December 19, 2018

Say NOPE to Holiday Stress and Spend Time with Jesus Instead!


December is festive! and merry! and bright!... and freakin crazy.

I mean, as a person who battles anxiety (which often, for me, leads to depression) this season that I've always loved, can quickly become an avalanche of to-do lists, shopping, parties, and weeks that are WAY too packed! All this stuff is sooo fun! BUT--there's just SO much happening in 25 days, and suddenly I'm drowning. In stress. And sugar. And Eggnog. (Just kidding, I hate eggnog. #Sorrynotsorry.)

Since becoming a mom, I remember the holiday season when it dawned on me: "Ohhhhh... If I want ALL the MAGICAL HOLIDAY THINGS to happen, I am the one who has to do it! Not my mom. Cause, I AM the mom!" *insert my horrified face.*

I realize more and more every year how much my mom did to make our December's "the most wonderful time of the year!" I mean, I love that song too, but who is handling the stress and arrangements for all of those wonderful events? Who's cleaning the house for guests, and who's going to the grocery store, and who's schedule-juggling and ride-coordinating for the "parties for hosting" and "marshmallows for toasting" and "caroling out in the snow?" It all takes a lot o' work, on top of all the regular caring for kids/home/work--which can leave us moms mentally and physically exhausted!

Don't get the wrong idea...I am NOT saying that my husband doesn't help me with any holiday stuff--Patrick is amazing, and I'm lucky and grateful to have him! He is working so hard to provide for our family, and because of his hard work, we have the luxury of being able to buy Christmas gifts for our kids and each other, as well as help a few other families in need! He actually does the majority of the food on holiday occasions (and I am SO grateful!!) cause he is a much better cook than I! He hung the lights on the outside of our house--which would not have happened if it was my responsibility! He is at home with the kiddos when I go out to holiday shop or help set up for a church Christmas party. He wrapped some presents with our oldest boy. AND, best of all, he performed a dance with a few other brave souls to the Sugar Plumb Fairy (in footy pjs) at our church Christmas party, just because I was on the committee and I asked him to! So you can see that he is the best. :)

What I AM saying is, for most of the festivities of the season, if I want that stuff to happen, it's up to me as the mom to plan it and make it happen.

Like Christmas cards. I'm the one who needs to make that happen. (Or not happen...which is what has now happened for the third year in a row. *sigh*) And, I am the one who got the decorations up and the tree decorated while my children "helped." Haha. My husband and I plan out what to buy for our boys and other family members, then I stress endlessly about if we made the right decision for each person, and if we're buying them the PERFECT PRESENT, then I finally just get fed up and start buying gifts with a reckless abandon that I will probably regret while they are unwrapping them.


Hahaha! This may have happened to me a few times this year...

But, there's more!! There's planning get-togethers with friends to make Christmas cookies and gingerbread houses, and making sure we find ways to serve and give during this season. We can't forget to watch Christmas movies, plan when to take the boys to pick gifts for their dad and each other, and what to make (or buy, haha) for treats to deliver treats to our neighbors. We gotta figure out when to go see Santa, when to go to a Christmas concert, when to go to the Library Christmas story time, or the gingerbread house display at the museum, or see the live nativity, or go to the Messiah sing-along, hear the carolers at the Temple Visitor Center and go see the lights, etc. Plus, a million other things...

In December, I'm also usually helping with a Christmas party or two at church, musical numbers, and keeping track of kids' school Christmas activities. Also, being entrepreneur makes this season tricky, since this is the season of people buying gifts--therefore the best time to focus on getting my products out there. (I make art and teach art classes!) However, it's the worst time to be pushing myself in my business, cause I'm so busy with family, church, and Christmas stuff. So, I just sigh and put my business goals on the very back burner. (The one that ain't even turned on. ha.)

The funny thing is, it's not like I don't want to do any of these things--that would make them easy to chuck out the window. I WANT to make all these fun traditions happen, and I want to serve and donate and give, and I want to help with the parties, and I want to be super productive in my business! But, when it all converges at once, it makes for a month that leaves me crazy in the head. Haha! (But, for real. In the past few years, I like major spiraled into depression/anxiety during the  Chrsitmas and post-Christmas seasons.)

Basically, in the busy-ness of being a mom at Christmas, sometimes it's hard to feel the "joy" and "peace" of the season. Instead, we can end up feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, a little resentful, and like we haven't made it good enough and "magical enough" for our family. And, none of those feelings add to a season of "peace" and "joy" for us.

I couldn't handle feeling like that for another year. So, I knew this year had to be different. 

I have reallly tried to simplify this year. And, many of the holiday things didn't happen. Which PAINS a person like me who wants to PARTY AND DO EVERYTHING FESTIVE AND FUN!! But, making it all happen drains me. (I am not good at being in charge or keeping track of details.) So, I cut back. And, it's been SO good!! I am enjoying this December, even though I've opted out of fun things!

I would love to host an adult holiday party with ugly sweaters and fun games (cause, PARTIESSSS!) or a ladies Christmas movie night with treats. (cause, LADIES' NIGHT PARTIESSSS!!!) But, there are tooooo many things happening and I no longer can handle a stressed-to-the-max-for-the-entire-month of December.

I've tried to remember that many of the extra traditions are just that: EXTRA. I talked with the boys in November and we wrote down the main things we wanted to make sure we did this month, and those few things were what I focused on.

For example: we did Christmas cookies! But, we didn't make it to the Light Parade or many other fun community events that we just had to chose to skip. So, I basically became a selective hermit. haha! (Though we did go see the lights downtown in Salt Lake!) And, of course, we decorated our tree! And, we even le the kids decorate a 2nd tree on their in in our family room downstairs! But, I didn't worry about finding or buying a real tree that I'd have to keep alive. And, I generally took the decorations down a notch in our house. I helped with my church Christmas party--which we all went to as a family. But, I chose not to host my own in my home as well. I made sure we had an evening or two each week with NOTHING going on. Hopefully I will get some treats out to my neighbors, might not happen. haha. (Sorry neighbors!! I still love you all--I'm just a slacker!) And, I let go of the Christmas cards. I am kind of sad about that one, though. I was hoping this was our year to finally get them out!!

I'm also trying to manage my expectations for Christmas day. Cause, last Christmas was ROUGHHHH. We wrapped up a stressful, busy Christmas season with a hard Christmas day.

