Period Tracking for Mental Health
1. Get a period tracking app.
Unless you want to go old school and make a handwritten chart (props to you if so), I highly recommend getting a period tracking app to log in all your info. Some apps are really great and have all sorts of info you can track such as a variety of different moods, as well as physical information like how high or low your cervix is, your BMI, and cervical mucus. Unless you're actively trying (or avoiding) having a baby, you probably don't need to log in all this information but I do highly recommend getting an app that includes more than 3-5 moods. I really liked the app "Flo" because it had several different moods I could choose from.
If you don't know when you ovulate, try out one of these methods to become even more attuned to your body. Not only is ovulation pretty much the only time during your cycle when you can get pregnant (spans between 1-3 days for most women), but it's also the time in our cycle when we are at our most active & motivated, a super helpful thing to know about yourself if you want to feel happier. I've tried all the different ways of figuring out when I ovulate but for me, the BMI was the one that worked the best for me. I've heard different things from different women so if waking up at the same time every morning to take your temperature sounds like a royal pain in the a$$, try a different method.
2. Make it a part of your daily routine.
It takes about 30 seconds from each day to mentally check in with how I feel each day and log it into the app. Every evening, I log my data into the app as part of my bedtime routine. However, it might be equally as beneficial to log your data during the middle of the day while it's fresh on your mind. Whatever works for you!
Pro tip: make sure to log your data at the same time every day so you don't end up forgetting and going like 3 days without logging in anything (not speaking from experience or anything). Set an alarm if you have you or log it when you take medication if you take a daily med.
3. Go slow.
Part of the benefit of logging your moods in conjunction with when you ovulate, your luteal and follicular cycle & menstruate, is to notice your natural patterns. That means you might have to log in information for 2-3 months before you can really start to notice any trends. And if you have irregular cycles, it might take longer. Implementing changes based off of your menstrual cycle is a mindfulness practice and takes some patience. If you're feeling like giving up... keep at it! I promise the payoff will be worth it!
4. Implement changes to behaviors based off of your observations.
This is the last part of the whole process. Once you've logged about 2-3 months worth of data, you can either go back into your app or make your own graph to start noticing trends. For example, I started to notice that I logged "excited", "in love" and "motivated" more during the days around when I was ovulating (right around cycle day 12 for me). I also noticed that I was much more likely to go on walks during this time in my cycle and walked significantly less during the end of the luteal phase, or days leading up to my period. If you're interested in learning more about the different phases of a menstrual cycle, check out this great article from The American Pregnancy Association which gives a lot more details than I can.
Once I noticed the different trends I was experiencing mood-wise in relation to my cycle, I started to implement changes. Some of the behaviors that I found helpful to observe and implement were based around social time with friends or colleagues, vacations, adding extra meetings or events to my schedule, how I dress and exercise. For example, I know that I am more likely to want to stay at home watching Netflix on the days leading up to my period so I try not to schedule any social time or meetings during those days. Instead, I spend those days doing really nurturing things for myself like doing a restorative yoga class, taking a long bath or just actively trying to be slow and easy with myself. When I've given myself permission to nurture myself during the days when my body is asking me to, I can feel more refreshed to socialize and schedule all the things when I'm ovulating and more energized.
These are just a few of the ways that I've implemented change based off of my tracking and I can't even begin to tell you how much better I feel. And I'm not alone... this is the same kind of feedback that I've been hearing more and more from mental health professionals who work with women. Not only does tracking your cycle help with feeling more attuned with your body, but it's also a great way to plan your schedule around how you know you'll be feeling (goodbye, guilt about cancelling so many plans last minute and spending all day in PJs!). And anytime we can have a stronger mind-body connection, research tells us that we feel happier. So try it out. See what you think!
8 Physical Signs of Anxiety
While there are plenty of articles out there on common symptoms of anxiety (cheers for these btw!), there's hardly anything written about the physical symptoms of anxiety.
