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Author Archives: Donna Yearyean

‘Tis the Season to Thrive

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So many articles about the holidays talk about surviving the holidays. My wish for you (and myself) is thriving, not just surviving, throughout the holiday season. The holidays create perfect conditions for a craptastic shitstorm of awfulness. Tight budgets, family gatherings, loneliness, stress, cold weather, shorter days, sicknesses, traffic, sweet treats and rich foods everywhere…. Fear not! We hold a lot of power in our choices; we can avoid much of this awfulness!

A definite way to avoid some of those “holiday blahs” is sticking to your normal routine for balanced nutrition and regular exercise. This is especially important if you have a chronic illness that flares due to inactivity or overindulging. Limiting your intake of sugar, simple carbs, and alcohol will help tremendously, but also pay special attention to foods that you know make you feel bad. Limit your portion size of those things, or skip them altogether! Having a second piece of your aunt’s pecan pie when you know that your body doesn’t like the ingredients is just not worth it. Have a reasonable serving, and then you can look forward to having it again next year.

If you know that your body will regret sitting in a lump at your holiday gatherings, have a plan to stay in motion. Playing an active game, a short family walk, or even just setting a timer so that you get up and walk occasionally will make a difference. I know your schedule is packed, but do everything you can throughout the holiday season to carve out time for self-care in the form of movement for your body. A brief walk to start your morning, yoga at lunch, or a trip to the gym after work will pay dividends during this crazy season due to exercise’s positive impact on our psyche and immune system.

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Speaking of our psyche, are the holidays are hard for you emotionally? I get stressed and anxious thinking of everything that needs to be done, money, and obligations. It’s also a busy time of year due to my husband’s work schedule. Want to know a secret? I used to HATE Christmas and other holidays. I still struggle with this and am working on it as I create new memories with my kids. Growing up in the family that I did, holidays, especially Christmas, were bittersweet. Holidays meant extra yelling and shaming. It meant pretending to be a happy, normal family at church and family gatherings. There are some Christmas songs that I still can’t listen to and holidays foods that I can’t make or even see without feeling sick and anxious. Perhaps you still have difficult family members in your life that make the holidays less-than-joyful. Choose how you budget your emotional energy. Maybe this means declining an invite or coming up with a plan to limit how long you are around them. You have the right to set boundaries to preserve your emotional health!

Do you always feel bluer than normal around the holidays, no matter how good things are going? It might be SAD—Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called seasonal depression. There are many ways you can ease the symptoms, including light therapy, herbal products, medication, exercise, and vitamin D supplements.

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Lastly, don’t fixate on what you can’t do. Embrace the joy you can choose to find in what you CAN do. Comparing yourself to others (even if that “other person” is a past version of yourself) will only put you in a funk. Be proud of what you can do in spite of your challenges. Things don’t have to be perfect to be good. You don’t have to make a fancy meal, have your house decked out with decorations, go to every event, or bake cookies for everyone. Do what you can with what you have. I wish you a joyful holiday season in which you THRIVE!

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Cynthia’s new eBook Make Pain Your Bitch: How to Dominate Your Chronic Life will help you dominate your entire life, not just one season! When you purchase via the link on this page you get my exclusive price of only $5 !  Click here to order your copy today!

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Do What You Can

 

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Everyone has limitations and roadblocks for exercising, but they can loom large when you’re struggling with a chronic illness. Don’t throw in the towel, though…. You’re going to need it after you conquer your exercise goals!

A smart first step for anyone, but especially those with physical challenges, is to talk with your doctor to determine the activities and intensity level you can handle.

Got the green light? Now what? First, start small! If you haven’t been very active, choose gentle exercises. Walking for a few minutes, “circling” your joints while you’re on the couch or in bed, or doing a few minutes of yoga every day are all good ways to improve blood flow and get more movement into your daily routine. Swimming and Tai chi are other low-impact options that will improve your overall health.

Even when you’re starting small, it’s important to listen to your body. Chuck that “no pain, no gain” mentality out the window! Trust your instincts so that you don’t push yourself too far. However, it’s easy to let legitimate caution turn into laziness and fear. Don’t let yourself skate by with half-hearted effort!