I did a ton of custom artwork, (which I no longer do, haha) barely getting it all done and shipped in time, and limped over the finish line before Christmas Eve. We didn't have much family around, since my parents were serving as missionaries on the other side of the world, and my mother-in-law was out-of-state, visiting Patrick's sister, who'd just had a new baby. We got my brother and our father-in-law for a little while, which we were grateful for!

But, the hardest part was my three darling boys: they started the day being adorable and excited for a 1/2 an hour of opening presents, then followed that with an 12-hour, 3 way, knock-down-drag-out fight over all their brand-new toys. And I spent the whole day putting kids in time-outs, taking toys away, pulling the little raging wild-cats off of each other, and crying in frustration. This is the struggle with having three kids of the same gender, close to the same age, who all like basically the same thing. (This Christmas, their toys are almost all the same, or they're getting things to share, like building sets. Hopefully it goes better. haha) I am excited that we get to be around lots of family this year, before and after Christmas, so that will make it more special. :)

This was sooo me by the end of Christmas day last year, haha! It didn't help that I was struggling with depression that I wasn't getting help for yet.
After I learned my sad lesson last year, I'm so happy I've made myself PICK and CHOOSE to maintain a happy/sane/mentally healthy December!

BUT. Even though it can be stressful, I still believe in Christmas. I believe in the magic and joy of December! And, most of all, I believe in taking time to remember/celebrate the birth of our Savior. If done right, the Christmas season is a time to have fun with our families, a time to give and serve, and to feel closer to Jesus!

I love this depiction of Mary and little baby Jesus--the first worn-out mom of Christmas! Haha! I love that she doesn't look glamorous and put together. She's exhausted, but relieved and joyful and full of love--a feeling which anyone who has been through childbirth can understand! It's beautiful that the Savior of us all started as a helpless infant, like us all!
In all the crazy, it can be easy to forget about the greatest gift ever given to any of us: God gave the world his son Jesus Christ and sent Him to the earth as little baby. And, Jesus gave us the gift of the perfect example of how to live, and in the perfect act of love gave his life and died for US!

But how do we make the gift of the Savior our focus during the busy, to-do list holiday season?

Here's one tradition that I've loved. Every year, I make sure that on Christmas Eve evening, we take time to focus on our Savior. We read the story of Jesus' birth from Luke. (This is what my family always did every Christmas eve.) While we read (or summarize, since my kids get antsy half-way through, haha) the boys bring out each nativity piece as the story unfolds. When our nativity is complete, we sing Christmas songs and talk about Jesus and why we're grateful for Him and that He was born. That evening is a non-negotiable to me--we can't miss a chance to slow down and focus on the reason WHY we have Christmas! I love making sure we have this reverent time before our fun Christmas morning and day of gifts, playing, eating, and partying. :)

One way that I am trying to personally connect with Jesus this entire Christmas season, is to spend time every day reading His word. When I am making an effort to have time in the scriptures every day (even if it's just a little!) then I feel so much closer to Him in my life--His teachings are more part of how I think and live. And, believe you me, I NEED Jesus in my life EVERY DAY! I can't function without His help and the direction from His teachings. My gospel habits of prayer, scripture study, and weekly church are the foundation of my life. They keep me steady and give me strength!

Since I am making an effort to make this season "peaceful" and more of a time to connect with the Savior, I started a scripture reading challenge. For the past two months, many people who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints are doing a challenge that our prophet invited us to do: finish the Book of Mormon by the New Year’s. This has been perfect timing for me, as I have wanted a kick in the pants to focus on my faith this season.

>>For those who aren't familiar with it: The Book of Mormon is a collection of records kept by the ancient prophets who lived in the Americas (Mormon was the name of one of these prophets), just like the Bible is a collection of records kept by the prophets and apostles who lived in Jerusalem and the surroundings areas. The Book of Mormon teaches about Jesus Christ and his gospel,--it's an important second witness, that testifies alongside the Bible that Jesus Christ really lived and that He truly atoned for our sins, died for us, and rose again! The Book of Mormon further shows God's love, because He was guiding his children through prophets, not just in Jerusalem, but on the other side of the world as well!<<

This challenge has been awesome to encourage me to be more consistent in my gospel study. I think we all need a little help in that department, right?? I've been listening to the Book of Mormon from my scripture tool ap every time I get ready for the day or get ready for bed, and sometimes when I drive. I need to catch up, or I'll be reading the entire day of December 31st (haha!) but I do plan on finishing on time! :) It's been cool to know I'm working on this goal with many others.

My sister Julie, came up with the awesome idea of making a hashtag so people can share how they are making their own personal scripture study meaningful! I thought this was a genius way to encourage each other!

If we’re not making our gospel study our own and reading/marking/journaling in a way that helps us to apply our study to our own life, then it’s basically just a academic study that doesn't make much of an impact at all on who we are. We have to put in some effort to make our study meaningful to us!

SO. We’re starting the #MyGospelStudy movement. 

We want anyone and everyone to share on Instagram and/or Facebook how they are remembering Jesus in their daily life by learning of Him from the Scriptures. This way, we can support and encourage each other in our daily gospel study, especially in this busy time of year!

So, please share your gospel study and what that looks like for YOU! If you are studying in the New Testament or Old testament, great! If you're studying from the Book of Mormon and trying to finish the challenge by the end of the year, awesome! Studying the scriptures looks different for everyone, and should. We all learn in different ways--but the important thing is taking that daily time to be with the Savior and his teachings. For me, I love to take notes in a little notebook, and mark my favorite scriptures so I can find them again. I try to find at least 1 lesson or take-away that I can use in my life every time I read. It totally keeps me engaged in what I’m learning, since I'm searching for my take-away. Right now, I am listening since I am focusing on reading as much as I can, but in the new year, I am starting with the New Testament with my family, and I'll keep a journal of my studies.

I'm so excited to share my study with you, and see what YOUR gospel study is like! (Check out my first post here...spoiler: I have wet mascara mess around my eyes, but I'm not crying. haha!)

After you share your own #MyGospelStudy pic, please invite others to share their study as well! :)

I want to show you a picture from Julie's gospel study. She is a phenomenal artist (seriously, she's so good!) and she loves to connect with her study through artwork. She adds copies of sacred artwork to her scriptures, and includes her own art! Here is a drawing she made for her Book of Mormon.