As a therapist who works a lot with anxiety, you'd be hard pressed to find someone coming to therapy for anxiety who isn't experiencing at least one of the symptoms listed below. That's because anxiety is experienced in the part of the brain that also controls much of our physical body. When we experience anxiety, our body perceives a threat and responds to that threat in a physical way.
Oftentimes, clients find themselves in the ER or doctor's office due to a concern that they might be having a heart attack before they actually end up in my office. Once clients start to see me, I use a somatic type of therapy to help them understand and build a better relationship with their own mind-body connection. These are a few of the most common physical symptoms of anxiety that I tend to see:
1. Chronic throat problems or tight throat that doesn’t go away.
According to The US National Library of Medicine, our throats happen to be one area of the body that holds onto this stress for unknown reasons.
When I was in college and dealing with some major anxiety, I caught tonsillitis or strep 8X my freshman year and 9X my sophomore year. I ended up needing to get my tonsils removed which helped some but the tightness in my throat continued to linger until I sought out a form of therapy called biofeedback. Biofeedback taught me about the mind-body connection or how the brain impacts our physical body. One of the things I learned from this experience is that college students have a high rate of strep and tonsillitis.
Although one might argue this is because many college students live in close quarters with other students, it’s also possible that it’s a physical response to the stress of exams, late night study sessions, and huge transition into independence and adulthood (not to mention the amount of parental stress oftentimes placed on new students to succeed or stick to a major that the student hates). Similarly, chronic stress can weaken the immune system as a way of preparing the body for fight/flight/flee against a perceived threat. This happens not only when studying for finals, but during stressful times in our life or in response to trauma.
2. Chronic exhaustion.
Imagine the gas and brakes in the car. When you put your foot on the gas of your car without ever stopping to press the brakes to slow down, you end up running out of gas. Our nervous system works similarly in that if we never push our brakes and relax, our bodies get the message that we need to keep pushing on the gas and thus, we run out of energy and are chronically tired.
This sounds like the perfect place for a rude comment like “just relax” but sometimes we have been under so much stress for so long or have experienced such a stressful situation, that we have to teach our bodies to relax through rebuilding safety and trust in our environment before we can feel rested. Easier said than done I can assure you. If gentle, yin, kundalini or nidra yoga or guided meditation for sleep haven’t worked to help your exhaustion in the past, it might be wise to work with a mental health therapist who specializes in sleep, trauma, or is body oriented.
3. Racing or pounding heart.
Again, another common response to what the body perceives as a threat. The gas in our car (sympathetic nervous system) controls your heart rate. When you perceive something as stressful or threatening, your adrenal glands produce an increase in cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones). Your heart reacts to this increase of stress hormones and speeds up the heart rate in order to pump more blood to your large muscles to prepare to fight or flight in a combat. The good news is that your racing heart means that your body is doing what it’s programmed to do. Practicing mindful mantras or phrases when you notice these sensations such as “this is my body’s natural response to fear” or “I am safe” can help to ease a racing heart.
4. Shortness of breath.
People with chronic anxiety tend to breathe more from their chest than their bellies in an (often unconscious) attempt to gasp for air. When your breathe too quickly or mostly from your chest, your body receives the message that an increase in oxygen means there is danger looming. Spending a few minutes each day breathing from your belly or diaphragm sends the message to your body that you are safe and that it’s okay to relax.
5. Achy muscles & headaches.
Your muscles tense up in response to stress. Individuals who have undergone chronic stress without relaxation or who have experienced trauma, can lead to painfully tight muscles. Many people with chronic anxiety report achy muscles in their upper part of their bodies (neck, shoulders and head) which can also lead to headaches.
6. Gastrointestinal issues.
Ever had really bad diarrhea or pain during a difficult time in your life? You’re not alone. GI issues such as constipation, diarrhea or pain show up a lot in people who are experiencing anxiety. This is due to the gut-brain axis, which is a communication system between our brain and the part of our nervous system that controls our digestion. AKA when our brain gets the message that we are stressed or perceives any sort of threat, it directly messes with our entire digestion system.
