neighborhood with a facilitator who guides them in discussions of couples' issues, post-partum mood disorders, returning to work, sleep, and the like. The PEPS model could certainly be replicated by some well-connected and enthusiastic parents in other cities and towns, as well.

For those in Seattle who want to show their support for PEPS and the work it does on behalf of parents, mark your calendar for the 25th Anniversary Luncheon on Tues. April 29, 2008. Speaking at the event will be newscaster Jean Enersen and author of the "Arthur" series Marc Brown.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Holiday Anxiety

With the holidays upon us, many of us will feel anxiety's pull more acutely than at other times of the year. Part of the reason for this phenomenon, I suppose, is due to just how different the holidays are than the rest of the year. This difference can be exciting. We eat differently, shop differently, visit different places, see different people. But all this difference can also leave us vulnerable to anxiety's arsenal of tricks. I've often observed with clients how a strong offense is the best defense against difficult transitions. One way to defend against anxiety is to maintain the regimen that keeps one feeling well. What I've noticed in folks affected by anxiety is this recurring theme of needing to strike a balance between personal and public time. This balance may look very different on an individual basis, but the need for balance is universal. Being taken out of our usual work/family/private life routine can be exciting, but aiming for a similar balance during the uniqueness of the holidays may be the strongest innoculation against anxiety.

Some questions to ask yourself may include: When I'm feeling at my best, what does the balance between alone and social time look like? During the holidays, do I expect that balance to shift? If the holidays tend to be a time of greater sociability for me, where are my opportunities for alone time? Are there some social engagements I could cut out if I start to feel too out of balance? If the holidays tend to be a time of greater solitude, where are my opportunities for greater sociability? How might I create opportunities for more public time if I begin to feel too out of balance? Is there someone who could check in with me about how I'm doing in my aim to balance personal and social time?

And with that, I wish you all happy and balanced holidays.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sleeping off the Baby Weight

As we all know, getting enough sleep is important for our mood and overall ability to function. Additionally, new research shows that women who get at least seven hours of sleep a night are much more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight than women who got only five hours per night. Just another reason to ensure all moms of newborns are getting the sleep they need for good health and well-being.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Help Karen Kleiman with her Important Research

Karen Kleiman is a tireless author, clinician, trainer, and advocate for advancements in ppmd research and treatment. I cannot say enough good things about the work she does. If you've had a baby in the past year, please consider participating in her latest research project:

As many of you know, I have been collaborating with a research team at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who have expertise in postpartum distress and scale design. We have performed an initial statistical analysis on a new postpartum distress scale.

At this stage, we would like to re-test our proposed scale items, along with established measures, such as the Edinburgh Postpartum Depression Scale (EPDS).

We need approximately 100 postpartum women (with babies up to 12-months old) to complete this phase of the study. I am hoping that you will post a link to the questionnaire, which is offered online, for your members or your clients, to help us further validate this measure.

No problem, Karen! Please click on this link to be directed to her survey.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tuning Your Instrument

In the Yoga Therapeutics workshop I attended today with veteran teacher J.J. Gormley, she used the metaphor of body as instrument. I think this is a particularly apt metaphor in thinking about the mind-body connection. When mind is "in tune", everything is in balance. Anxiety and depression can cause our instrument to go out of tune. Depression can cause our instrument to go flat. Tightening up the strings will bring the instrument back into tune. Anxiety makes our instrument play sharp. In that case, the strings need to be slackened.

Depression is an introverting force (or, langana, in Sanskrit) that encourages us to fold inward, close down. To bring the body back into balance (samana), start with the inclination to fold in, and gently coax the body outward. One way to do this is to start in staff pose. Inhale. Exhale and bend at the waist into a seated forward bend with your shins as your drishti, or focal point. Return to staff pose. Now, try seated forward bend, but make your toes your drishti. Come in and out of seated forward bend several times, moving your drishti incrementally higher each time, while noting any differences in your body's tuning in each subsequent staff pose. (Note: in order to keep your neck long, you will be bending less and less at the waist each time, keeping your head, neck, and torso in good alignment.) After doing the seated forward bend with your focal point at different heights, close the practice with your eyes focused on your shins one more time. What differences do you notice on your mind and body between holding your gaze outward versus downward?

Anxiety, on the contrary, is an agitating force (or in Sanskrit,brhmana), keeping the mind very busy. Start in table-top position. Inhale for 6 counts into cow pose. Exhale for 4 counts into cat. Repeat this a few times. Then equalize your breath for five counts each in cat and cow. After a few repetitions of equal breaths in cat and cow, shorten the inhale into cow to 4 breaths, and lengthen the exhale into cat to 6 breaths. Rest in child's pose. Notice if lengthening your exhale has had any effect on your instrument. Repeat the exercise again, keeping an awareness of how the change in breath alters the tuning of your instrument.