Recently, they started selling copies of The Book of Mormon that have quite a few blank pages in the back. These would be perfect for taking notes, writing a letter to someone you give it to, drawing pictures, writing quotes or favorite verses, or any other thing that helps us to study better. Julie included coloring pages for her kids in their new copies.

(I'll have to share her process of making these perfectly-sized coloring pages for her kids' scriptures in another post! It's so cool! I am totally doing this for my kids!)

But really, you should go get a new copy of the Book of Mormon so you can use some of those blank pages as part of your meaningful study! If you want a free one, you can request one online here! :) I love the Book of Mormon. It brings me closer to my Savior every time I read it. :)

I hope that even with all the hustle and bustle and of the season, we can feel a little more peace as we simplify and keep Christ in our Christmas. We can share our light by sharing the joy the Gospel and the scriptures bring to us!! After all--the light that we hold up is the light of the Savior! So let's light the world by sharing our gospel study! 

Love to you friends! And, happy, un-stressful Christmas! :)

November 5, 2018

10 Strategies For Rising Above Postpartum Anxiety/Depression (Part 3 of a 3 Part Mental Health Series)

This post is mostly told from the perspective of a momma dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, but anyone can benefit from these tools and strategies, men, women, kids or no kids, teens, etc! This is a long post, but it’s a complex issue, and I couldn't leave out any of these strategies, in case that's the one that YOU need to hear! 😊 And, thank you soo much for all the amazing responses on my other two posts!  You guys really made me feel supported and safe talking about some hard things. It just reafirms to me that this is a very common issue that hits close to home for many ladies-- this is a topic we NEED to talk about! Also, that we are not alone in our stuggle. πŸ’—

Also, as in the last post, I talk about my faith. It's a large part of my journey. But, I totally respect that it might not be part of yours, and that's ok! We can all believe differently and have mutual respect and understanding for our different perspectives! :) Thanks!


Hey. I'm Amy. I am a momma of three phsyco little boys (I kid, I kid...they aren't psychos...they just act like it. πŸ˜‰ ) And, for the past three years I felt like I was going psycho right along with them. Not in like a funny, "Oh my heck, life is so crazy! πŸ˜„πŸ˜‚" kind of way. More like Britteny-Spears-shaving-her-head" kind of way. πŸ˜‚πŸ˜¬

Since those rough times, I've been on a mission to improve my mental, emotional, and physical health. Mostly I want to be able to live a happy, productive life, take care of my family, and feel JOY in living!

I spilled my guts in two previous posts, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to Talk About Post Partum Anxiety/Depression" and "My Journey with Post Partum Anxiety/Depression". And, NOW, is the happy post where I get to talk about overcoming and making progress in my mental health! These are my own experiences--I am no doctor or a mental health therapist. I'm just a person who has lived with anxiety since I was a teenager, and have experienced depression off and on, in varying degrees for the past 10 years, and I have come a LONG way! I want to share what I wish I had known when I first found out I had postpartum depression.

So. How can we rise above anxiety/depression? Well, no two people will have the same journey.

Medication and therapy are hugely important tools for healing and moving forward, but that's between you and your doctor to figure out! :) So, if you are struggling and you think it could be anxiety/depression, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT IT!! Look at your options! Get get some professional opinions, and PLEASE--don't wait for years!!

I haven't tried medication yet, though I was written a prescription, as I wanted to see what I could do without it first, but I am not ruling it out. If my doctor and I decide that I still need some help to keep myself mentally in a good place, then I'll fill that prescription. It's a decision I'll make carefully, with prayer.

I have been going to counseling with an amazing therapist for the past couple months and it has been an awesome help, since I am really someone who needs to process things verbally with someone else. (Aka, I've always been a TALKER! haha...) Also, she has been helping me to identify some unhealthy and unhelpful patterns of thinking that I get stuck in (and we all have these!) that are keeping me stuck. We are what we think! So, I am working at changing how I think and figuring out better ways to think instead. :) I have been grateful for a professional to help with this process, who can objectively point out what's wrong and help me to know how to fix it!! And, I'm grateful that's she's ok with me bawling my face off, asking realllly weird questions, and arriving 5 minutes late every session. (Time management is NOT my strength. haha)

So, yeah, medication and/or therapy are so important and helpful and lifesaving (that's not an exaggeration!) for many!


There's also A LOT that WE can do to proactively improve our mental wellness!!! 

These proactive strategies have made a HUGE difference in my life, and helped me to prevent and lessen the impact of my moderate anxiety and depression. (I specify "moderate" because there are people who deal with major depression and anxiety and it is crippling to their life! "Going for a walk" is NOT going to solve that!! Along with professional help, these people need compassion and support--they are going through a hard, hard struggle!)

None of these strategies are a cure, but used together, they can be pretty powerful! They make me feel like I CAN do something about my mental health, like I DO have some control!!! Which feels amazing, since I spent so much time feeling beat-down and overwhelmed! Now I am fighting the good fight, instead of curling up in fetal postition while I'm getting kicked. Heck no, I'm standing with my dukes up, ready to protect myself and my life and the people in it. I no longer feel like a victim.

Think of these strategies as becoming purposeful caretakers of our mental health.

Like, in the garden of our minds, (haha, I'm going hippie on ya!) everybody gets weeds.

(PS, I am overly fond of metaphors!! They just work for my brain. :))

Usually, you just pull a weed out, NBD. Like getting over a bad day. But, I am talking about taking steps to prevent the take-over of weeds, especially the NASTY, pervasive kind that can overtake a whole garden and choke out any other healthy plant. (I mapped noxious weeds for a summer job during college, so I know how damaging those noxious weeds can be, and how hard/expensive to get rid of once they've infested a crop or wildlife area!)

Sometimes we need some strong weed-kill spray to get an out-of-hand situation back on track. Just like intensive therapy and medication are needed in some cases of mental health crisis!

These less extreme proactive, preventative steps we can take are like laying down weed barrier, fabric putting down bark, watering and strengthening your good plants so that they are as healthy and strong as they can be, enriching the soil with good nutrients, and keeping on top of the weeding every day so it doesn't get out of hand.

I think of counseling as learning about gardening and getting educated on the weeds (aka negative and hurtful thought patterns we get stuck in), how to recognize them, and how to pull them before they get big and gnarly. So we can fight the weeds SMARTER.