7. Extra sweaty & smelly sweaty.
Your sympathetic nervous system (the gas in your “car”) gets activated, one of the things that it triggers are sweat glands. According to NIMH, not only can you sweat profusely, but when your sweat glands are influenced by a SNS response, the type of sweat perspired can smell really bad.
8. Lowered immune system.
You catch colds more easily when you’re in a chronic state of fight or flight. Your body thinks it’s under attack and is simply trying to preserve what little resources it has to protect you from what it believes is a life threat. That means a weakened immune system.
If you believe that you have an anxiety disorder or have experienced trauma and have not been able to feel like yourself even after trying meditation, exercise or yoga, please reach out to a trained trauma or body-oriented mental health therapist for help.
1. National Institute of Mental Health website
2. U.S. National Library of Medicine website
3. "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk
4. "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma" by Peter Levine
5. "In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness" by Peter Levine
6. "The Body Remembers: The Psychophysiology of Trauma and Trauma Healing" by Babette Rothschild
7. "The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication and Self-Regulation" by Steven Porges
When my husband and I first talked about getting married, I found SO many different resources out there for couples that helped with asking some of the important questions about marriage. When we decided to have a baby, I found a ton of information on pregnancy but very little information about important conversations couples should have when contemplating whether or not to bring a baby into their family. It can be pretty confusing if this is your first child or you have little REAL experience with babies and kids (all those sweet moments are deceitful y’all. Despite what those cute little feet and snuggly faces tell you, babies & kids are hard work!).
Because there’s little guidance on what to talk about, I wanted to list out questions I think might be helpful for couples to talk about when considering kids to help get the conversation juices started.
1. Why do you want kids?
2. Why does your partner want kids?
3. Why now?
4. Why not later?
5. Is one of you on the fence about having a baby?
6. If so, why?
7. What are important aspects of raising a child?
8. Did you do any babysitting growing up? How much? Did you like it? Would you like to do that forever?
9. How would you be different as a parent compared to your parents? The same?
10. What dreams do you have when you see yourself with your child?
12. (If choosing to birth your child) What would we do about abnormal tests?
13. (If choosing to birth your child) What would we do if we couldn’t get pregnant right away? Would IVF, etc be an option?
14. What is your ideal birth? Would we want a doula, midwife, hospital birth, etc.?
15. In what ways would we prepare for birth? Prenatal yoga classes, breastfeeding classes, Infant CPR, etc.?
16. How do you think having a child will impact your sex life?
17. Are you and your partner willing to make sex less of a priority (at least for a few weeks or months especially if birthing)?
18. What is the longest you could go without sex?
19. How will you and your partner work to keep the spark alive in the relationship after baby arrives?
20. Can you reasonably afford a child?
21. How much money does the average vaginal childbirth cost in your area at a hospital? Birthing center? Home?
22. If using insurance, how much will your plan cover?
23. Will you need to pay some or all of those expenses before the birth?
24. If taking off for maternity leave, how much money will you need to save for the amount of time you will be absent from work?
25. How many kids do you want? Why?
26. How many does your partner want? Why?
27. Are you willing to compromise? Why or why not?
28. How soon after the first kid will you want to start trying for #2 (if desired)?
29. What last name will the baby have?
30. What kind of childcare will you use? Will one of you become a stay-at-home parent? Who?
31. What type of daycare will you choose? Do they have a waitlist?
32. What challenges do you think we will have to face as a multi-racial family? As a gay family? As an adopted family?
33. How will we divide parenting responsibilities?
34. How much will religion be a part of our kids life?
35. Who will raise our kids if something happens to us?
36. Will we let our child sleep in our bed? Room? How long?
37. Breastfeeding? For how long?
38. Public or private school?