Focus on what you CAN do. Focus on what you accomplished! Be proud of yourself. Don’t worry about what you can’t do or what other people are doing. Don’t worry about making your workout perfect. Wanted to do 10 minutes but only made it through 5? That’s okay! Something is better than nothing. Challenge yourself to stick with it, and use yourself as your own competition. Remember, it also doesn’t have to involve equipment or a professional workout routine to count as “real” exercise, although those things can be helpful. Playing with your kids, walking around the block, or using a two-liter of soda as a weight for a living room workout all count!!

“Accept that perfect is never coming. You will never be perfect. Your life will never be perfect.”What You Can When You Can: Healthy Living on Your Terms 

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Do you need an accountability buddy? Sticking with exercise can be difficult for anyone, and it’s often even more challenging for those with a chronic illness. Make your commitment known to someone, and ask them to help you stay accountable. This can be a trainer, a workout buddy, a loved one, or even a stranger in an online forum. You might also enjoy and benefit from keeping a journal of your workouts—length, reps, how many pounds your weights are, etcetera. If you feel like you’re not making much progress, just wait till you flip back in your logs to see how far you’ve come and how long you’ve stuck with it!

Lastly, choose activities you enjoy. You’re not going to stick with it if you hate it. For me, this has different aspects. There are some exercises that I don’t really enjoy while I’m doing it, but I love the sense of accomplishment when I’m done. Some exercises are enjoyable for me while I’m doing them and after! I appreciate both, and I challenge myself by not always selecting the ones that are fully enjoyable. Also, rotate your activities, even ones that you love, so that you don’t get bored or burned out.

Regular movement of your body can benefit you in so many ways—stronger muscles (including your heart), better levels for things like blood sugar and cholesterol, reduced arthritis and fibromyalgia pain, and improved emotional health. In a University of California-Davis School of Medicine study, researchers even discovered that people with better mental health felt less pain while people with worse mental health felt more pain. Wow! Our mind-body connection benefits from the body’s natural feel-good chemicals produced by exercise, like serotonin and dopamine. These neurotransmitters positively impact memory, mood, and sleep. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to improve those!

So, what can you do today to get moving?

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Shocked Cavewoman (23andme Results and Review)

When I found out I was accepted into 23andme’s depression/bipolar study, I was excited! Not only would I get to be part of a study that could have a huge positive impact for generations of people with those conditions, but I also would get the highest level of genetic testing and reports from 23andme for free!

I got my reports recently and have enjoyed reading through them. Their full package (Health + Ancestry) currently gives about 80 reports within 5 categories. I’d love to share some of my result highlights with you, and then tell you if I think the service is worth the price!

For the Wellness category, I felt the reports were all accurate, from the fact that I drink less caffeine than average to details of my sleep habits. The one that really caught my eye in this category was “Muscle Composition”.

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WHAT?! This was a neat discovery. I don’t have any plans to become an Olympic sprinter, and the implications of this variant for non-elite athletes isn’t completely understood. However, as I work on improving my physical fitness, this is something that will be fun to keep in mind as I push myself.

In the Traits reports, I learned about how my DNA influences physical appearance, preferences, and physical responses. A few of these missed the mark. Two of those were “Likely no dimples” and “Likely no cleft chin”, but I have a dimple in both cheeks and a cleft chin! Some that it got right were fair-skinned, lots of freckles, and my ring fingers are, indeed, longer than my index finger.

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Within the Genetic Health Risks section, I was happy to see that I don’t have a genetic proclivity for Parkinson’s Disease and only a slightly increased risk for Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. For the Carrier Status reports, I was relieved to see that the only variant detected was for “Hereditary Fructose Intolerance”.

Ready? I saved the best for last… Ancestry. This was the one that I was really jazzed to read, and it contained shocking information! First of all, I can now joke that I really am part caveman!!! Ha!!

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But wait…. Here’s where the real shock set in… I have always been told that I have Jewish and Cherokee Indian in my bloodline. Nope. Not a drop. I am 100% European. WHOA!