Yeah, it's all about taking care of the garden of our mind. (I think Mr Rogers made up that comparison! He is one of my favorite people in this whole world! :))

OK. I'm done with gardening analogies. For now. haha. (PS, I'm an awful garderner, so....there's that.)

These ideas may (and by that I mean definitely will) overlap. Sorry.


For those who just want the basic list:
1. Recognize your triggers.
2. Be kind to yourself when you struggle. Do the small things that help you feel less anxious or depressed.
3. Take some time to focus on your strengths, instead of only focusing on your big weaknesses.
4. Now that you've given yourself some grace and kindness, as well as identified your strengths and triggers, it's time to get tough with yourself and set some baby-step goals--then get to work!!
5. Recognize your "Feel-Goods".
6. Hold on to "bigger than yourself" stuff.
7. Work on your complete wellness by caring for your physical health as well.
8. Talk about it when you're struggling.
9. Work on seeing the good in your life.
10. Protect and manage your mental/emotional energy.


Ok, let's get into it!

1. Recognize your Triggers. 

Simple enough right? But, pretty eye-opening. Really take notice about what brings you down, makes you feel panicked and anxious, etc. Write them down. Talk to a friend about them. FIGURE THAT STUFF OUT. Then you are prepared, and you can anticipate/make plans for when a triggering time is coming!

2. BE KIND to yourself when you struggle! Do the small things that help you feel less anxious or depressed.

These are ways that you can directly address and help the situations where you feel anxiety or depression.

You can reassure yourself like crazy that everything is going to be ok in a certain anxious situation...for someone with true anxiety, that usually doesn't work. But, if you just take some simple steps to help yourself before a hard situation, then you don't even have to talk yourself out of the worry, you might be able to eliminate it beforehand!

Because I struggle with Anxiety and IBS, not having easy access to a bathroom can really trigger a panic attack. TMI alert: I mean, when I have to go to the bathroom, it's usually like: I need to go NOW, like in the next 3 seconds kind of a thing. It's awful and very panic-inducing. Soooo...Before I go into a situation where I'm going to worry about being able to quickly get to a bathroom, like teaching a class, or going on a hike, or going on a road trip, etc, I take immodium a few hours before, and sometimes one the night before as well. This is a simple precaution that can instantly calm my anxiety!

Also, I get anxiety when I'm stressed out with too much to accomplish, remember, and keep track of. Making a to-do list and having a thorough planning session every Sunday evening before the school week starts, and starring all the priorities, helps me to know what to do first, so I don't have to focus on ALL of it at once. Once I've done that, I'm no longer this huge ball of nerves, freaked out by the unknown of everything I have to accomplish and not knowing how and when I am going to accomplish it. I can BREATHE and calm down and actually know what to do. (Here's a perfect illustration of me when I have a ton of stuff I have to do. hahaha!)

So, you gotta take time to figure out what helps YOU in an anxious situation or on a day when you're feeling depressed!

Maybe taking a friend helps you feel brave enough to go into a new social setting. Maybe writing down your questions or main points would instantly help you feel WAY less anxious about an intimidating phone call or doctor appointment. Maybe setting out your clothes and figuring out how to get where you need to go can make you feel prepped and calm about getting to a new place on time. Maybe you need to look at menus online before you go restaurantraunt if you have food issues.

For some people, time of year, a place, or a certain day on the calendar can bring up a traumatic time or event, and bring on anxiety. Or a underlying greif can resurface and hit hard around the anniversary of a loved-ones death or their birthday. It's OK to feel pain and sadness when these hard days come!! We are allowed to feel those emotions! When you know one of those hard times are coming, talk to people around you and make a plan for the hard day or week! Get your loved ones involved. You could ask them to call you to check in that day, or help you plan something good to do--people cannot read minds, but most want to help, so LET THEM KNOW what they could do! Maybe you need space, or hugs, or a cheesecake on that day! Whatever you need to do to prepare, do it--and let others help you!!!

I have a sister who lost her first little baby. Every year, her family honors and remembers her by visiting the grave of their big sister, letting go of balloons, and looking through photos of her. Though the pain of losing a loved one will always be there, it can be so comforting to have positive things to do on that day, to honor and celebrate the life of that person, no matter how long or short!

Some people just need some time to be present with the pain, and care for themselves. They say no to doing other things, they take extra time to sleep, cry, and think. They're having a low day and they need some time. Trying to just SNAP out of it, often backfires and makes for a bad week, vs one day of resting and being gentle and kind with themselves.

Other people throw themselves into work to feel better. Some just need to talk about it to a good friend/family member to get out of a depressed slump. As long as it doesn't harm others or yourself, (like drinking yourself into oblivion) do what works for YOU!!!

For me, a day of relaxing is not really an option (cause my hub just can't take off work and I have little kids!) but, sometimes I'll spend a few hours in the evening by myself. I also find other ways to take a break when I'm having a really down time. A nap in the afternoon works wonders! I am probably borderline addicted to naps. haha! BUT! If I take a nap, I get enough of a mental/emotional break that I can recharge and restart with my kiddos. For a long time I felt super guilty and pathetic that I needed a nap. And, I am still trying to get to the point where I don't crave them so bad, especially since some days it just doesn't work schedule-wise--AND, my 3-year-old really doesn't need to nap anymore. 😩 BUT, for a long time, when I was struggling badly, just taking a nap while my younger two napped and my oldest did an hour of quiet-time was literally what got me through each day. And, I finally realized that naps are pretty harmless, especially since they were enabling me to be ok in daily life! When you're dealing with depression, there are much worse coping mechanisms, haha! I used to binge on treats pretty often (Freaking full packages of Keebler cookies and Cookie Place sugar cookies, I'm looking at you!!!) but with IBS I get soooo sick from that. Plus, adding weight gain to depression is just more...depressing.

Luckily, I've never gotten into any of the other common "escapes" that many get sucked into when they are struggling with emotional/mental health, which can be vey harmful--like drinking too much, smoking crack, getting addicted to porn, going out and blowing loads of money, online gambling, binge eating, or plain driving away and never coming back. So, yeah a healthy alternative is a good thing!

Ok, so those were just a few examples of how to be kind to yourself. People can have all different kinds of things that trigger their anxiety/depression, but once you know when to expect an issue (as much as possible) or what helps you once you're in it, you can take those steps to care for yourself before and during a hard time to ease your stress and pain!

