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Mental Monday: Anxiety, times 30.

I recently read somewhere that people in their 30′s tend to have the most anxiety over any other age-group. I can’t recall where I read that or verify the research but, on a personal note,  it makes sense to me.

As you settle into your 30′s, there’s a good chance that you’re no longer a professional student or floating from one dead-end job to another.   You probably have a career or a career on hold while you’re raising children.   Although more and more people are holding off on marriage and children well into their 30′s (or abandoning that lifestyle all together), there is a whole host of other responsibilities that people in their 30′s usually have accrued. Maybe you have a demanding career, a mortgage or high rent, and car payments. And school loans from college or for that MA degree from when you were 25 that you may or may not have actually needed. The 30′s are a time when we become more knowledgeable about who we are and what we need in life to make us happy. However, reaching that place of happiness and staying there can easily make the most calm and collected of us into anxious nervous-wrecks.

Societal and familial values, in addition to biological urges,  have created a simple plan for us to follow – school, career, marriage, house, dog, children. Because of that, many people in their 20′s look at their 30′s as a time to get serious, settle down, and work even harder to get ahead. But then we arrive in our 30′s and get nervous when things don’t go as planned. (continues…)

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Mental Monday: A Lifetime Sentence to Worry

Now that I’m a parent, I often look back at all the crazy/dangerous antics that I put my own parents through. I was not alone. My sister and brother were often as reckless and carefree as me.

From speeding tickets (all of us) to falling out of a 2nd story window (my sister) to getting hit by a car while riding a bike (my brother) to splitting a forehead wide open by falling on a step (my sister) to skydiving in our late teens (me, my brother), to getting into a bad moped accident in Ibiza (me) to traveling to scary foreign lands (all of us) my mom and dad became accustomed to the anxiety-induced adrenaline rush generated by the wild and accident-prone behavior of their children.

I had never really thought too much about this until I became a parent. I’ve worried about my baby boy before I even knew he was a boy. I’ve been worrying before, during, and every minute after he breathed his first breath. I think about how much I worry over him now and what it will be like in the future, when he’s driving for the first time, when he’s off to school, when he goes off into the world. I had assumed that the feelings of anxiety will only get easier.

My parents have informed me otherwise.

It’s been 30+ years since they have brought three children into the world and they still don’t have it much easier.

My brother is a psychologist in the military, a position he opted to take during this time of war.  He does not currently work in a war zone, but that could change any time. My sister, a civilian lawyer, works in Afghanistan. My parents are besides themselves with worry. They scour the news everyday. Their heart skips a beat before every phone call, especially those from an international number.  My sister has learned to check in with e-mails, even just to say nothing more than “hi.” She has learned to send an “I’m OK” mass e-mail to her immediate family before we hear about attacks in her area. Those e-mails bring most of her loved ones temporary solace during a constant state of turmoil. But, for my parents, the e-mails only validate their anxiety and fears.

I suppose it doesn’t matter if your child is 2 days, 2 months, 2 years, 22 years, or 32 years old. It doesn’t matter if your child is always with you at home, away at college, works in a “safe” city, or works in a war zone. As a parent, you will worry. A lot. It doesn’t always get easier. And, for some parents, it only gets harder.

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Mental Monday: Sleepless in America

Sleepless in America is the first blog post in a new series called Mental Monday. Every Monday, I will be discussing a new topic within the realm of mental health.

Sleep. We all need it but, not surprisingly, very few of us get enough of it. A 2002 National Sleep Foundation study revealed that about 74% of all American adults experience symptoms of insomnia a few nights a week, or more. Insomnia could mean a variety of things – not able to go to sleep within 15 minutes of laying down, getting up too early, waking up periodically through the night, and not feeling rested the next morning even after an adequate amount of sleep. The research indicated that 39% get less than 7 hours of sleep each weeknight and 37% are so sleepy during the day that it interferes with daily activities. 20% of Americans use sleep medications and 15% use sleep medications every night. Women make up the majority (63%) of the people who suffer most from insomnia.  In addition, 66% of people dealing with insomnia have children in the household.

Shocking? Not really.

It doesn’t take much to figure out why parents, and specifically women, have trouble sleeping. Parenting and anxiety tend to go hand-in-hand. There is so much to worry about – money, mortgage, marriage, soccer practice, homework, paying for college, will he get into college?, crazy people, pedophiles, car accidents, H1N1…whew! It’s enough to make any parent stay up with worry every night. But who has the time to worry about all that stuff during the day? We’re too busy being pulled in a million directions and thinking about the next thing we need to do…or just don’t have time to do. Often enough, our anxieties surface much more at night than during the day. As soon as we lay our tired bodies down to sleep, those anxious worries and thoughts may begin to ruminate. It’s hard to go to sleep and stay asleep when there are a billion worrisome thoughts racing around in our minds.

If anxiety is the key factor for restless and altogether sleepless nights, there are many options for people. We all know that medication is one of them. Have you ever taken sleep medication? Chances are you have. The number of people who have tried and/or regularly use sleep medication steadily increases each year. For one thing, there are a lot more options for the sleepless, from herbal and natural remedies such as Melatonin and Tryptophan to over-the-counter sleep aids such as Tylenol PM and Nytol to prescription drugs like Ambien and Trazodone. If you choose to take a sleep medication, whether it’s herbal or prescription, it’s important to do your homework beforehand. Just like any other medication, there can be side effects and possible interactions with other medications. And for prescription medication, especially, there is also a risk for dependence, lowered tolerance, and rebound insomnia. (continues…)

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Warning: Parenting Is Hazardous to Your Health

Parenting should come with a warning label.

Let’s start with pregnancy. It’s been said that the physical strain of pregnancy and childbirth can take a year off your life. For some of us, that experience might have shaved off about five years. Remember that life sucking machine from the movie, Princess Bride? Well, that’s what labor felt like for me.

After the kid is born, it’s all about the kid. You barely have time to shower and throw on some lip-gloss let alone check in with your physical and mental well-being. Sure, you’re in and out of doctors offices all the time, but you rarely (if ever) see one for yourself. Oh, you’ve had a migraine for a week? A weird bump? A lingering cough? Who has time to check in with a real doctor? That’s why they invented WebMD.

When your kid starts preschool, it’s all downhill from there. Children become carriers for all things germy and disease-ridden. There is no doubt that you will get sick when you have kids. Often. If your child has a runny nose and cough, expect to wake up the next morning with the same problem. You’ll probably get even more sick than the kid, but you don’t have time to wallow in Kleenex-wrapped pity. Get back in the kitchen and make their lunch! And, speaking of lunch, who has time to eat it? You might serve your kid organic and nutritious meals, but you’re often relegated to live off saltines, canned chili, and whatever particles of food are left on the highchair. (continues…)

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