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I’ve always felt a kinship with those two populations because I thought they were part of my history, so this news made me sad. However, I am now even more inspired to dig into my genealogy to find out how this misinformation came to be shared as truth and find out who my ancestors really were. The breakdown of my European background was interesting. I knew I had some British roots. Genealogy research on my maternal side has shown that I am related to William Brewster, an Englishman who came to America on the Mayflower as one of their leaders, as well as Abraham Lincoln, who was mostly English. My father’s last name is French, so seeing French listed did not surprise me, though I thought the percentage would be higher. I’m curious to see if learning more about my ancestry will shed light on the German and Irish possibilities, and I want to find out about that 2% Scandinavian because I had no clue that was in there! I’ve never looked into my genealogy on my own and only know little tidbits of my maternal side and nothing on my paternal side.

Another benefit to this type of testing is that I now have my “raw data” to run through other services if I wish. I’ve been checking out the free options on Genetic Life Hacks and was delighted to find that I don’t have a hereditary disorder that runs in my family, though I’m a carrier. No more periodic blood tests needed to check for it. Yay!

Remember me talking about nature vs. nurture in my recent “Mad Mama” post? Using my raw data, I learned about some of my “nature”; I have a variation in a serotonin receptor that has several associations that relate to stress, depression, panic, and personality. I also found out that I have a slightly higher risk for obesity and difficulty maintaining weight loss without high-intensity exercise. (Goodie!) On that same free site, I even learned that I have a rare genetic predisposition to not respond to certain cancer/chemo drugs and immunosuppressants, and it told me what antidepressants I might respond to better! Wow!

So, would I be satisfied with 23andme if I’d paid for my testing? Yes! The site is easy to navigate, and I love the extra bits of background information it gives with your results to help you understand the implications and connections. I was bummed that several things were incorrect in the Traits category, but it didn’t concern me too much, as they are simply “educated guesses”, unlike other parts of the reports that are straight-up scientific reporting. I do feel the price is a little high, but it is in line with similar companies. 23andme offers a nice mix of health and ancestry data, which is unique when compared to your other options.

I do have one word of warning. I hope you’re a good spitter because it was much harder than I thought it would be to muster up enough saliva for that testing tube!! I was sniffing chocolate chip cookies like crazy to try to get my mouth to water!! (It worked. Ha!)

If you want to learn more about yourself, order your 23andme kit!

Have you ever done one of these genetics tests? Do you have a favorite genealogy website?

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Mad Mama

 

Author’s Note: If you’ve experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. If you’re experiencing domestic violence or emotional abuse, you can also call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Growing up in an emotionally dysfunctional family, I didn’t learn healthy skills for coping, communication, or relationships. What was modeled for me (and done to me) was screaming, shaming, manipulation, threats, physical violence, and things being thrown and slammed around. Looking back now, I believe I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression for most of my life, and I have no doubt that “nurture” played a large role in that. Childhood trauma can even alter DNA, so “nurture” could have even impacted “nature”. As my life progressed, loss, abuse, and more unhealthy relationships continued to influence how I dealt with the world, especially when anxious or depressed. ADHD is another contributing factor to my already short fuse and difficulties with emotional self-regulation. As an adult, my depression and anxiety often manifest as irritability, being easily frustrated, and anger.  The link between anger and depression/anxiety has been studied quite a bit, but many people are surprised to find that those conditions can manifest in that way.

Being the mom you want to be—a gentle, mindful parent who builds their child up emotionally—is HARD when you’re fighting against your brain chemistry and patterns ingrained in you since childhood. My kids became “easy targets” for yelling, shaming, and rudeness.

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” (F. Douglass)

This was heartbreaking to me because I was determined to do better for my kids. I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. I wasn’t the mom they deserved. I was falling apart. So, I dedicated myself to rebuild and improve my emotional health and skills. I began regularly going to counseling to start working through my issues and learning those healthy skills that I was lacking. I read (and re-read) a great book called, The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future. I’ve heard wonderful things about Giving The Love That Heals but haven’t gotten to that on my reading list yet! Also, a website that I’ve found to be helpful in my efforts to stop yelling is The Orange Rhino.