3. Take some time to focus on your STRENGTHS, instead of only focusing on your big weaknesses. 

Sometimes, you just gotta allow yourself to take a break from dwelling on the issues that are hard for you, cause sometimes we get too stuck in them. And, that is not enjoyable!

I was big-time stuck in the fact that I had anxiety when I was first diagnosed in college. Now, don't get me wrong, I am so grateful for that diagnosis and that I was able to become educated and understand what was happening to me, but after dwelling on it for a while, I started having anxiety about having anxiety, haha! I couldn't stop worrying and obsessing about it.

I was an ambitious girl! I totally wanted to live a full live, be an artist, a writer, a teacher, a singer, travel the world, hike to the top of mountains....BUT, I also dearly wanted to get married and have a family. I was a closet-romantic--I scoffed at all things sappy in public, but at home, I lived for Jane Austen books/movies! I died from joy at the end of Jane Eyre, and I cried and re-read the end to the Anne of Avonlea like 20 times. I was secretly boy-crazy, (haha!!) and I wanted to love someone best who also loved ME best! But, after I was diagnosed with anxiety, I felt sooo hopeless, since my panic attacks were almost always triggered by dating situations. How the heck could I ever find a wonderful guy to marry and live my life with, if I couldn't go on dates or even talk to guys I liked? And, what guy would be patient enough to wait around for me in all of my weirdness and insecurities? (Spoiler alert: Patrick Graham would be. Yay!) The hopelessness hung over me and followed me wherever I went.

A few days after that first appointment when I learned I had anxiety, I was really feeling low. I drove back home (45 minutes from my college town) to get away and have a relaxing weekend. I mean, I LOVED college, but sometimes, you just need the comforts of home, ya know? I went with my parents to church on Sunday, and heard a talk that pretty much blew my mind and brought me incredible comfort. The talk was given by a smart, very-educated, articulate woman in our congregation, and I looked up to her so much. She spoke about using our God-given gifts and talents for good, and that when we only focus on our weaknesses, we are ignoring and neglecting the vast amount of good in us! We aren't seeing ourselves realistically--we're seeing our faults as the biggest part of us, and we're selling ourselves very short! This mentality keeps us from LIVING our best life and rising to the potential that God sees in us.

Um, woooooah. (Are there mic drops at church? haha!)

Her words drove straight home to my heart (which happens by the Spirit!) and I was filled with hope!! I knew that I needed to just move forward and do the best I could in all other parts of my life, instead of living under a cloud of gloom about this dating anxiety. And, when the time was right, God would help me to face this issue! Till then, I could focus on all the good in my life and in me!! There were many ways that I WAS brave and strong!! I could make wonderful friends and connections with so many people and accomplish so much in my schooling--I didn't need to focus on dating right now! This brought me so much peace. And, a few years later, when the time was right, (and the guy was right!) I was able to work through those fears! (Though it WAS hard and pretty awkward, haha!) :)

It can be transformative to start focusing on the good--on YOUR good! YOU are SO much more than just your mental health struggle. SO, make yourself focus on that. Seriously, I want you to WRITE A LIST. An actual, factual list. You can type it and print it out or write it in a notebook, but I want you to REALLY do this, NOT take a "mental inventory".

What are your strengths?? EVERYONE HAS STRENGTHS, so don't be shy! Think good and hard. What makes you special? What do you like about being you? And it can be anything! Make yourself a long list. You are allowed to see good in yourself, I promise! It's not conceited. Being conceited is when you think you are better than others! But, seeing good in yourself, the way you would point out the good in a friend, is a form of love that YOU deserve too!!!! Sometimes it can be hard to recognize our own strengths. Ask a friend, a spouse, or a parent to add their input to your list! I am so serious! You can tell them it's an assignment you have to do. (It is, cause I just assigned it to you, haha!) And, you can tell them their strengths too! It's so fun to point out the good in others.

Keep this list. READ it when you feel like you are no good. Refer to this list when making goals and life decisions about what you could offer the world. Remember above all that YOU have worth!!! YOU have gifts and talents that make you special and the world needs them and you!!!

4. Now that you've given yourself some grace and kindness, as well as identified your strengths and triggers, it's time to get tough with yourself and set some baby-step goals--then get to work!!

Ok, here's the part where you have to step out of your comfort zone...Get honest with yourself and make some goals to help you work on your weaknesses and triggers. Then DO IT!! Face those fears, one at a time, a little at a time. :)

What do YOU know you need to face and overcome to live a happier, more full life? How could you face that issue? This will be different for everyone. Like, some people who are terrified of sharks need to go dive into a cage, and be surrounded by sharks so they can face/overcome that fear and move on with life. (haha, an extreme example!) Others who fear sharkes can just stay away from the ocean and still have a happy, full life, ya know? So, not every fear has to be eradicated 100%. I mean we're human. But, DO challenge yourself! And pray for strength and courage! If something is paralysing you and your progress, it needs to be overcome, at least enough that it's not a huge stumbling block! Otherwise, you aren't living the full life you could!

Don't let fear rob you of joy and progress.

And, you don't need to be force yourself to face something huge all in one go--just take a step. Be GUTSY and move one foot forward! ANY progress is AWESOME! You'll gain momentum as you keep moving forward!

For me, I knew that my dating fear was keeping me from a huge desire for my life--to be married and have a family. SO--painful though it was (I know, this seems so silly!)--After I got home from my 18-month-long church mission, I forced myself to start talking to boys. It involved a lot of baby-steps, like, daring myself to talk to a cute guy after class, looking a guy in the eyes and smiling as I walked past him, pumping myself up to go on a date, etc. ("Ok Amy...It's just a date. It's just a freaking date! You're not going to die. Seriously, it's like 2 hours. And you'll get free food!") haha! I was always giving myself these little challenges! It was pretty dang hard at times. Like, if I got asked out on a date, but I just knew I couldn't do it, I'd invite him to some kind of get-together with my roomates ("Oh, we are having a party that night, sorry...but you should totally come!") instead of just saying no. That way I wasn't completely just avoiding the situation, but I was making it happen in a safe environment for me. (I had to quickly scramble to drum up some parties a couple times, but ya know, it worked, haha!)