In your home practice, play around with poses using different gazing points or breathing techniques. Note which you experience as calming and which as energizing. When you start to sense anxiety or depression tapping on your shoulder, refer back to your catalogue of poses and implement those counter-balancing poses that could bring your instrument back into balance.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Anxiety and the Present Progressive

One of my favorite book titles is Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." It perfectly sums up for me the sense of talking about a difficult, messy, complicated, and enormous subject while avoiding words that could signify the difficulty, messiness, complexity and enormity of what's being discussed.

I think anxiety falls into that category of difficult subjects to discuss. In trying to understand the role anxiety plays in one's life, I try to think about what is the person's relationship to anxiety. How does one experience the effects of this anxiety? What vision does one hold for their life, and what is anxiety's place in it?

In addressing this relationship, I find it useful (albeit, on the surface a bit strange) to ask questions using the present progressive tense. The implication of the present progressive is that there are actions, intents, beliefs and values already present that can help move toward a desired way of being or move away from anxiety's undesired effects. Some questions I might ask to understand the space between a person and her anxiety could include: When you are experiencing anxiety, what is that experience like? How is it different when you are not experiencing it? How do you see your life moving away from anxiety? If you saw anxiety moving out of your life, what could you see taking its place? What might you see yourself moving toward? From what sources is anxiety drawing strength? From what sources is it drawing opposition? When you are trying to live a life less affected by anxiety, what is involved in the trying? Do you know of others who are engaged in the trying? What strategies are they using in the trying?

I know these questions sound a bit odd, but if you can get beyond their strange constructions, their implied action can help uncover values by which we seek to live, and suggest a strategy through which they may be lived out.

My thoughts on using the present progressive to talk about difficult subjects have been greatly influenced by Johnella Bird. I must acknowledge the tremendous influence her work has had on my thinking, and I encourage anyone who is interested in the use of language to influence how we conceive of difficult problems to read her books "Talk That Sings" or "The Heart's Narrative".

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Great Postpartum Web Resource

All right, so, I'm on the Board of Postpartum Support International of Washington, but I had nothing to do with the awesome revamping of the Web site, so when I say it really is worth checking out, I say it with only the slightest hint of bias. Truly, the fabulous women of PSI have put together a comprehensive list of books, articles, and resources that will be useful to postpartum parents and their beloveds regardless of their geographic location. Even better, if you'd like to support PSI of WA's mission, clicking on any of the recommended books will route you to Amazon where a portion of your purchase will go directly to PSI of WA. (Okay, that last part smacked of Board Member bias/promotion), but really please help spread the word that help for parents is out there!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Support The MOTHERS Act

Want to get your activism on today? Please take 3 minutes to contact our U.S. Senators and ask them to support the MOTHERS Act, which will “ensure that new mothers and their families are educated about postpartum depression, screened for symptoms, and provided with essential services” and will “increase research at the National Institutes of Health on postpartum depression.”

Please contact both of our Senators by calling or using their webforms:

Sen. Maria Cantwell

Sen. Patty Murray

If you call, you may want to use this script: “Hello this is (your name), one of Senator (Senator's name) constituents from (your town). I am calling to ask the Senator to co-sponsor The MOTHERS Act, bill number S. 1375, sponsored by Senator Menendez, which will provide funding for research, education, screening and treatment of postpartum depression. Thank you." Whether you call or email, you may also want to include a sentence or two about why the legislation is important to you.


Not from Washington? Get contact info for your two Senators here:

Friday, November 2, 2007

Pets as Anxiety Repellant

One woman I know had an elaborate ritual for leaving her house. Anxiety dictated the specific steps involved in this ritual in order for her to leave and return to her house safely. The woman owns a dog, with whom she takes daily walks. She and her dog enjoy their walks together immensely. But after some time of performing her house-leaving ritual, anxiety began prescribing more and more elaborate steps to the ritual--so much so, that it began cutting into time walking with her dog. She realized that anxiety was robbing her and her dog of their most enjoyable time of day together. With this knowledge, she has renewed her efforts to limit anxiety's influence on her life.

I relay this story because it illustrates how pets can help us become aware of how anxiety affects daily living and give us a "baseline" for measuring gains in eradicating anxiety's influence. Here are some questions to consider about the anxiety-repelling qualities of pets: Do you hear anxiety's "chatter" more when you are with or without your pet? How might anxiety be useful to a pet in the wild? How is it unhelpful to pets in a household? Do you know of any pets who had experienced great anxiety due to trauma and were able to overcome this anxiety? What environmental factors helped the pet overcome anxiety and trauma? Are these same environmental factors present or absent in your own life?

Pets can console, teach, energize, and calm us. They are valued companions in both difficult and uncomplicated times. In lives increasingly bothered by anxiety we would do well to take stock of how pets can buffer our lives from its unhelpful messages.