 

To help manage my anxiety and depression, I prioritize self-care, including alone time, exercising, and eating healthier. I was on antidepressants for several years but have now been off them for several years for various reasons. Instead of pharmaceuticals, I now focus on proper nutrition, sleep, exercise, and natural, holistic supplements; I feel this is the best choice for me right now.

I’m not “cured”. I’ll always struggle with anger and my reactions to and interactions with my kids. I fail every day, often multiple times. I’m appreciative of my oldest, now in 4th grade, calling me out if I’m unnecessarily harsh. It’s quite humbling to have your firstborn reproachfully say, “Mommy, you don’t need to use that voice with me.” Even my middle son will say, “You didn’t need to get snotty.” So, I keep trying to do better. I talk to them about my struggles with calming my emotions/reactions. When I’m disrespectful towards them or yell, I try to always apologize. I might say something like, “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m having a hard time today, but I shouldn’t talk to you like that no matter what I have going on.” I’ve even put myself in time out on our little “Time Out” bench (now a “putting-on-shoes” bench)! I’m also working hard to instill “emotional intelligence” in them so that they can express themselves in a healthy way, cope with their emotions, and have healthy relationships.

Want to work on your anger? Here are some things that help me be less of a “Mad Mama”.

  1. Self-care, especially exercising, is a proven way to improve our stress response. Your coping skills will also dramatically benefit from proper nutrition, enough quality sleep, and regularly doing whatever recharges you (alone time, time with friends, time pursuing a passion/hobby, etc.).
  2. Have a power word (or short phrase) that you can use to stop yourself when you’re reacting poorly to your kids and getting angry. You’ll say this word in your head (or out loud) as your brain’s “stop sign” when your anger starts revving up. Choose a word that has meaning to you and represents what you desire for your parenting and relationship with your kids. Some ideas: love, respect, kind, gentle. Mine is “respect”.
  3. Give yourself a moment (or twenty!) to process before you react. Do some deep breathing while you take your mental “time out”. This will help curb explosive, emotionally-charged reactions and allow you to respond more logically and respectfully so that you don’t escalate the situation or wound the other people in the situation with your “in the heat of the moment” anger. You may even need to physically remove yourself from the area to best clear your mind. Getting some quick exercise like a walk or jumping jacks helps, too!
  4. You’re in charge. You choose how things impact you. You choose your reaction. Making a choice to respond respectfully, instead of reacting with unhinged anger, is HARD, but it is in your control.
  5. Forgive yourself. Beating yourself up and feeling ashamed accomplishes nothing and won’t help you move toward a healthier relationship with your kids. You’re not a terrible person. You’re not unworthy to be their parent. If your kids are old enough, share a bit with them about the struggles you have with your brain and emotions and how hard you’re trying to not react with anger. Apologize to them when you fail.

I’ll say it again; all of this is HARD. It’s worth every ounce of effort, and the more you try, the more those negative habits and reactions will be replaced by positive, healthy ones. Keep trying. You’re worth the effort, and so are your kids.

(Author’s Note: When you’re angry, if you’re physically violent, emotionally abusive, self-destructive [e.g. binge-eating or abusing substances], or feel like you might become so, I urge you to get mental health support right away.)

 

 

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My Stress Relief is a Crock(pot)

My Stress Relief is a Crock(pot)

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This is the perfect time of year to use a slow cooker! Personally, I’m avoiding turning on the oven because I live somewhere that it’s still ridiculously hot. If you’re starting to feel fall crispness in the air where you live, then using a slow cooker will give you more time to enjoy the nice weather! Also, with school and activities starting back up, we’re all busy, so I love anything that helps me get food on the table easier.

Do you have a slow cooker? I like my 6 quart Hamilton Beach unit.  I love using mine to “batch cook” several pounds of chicken breasts at a time that I can parcel out for quick meals throughout the week. This saves me a lot of stress when I’m trying to figure out what I can have for lunch or make my family for dinner. I follow The Kitchn’s instructions and often double the amount of chicken, using the same amount of liquid and cooking time. I always use water and shake on a bit of salt and seasonings on top of the chicken and into the water. You can also pour on some salad dressing, like Italian or a vinaigrette!