When I started dating Patrick, I was scared out of my mind every second. (If you want to read our AWKWARD love story, haha, click Here.) I MADE myself do hard things, cause I knew if I didn't give him any encouragement, I'd lose him! And, I realllly liked this guy! My first baby step was when I vaguely, and weirdly told him that I liked him. And when I let him hold my hand (honestly, the first time we "held hands", he actually just held my clenched fist, while I covered my face and freaked out next to him, no joke! haha! BUT--I didn't run away, so, kudos to me! hah!) and then, I FINALLY let him kiss me after we'd been a couple for months, but it took an hour of him waiting--and I totally possumed. Like played dead. And he kissed my cold, dead lips. hahaha, poor guy!!! BUT--I was the one who said I love you first! (...with a beanie pulled down over my entire head, past my chin. OH--I was such an anxious weirdo!! I'm so lucky he was patient with me!!) I liked him SO much, and I wasn't about to let my stupid anxiety mess this up--so I kept forcing myself to take baby steps. It was so gut-wrenching to be facing some very long-held fears, and I felt nauseated much of the first couple weeks from the intense anxiety. I lost like 8 pounds in a month without trying, cause I had no appetite! Haha! Like, the only time in my life I haven't had an appetite!! πŸ˜‚

More recently, I had to use baby steps to overcome anxiety when my brother-in-law was going to the temple for the first time. (An important spiritual step that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints can chose to take when they reach adulthood. It's a reverent time where you meet together to learn and make commitments to follow Jesus Christ. These are covenants, like baptism.) I hadn't been to a full temple service in a while, since the last time I'd had crazy stomach issues, and I had to leave during the service to go to the bathroom---everyone saw me leave and I was so embarrassed (I'm sure it was much worse in my mind--probably nobody else gave it a second thought, but that's how anxiety makes you think: everyone is watching and judging me!) and I ended up having a panic attack during the service. Even after I came back to sit down, I was still panicking and felt woozy, puky, and short of breath the whole time. I usually LOVE being at the temple, but this time was agonizing because of my stupid panic.

After than experience, I had only done shorter temple services since then, because I was so scared of having another panic attack. BUT, when my husband's youngest brother was going, I knew I wanted to do this full service with him and the rest of our family, to support him on his important day. I was sick with worry, so, I decided I needed to face the fear on my own terms. I made myself go alone to a session a few days before his. I was in control of the circumstances--Nobody there knew me--if I have to leave to go to the bathroom, then who cares? These people didn't know me from Adam, so I had no need to be embarrassed. haha. I also went in the morning when my digestion is typically better, and I immodiumed up the night before. It went so well--I was so uplifted! And I was proud of myself for just facing the fear! This success helped me feel confident to be there with our family when my brother-in-law went through his first session a few days later--a wonderful experience which I would have been so disappointed to miss if I'd just given in to the fear and chosen to avoid it.

So, we gotta challenge ourselves, gently.

When it comes to setting goals, don't just make goals that are related to your anxiety and depression--set and make MANAGEABLE goals about things in your life that you are passionate about and want to achieve. Having something to work for can give you new excitement and drive in your life, which can keep you going when you're feeling down!! Write these goals down and look at them often!

Sometimes when you're feeling very low, it's hard to find motivation at all. So, take a break for a while, but then, try again. Make the tiniest of steps, and when you do that, take another. You'll gather some momentum and confidence if you keep trying! Even if it's small progress, that's just Freaking Fine!! This is NO RACE. Any progress is good progress.

Let's say you're trying to start exercising. Even taking a 10 minute walk is great when you're first starting out!! It's a heck of a lot better than no walk! So, instead of shaming yourself, "Ughhh, I should have done an hour of P90X. I am lame." NOPE. Instead, force yourself to say, "I got some exercise today! I am a freaking champion!!" I'm not even kidding! Consciously choose to stop that negative self-talk and replace it! You can even say it out loud! haha! When I am in an exercise class (which is the most motivating way for me to get my sweat on) it's easy for me to start comparing my strength or my endurance or my body with the other ladies in the class. BUT, that is super discouraging!! So, when I catch my thoughts going there, I started the cheesy act of switching it with thinking positive things about my body, the more outlandish, the better! "I am a strong and swift like a gazelle!" (Nacho Libre quote...ha) or "DZANG GIRRRL, you are rocking it today!" or "I am a glorious, magnificent beast!!" haha! If those are a little too much, then try a simple. "I love my body. I am getting healthier and stronger every day!" or "I am awesome!!" Cause you are. πŸ˜„

Full disclaimer, this is embarrassing, but I coached my kids to say, "Good job, momma!" and "You're so strong!" when I exercise! haha! So, make your own cheerleading section! πŸ˜‚ Better yet, BE your own cheerleading section!

Accomplishing something hard is a HUGE self-esteem boost! You'll feel proud and excited--success always renews my passion! So, chose 1-3 goals (not too many!) and baby step forward. You'll feel like a freaking rock star when you accomplish a goal!!

Is this not hilariously symbolic? I wrote down all these lofty goals...and my toddler got ahold of my planner and made his own statement.

About 6 months ago, I finally achieved a goal I'd wanted to do for YEARS--I got set up to sell my watercolor artwork!! I went and got them printed then sold them at a craft fair. It was a crapload of work, but I felt sooo accomplished doing that for the first time!

This is at the print shop!

Here I am selling my art prints at a craft fair!! A HUGE step out of my comfort zone, and I didn't even sell a ton (it was a low-attended fair) but I was still happy with the experience because I pushed myself and made this happen! I've got a few more events set up, so hopefully they go well. :) I'm setting up an Etsy, so let me know if you want to hear about it when I get that done! ;) 

5. Recognize your Feel-Goods.

Now that you know what makes you feel bad (aka triggers), now you gotta figure out what makes you feel good! What lights you up and makes you feel joy and energized? What did you enjoy as a child that you don't do as much anymore, and really miss? THESE are the things that you gotta do to make life more joyful, and--especially when you're in a low time--you have to purposefully seek these out!!!

Write down your Feel-Goods. Work on getting ones that you can feel not-guilty about afterward, ya know? Cause binging on Keebler Elves and Hawaiian Pizza was my feel-good in college, and...the result is nooo bueno. (Like 10 pounds in one semester. haha. And, major stomach aches.)