When I’m busy or worn out, I love being able to plop a few things into my slow cooker and know that dinner is covered. Instant stress relief! I have a few favorite recipes for my slow cooker, and one of them is this easy pulled pork. Flavorful and hearty, this is recipe makes a lot! My family of 5 has no problem devouring the leftovers in a few days, but you can freeze small portions after cooking if you need to. You can also halve the recipe for smaller households.

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Donna’s Slow Cooker Pulled Pork                                       

You can prep this the night before, and throw the crock in the fridge. The next day, put the crock back into the unit, and start the slow cooker! To get an idea of the “sauciness”, note that I used the full 32 oz of tomato sauce for the batch pictured. If you don’t like pork, you can sub other meats! Check out the recipe notes below.

24 to 32 oz no-sugar-added, low/no-sodium tomato sauce (amount depending how “saucy” you like it)

½ C applesauce, natural & unsweetened

3 TB maple syrup or honey

1 TB garlic powder

1 TB onion powder

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

½ tsp smoked or regular paprika

¼ tsp red pepper flakes

½ tsp salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp liquid smoke OR 2 TB Worcestershire sauce

4 to 4.5 lb pork loin roast, pork shoulder, pork butt, OR boneless pork chops – fat well-trimmed **

3 TB flour (whole wheat or regular) OR 2 TB cornstarch

In a large slow cooker (5-6 qt), add all ingredients–except meat and flour. Whisk to combine. If using cornstarch, add in now and whisk well! Place pork in slow cooker; spoon sauce over it. It’s okay if the meat isn’t completely submerged.

Cover slow cooker; cook on LOW for 5-7 hours or HIGH for 3-4 hours. Remove meat from slow cooker; shred with 2 forks. If using flour, add flour to the slow cooker now; whisk to combine. Return meat to slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for another 10-20 minutes.

Serve warm on a bun, over slabs of cornbread, over fried or scrambled eggs, on a bed of brown rice/quinoa, or on a baked potato (regular or sweet). Also good on its own with a green salad or steamed/roasted veggies on the side.

**You can sub the pork for 4 to 4.5 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts and/or thighs… (same cooking time) OR 4 to 4.5 lb. beef (boneless shoulder roast, boneless arm chuck roast, boneless blade chuck roast, or boneless chuck roast – fat well-trimmed). Cut hunk of beef in half before placing in slow cooker. Beef may need more cooking time than pork (LOW 7 to 10 hours or HIGH 4 to 6 hours).

Click here for printable recipe.

READERS: What’s your favorite slow cooker recipe?

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Defeated by the Daily Grind

Defeated by the Daily Grind

By Donna

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Do you ever get to the end of the day and feel like you didn’t get anything done? Whether it was a hard day for you mentally, physically, or both, it’s so disheartening to feel unproductive with that to-do list looming!

I’m a list maker. My husband thinks it’s hilarious that I’ll add something to my to-do list or grocery shopping list AFTER I’ve done the task or already put the item in the cart, just so I can cross it off! I get great satisfaction from seeing everything crossed off. However, when it comes to to-do lists, we usually only write down the big stuff and not the “daily grind” things that often take all the energy we have—mental and physical. This is where the “It’s Done!” list comes in.

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You can definitely have a to-do list AND an “It’s Done!” list. Your to-do list can be more major things that you need to remind yourself of, and your “It’s Done!” list of smaller things will be very important on the days you’re struggling. As you get things done, write it down! Track it in whatever manner makes sense for your lifestyle and personality—an app, a notebook, a whiteboard, etc. You can title your list however inspires you. Some ideas besides, “It’s Done!”, are: “I Did It!”, “I Conquered…”, “Handled like a Queen”…. What do you want to name your list?