So, what are Feel-Goods that brings you joy? Now, I'm not crossing food off my list, but I'm just saying enjoying a night out eating great food at a restaurant with friends is much better than binging on an obscene amount of treats while I watch shows all by myself. haha. (Though you take out the "obsene amounts" from the previous sentence, and that sounds pretty awesome too, ha!)

For me, natural light is a must!!! I need curtains and blinds open! I need to spend time outside. Even in the cold winters in Idaho, there's usually sun shining. When it rains for a few days, that's when I seriously feel like I start to hibernate--I feel unmotivated, dreary, and depressed. When the weather shifted to fall this year, and it was drizzly and windy, I felt a gloomy sense of dread that I couldn't shake. The weather is affecting me more as I get older. SO, I just have to amp up my "feel-goods" when the weather is dreary for a few days, otherwise I'm just crawling under the covers every time it rains.

Taking a shower is a really important feel-good! I feel like a new person after taking a shower when I haven't in a few days. When I finally wash the layers of dry shampoo out of my hair, it's HEAVENLY! (though I'm not knocking dry shampoo....cause it does me good!) I love not feeling like a greasy weasel! And, showering is hard, cause all heck breaks loose in my home when I'm showering, and soon boys are pounding on the door, bawling about who punched who and who found a sharpie, etc. (Now, that'll get you out of the shower in a hurry! Ha!) But, feeling clean is amazing and good hygiene is just necessary!

Another feel-good for me is creating! I am an artist, so that's been a source of joy for me since I was a young girl. I got back into making art about two years ago, and that's been wonderful! Designing my home is one of my favorite things in the world! And, I love designing/assembling/glue-gunning costumes (I don't sew, haha!) and face painting as well!

Drax and Gamora!

Baby Groot! This took WAYYY too long to make. And, he hated wearing it. haha.

The Guardians of the Galaxy! Drax, Groot, Gamora, Rocket the Racoon, and a little StarLord! 


Having clean surroundings is a total Feel-Good for me. When my house is messy, it totally affects my mood. I feel overwhelmed and frustrated--I hate being in my home when it looks like a dang bomb went off. So I say stuff like, "Let's have a dance party! But--before we do, we're cleaning up! Quick, let's see how fast we can go!" and they usually ignore me and whine, but I keep being a drill sergeant till they eventually do it, or end up in time out, and then they come out and have to do it. haha! I try to keep my home mostly clean. (Though I suck at deep cleaning! I literally have NEVER washed my windows in the three years I've lived in my home, haha!) And, I feel SOOO much happier in my life when I don't live in a huge mess.

Music makes a HUGE difference on our mood! Play fun music that lifts you up! Movement is also soo important!! What kind of moving do you love? If you love to dance, and miss it, find a freaking dance class!! Dancing is one of my greatest joys, so I try to do it as much as I can, even if it's just in my house.

Patrick and I took a swing class for a couple weeks, then went to a swing dance together!! It was soooo fun to dance again, especially with my hub!!!
Do you want to travel? Save up money for a trip! If a big trip isn't in the cards, figure out how you could do a close weekend trip. Do a girls' trip or go with your hubby! Figure out who could watch your kiddos. If you can't pay, make a trade with friends, so you take a turn to watch their kids when they go on an overnight trip. (Please don't ask your friend to watch your kids for free more than 2 days!) Or even just go on a day trip! Just make it happen!

We finally went on a BIG trip! (Even our honeymoon was in-state, haha!) We spent 5 days in Playa Del Carmen Mexico and it was HEAVENLY...A much needed break!

Plan DATES. Schedule it in! Once a week, if possible! Even if it's just a walk at the park, followed by some treats from a tasty bakery.

Isolation is a trigger for me, so I have to make sure to get out of the house and see/talk to people! Being social is a HUGE need for me, but this may not be such a need or priority for you. And that's totally ok!! We all have different levels of introversion vs extroversion! We all need people, friendship, love, etc--it's not healthy to be a complete hermit--BUT, some need way less interaction than others. I need A LOT. haha. I love social media for this, cause I can connect with people and that totally brings me joy. Others find social media more draining, and don't love it--You just figure out what works best for you when it comes to how much "people time" you need and want. :)

If you need more people time, MAKE IT HAPPEN! Go to activities at your church or neighborhood or community! Be brave and meet people! You can't just cry about how people don't invite you to do stuff, YOU invite THEM! Plan something, anything! You don't have to jump all the way to hosting a huge party--it can be simple, like having a neighbor or two go get treats with you some evening. Your husband will be ok for an evening, I promise. haha. Or have a friend come watch a movie with you after your kids are in bed! Some people love playdates! Some go to exercise classes with friends, or make friends in their exercise classes! Compliment and start a conversation with a lady at the Library's storytime! There are so many awesome people out there in the world--we just have to get the guts to meet them.

When I realized how badly I missed fun social things after a few years of infants and postpartum depression, I started planning stuff: Girls' night, cousin get-togethers, a birthday movie night with friends, a couples party, having friends over for a barbeque or roasting mallows in the firepit, going for a hike with neighbors, going out to eat with family for a birthday, etc. It was awesome! We had sooo many wonderful times with friends! People are almost always happy to get together, but they just don't take the initiative to plan anything, so I often was the one who instigated--and that's ok!! I try to keep things simple, cause when I made it too elaborate, or did too many social things too close together, I'd get stressed. SO, do potluck when you host friends, and don't get crazy. You can use paper plates, ya know? haha! Simple stuff is awesome!

My neighbor and I have lunch together with our kiddos once a week, and it's so wonderful!! It's easy, we just switch back and forth between houses, and one picks up (or makes) food for the adults, and the other picks up food for the kids. We usually get some nuggets and fries, and put that out with some carrots and little cutie oranges. And we adults eat our delicious Cafe Rio. haha. We get to have mental health time, and talk about anything and everything, while the kids play outside in the summer or destroy the house in the winter. haha! #worthit.

So, start small, but make the fun stuff happen that you wish would happen in your life! Schedule it! Write a bucket list! Be realistic, set goals, and get awesome things on the calendar to look forward to. :) Here are few fun things I've gotten to do with people I love in the past two years. Keep in mind, this is a highlight reel of the good times. I don't usually take pictures when I'm crying out of frustration in my room or yelling at my kids or holding their door closed to keep them in their time-out. Just know that those days are happening far more often than the party days. πŸ˜¬πŸ˜† (Keepin it real.)