Some days, you are seriously going to write down things like, “got out of bed”, “brushed my hair”, “played a game with my kids”, or “made eye contact with a stranger”. There is no shame in any of those! I can think back to times when I would have written things like, “took my kids to library story time AND said hello to another mom there” or “gave my kid a bath”. Whatever was difficult for you that day—no matter how small—because of the battle you’re fighting with your mental and/or physical health, write it down when you do it or at the end of the day.

Celebrate ALL of your victories!

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Trade Loathing for Love

Trade Loathing for Love

By Donna

 

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“I feel like I ruin everything.”

Anxiety steamrolled my dear friend again, and she ended up alone in the car, instead of enjoying the view with her family. I replied, “If your husband had cancer and tried to climb the stairs but had to stop because he just couldn’t due to his health, would you feel like he ruined it?” “No.” Of course not! We give others grace where we give ourselves judgment and hate.

Many of us started thinking lowly of ourselves when we were kids—the negative opinions of authority figures becoming our inner voice. Trauma can also plant the seeds of self-hatred with the guilt and shame that often follow, whether you endured abuse, combat, or another traumatic event. Maybe that whisper (or shouting) in your brain is new, something that grew out of the limitations and struggles you face now due to your health.

Shame can actually be healthy—a protective function that helps us learn from mistakes. However, shame that festers and turns into self-hatred is toxic. It’s that voice that tells you’re a failure. You’re letting everyone down. You’re ruining everything. You’re not worthy. You’re not good enough. These thoughts are a black fog draped heavily over everything, hiding the rays of joy that try to shine.

Understanding where that voice is rooted is the first step to healing and trading self-loathing for self-love. Many people find professional counseling helpful in the process of identifying and mending these parts of our hearts and psyche. Religion, building healthy friendships, and self-help books are a few other things that can help some people.

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Want to trade your self-loathing for love? Here are some tips that you can start doing now.

1. Have a “power word” (or short phrase) to use as a mute button for that toxic inner dialogue. When those negative thoughts start, this word will be something you can say loudly in your head (or out loud) or write down as a counter-attack against those thoughts. It should be something that has meaning to you and represents what you desire for yourself. Some ideas: love, respect, empowered, grace, enough.

2. Let it go, let it go, that perfect girl is gone! No one is perfect; even that cousin who is always posting fabulous photos on social media! Don’t forget that social media is a highlight reel. We have no idea what struggles are going on in their behind-the-scenes and outtakes. No one never yells, only serves from-scratch gourmet meals, never gets behind on chores…. We don’t Instagram frozen chicken nuggets (on paper plates because your sink is piled with dishes), right? (We really should… I challenge you to share of glimpse of your reality with someone, whether on social media or in person!)

3. My go-to advice when someone says something self-loathing to me is to ask them, “What would you say to a good friend if they said to you what you just said to me?” Learn to speak to yourself the same way you would speak to someone you love—because you deserve your love! If your shame and self-loathing have roots in a difficult childhood, it is especially powerful to picture that little kid version of you and how you would speak to them. Speak with that kindness and compassion now to the grown-up you.

4. If your self-loathing is rooted in mistakes you’ve made, begin the hard work of forgiving yourself. Perhaps your health issues stem from poor choices you made. Maybe you’ve allowed your legitimate limitations to become excuses for a poor attitude or laziness. Remember what I said in tip #3? Speak to yourself like you would a cherished friend who seeks forgiveness—with honesty, kindness, compassion, and grace.

5. Try the “3 C’s”: Catch, Check, Change. 1. CATCH the negative thought. 2. CHECK it. Running it by a trusted friend or a therapist can help if you feel you can’t be objective. Is the thought true? Rational? 3. CHANGE it. Trade the negative thought with a positive, grace-filled one. For example, “I’m a terrible wife because I’m behind on laundry again. I can’t do anything right.” This can be flipped to, “I’m really struggling with pain this week, so I’m behind on laundry. That’s okay. I’m doing my best.”

You ARE enough. I hope you can believe that someday.

Do you struggle with self-loathing? Which tip do you want to try this week? Do YOU have a tip to share with our readers that has helped you trade loathing for love?

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Resources: mentalhealthresource.blogspot.com, goodtherapy.org

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