Girls' night with my amazing sisters!! :)

Barbeque and s'more night with my BF from all through childhood and our fams!

Two of my college roommates and their fams!!! (We have ALL LITTLE BOYS!)

Visiting Patrick's aunt and uncle and their kiddos in Arizona!

Theo's 2nd birthday party with Patrick's younger bro and wife and my big bro! We are literally in the dining area of a grocery store in town. He loves Cupbop. (Spicy Korean barbaque. Weird kid!) This is keeping it simple, folks. haha!

The fair with my mom and bro! (My dad was there, but he wanders off...haha) Miles got so much honey butter on Patrick's head! ahaha!

Visiting Star Valley for my husband's youngest bro's graduation! It was so fun to be there with the fam!!

A Yellowstone trip with one of my oldest friends/college roomates and her fam and my big bro!

Dinner and hanging out with Patrick's two best childhood friends and their ladies! We only get to see them once a year, during our annual Washington road trip, but it's always SOO fun!

A gorgeous/tough hike (my fav kind!) with Patrick's fam! I think his dad is taking the pic...

A baby shower for Alyssa, Patrick's sister, with all of the awesome Graham ladies!

Art party with awesome friends from my neighborhood and my mom! 

Art party with some of the amazing ladies I got to know when we lived in Pocatello! We are missing some friends, dang it! I still love getting together with these ladies for book hour drive each way is SO worth hanging out with them!

Feel-Goods don't have to be planned out or elaborate.

One of the best Feel-Goods that is simple, yet VITAL, is taking a little time every day to really CONNECT with each of your kids and your spouse. Put down any electronic device. Look them in the eye. Tell them that you love them. Have a conversation, give a hug, or tickle, listen to them tell about their day, or give a 5 minute backscratch (my hubby's fav!), etc--have REAL connection with the people closest to you!!! Giving love will help you feel happy, and they will give love in return! This helps foster more contentment and joy in our family life--which is so important, especially if you are struggling as a mom. Find and MAKE the meaningful, joyful moments that make it all worth it. :)

Ok. You've got a Feel-Good list, right? Now, when you feel yourself draggin, getting low, or just in a bored funk, USE your list!! This is YOUR life, so you have to take care of it! Pick which one(s) you can make happen, and do them!

When I am having a low time, I often ask my husband when we can go on a date. Then, I make a plan, line-up a babysitter, and we have a great time! (Ladies, don't wait for your husband on this if he isn't much of a date planner. It's better to have dates happen and you plan them, then not at all!!) I'll also figure out when I'm really down, how to spend time with a close friend or family member. I'll get a break from my kiddos, even if it's just going to Target by myself for an hour after they go to bed.

My vandalizing on a late evening Target sanity trip. Haha!

I'll get OUTSIDE!!! I'll listen to uplifting music. I'll pray. I'll listen to uplifting podcasts or talks. I'll watch a funny move and eat some treats! Whatever it is, I try to GET ON IT. That is sooo much better than my old pattern of watching myself slip deeper and deeper for a couple days, before I tried to do anything about it.

6. Hold on to "Bigger than Yourself" stuff.

Sometimes I get stuck dwelling on my sadness or worry. Like, I'm knee deep in a muck of mud. Reaching out to something bigger than myself is an important part of getting out of the muck.

Faith practices have been life-saving to me!! Which is interesting because, like I've said in my past posts, it's actually very hard for me to FEEL anything spiritual when I'm struggling with depression. BUT, I've seen this pattern several times now and know to expect it. When it happens, I recognize that it isn't the REAL me...the real me cares deeply about spiritual things, and always has. So, I try to ignore the apathy and just keep doing those little habits in my life that I know would normally be very strengthening to my day. Even if I can only make a little effort, I still read one verse or pray a simple heart-felt prayer. And, on the hardest days, I pour out my heart to God. Sometimes, I don't feel any kind of response, but I trust that He's hearing since I remember the times I HAVE felt him there. I choose to still do these things, because, even if I'm not "feeling" it yet, I know that, because I'm keeping these habits, as time passes, I WILL again! I'll have a breakthrough or I'll start to gain insights again from my scripture study and praying. It makes me so happy to know that I'M coming back, and that He was there, patiently waiting with me all the time!

I love Matthew 11:28-30, where it says Christ will help us carry our burdens. And, He is pretty dang strong when it comes to lifting burdens! Jesus felt every hard thing that any of us have felt when He suffered for us (It perfectly describe this in Alma 7:11-13). So He understands and has compassion and patience for us when we're in pain. We CAN ask for help from Him! When I plead for Him to lift me, often God sends someone or something to help me, or gives me the courage to reach out to someone to ask for help.

Both times I've struggled with suicidal thoughts, it was in a spiritual setting that the Savior reached down and pulled me up to safety. How grateful I am that both times I was still choosing to put myself in a spiritual environment, though it was hard time. In these moments, it felt like he was literally rescuing me--saving my life.

I've always loved the story of Peter walking on the water to Jesus. It's the perfect analogy for our trials in life. When Peter started focusing on the waves and his fear, instead of keeping his eyes on the Savior, he began to sink. But, the Lord firmly grasped Him and pulled him back up to safety, reminding him to have faith!!

The first time I saw the painting below, I gasped in shock. Not only is it beautiful, but it shows exactly how it feels when you are struggling and sinking in your trials, grief, overwhelm, or mental anguish. You are underwater, about to drown. And, yet, up above, surrounded by light, you can see Jesus! When we call out and reach for Him, He will pull us up!

Painting by Christian artist, Yongsung Kim
Jesus' love is real. I've felt it many times in my life! Often, it takes a good deal of consistency and patience, because a large part of our purpose in life is to gain experience by going through hard things. Plus, much of our trials are just part of being mortal--dealing with the frailties of our precious, but human bodies and minds. They get sick, hurt, injured, tired, heart-broken, etc. There is so much we can't bear--without the Lord's help! Since He is always letting us learn and grow, He doesn't immediately deliver us out of our problems--just like any parent who lets a child struggle to learn something new. BUT, He will be there to hold us up in our trials! He pleads for us to turn TO Him, instead of turning AWAY in anger when things are hard. And, when your mind and heart are struggling, and you can't feel him like you used to, rely on your faith, keep trying, and give it time. Don't give up on Him! He will often send other people in these times who will be our angels on earth, to lift and support us, till we are able to feel Him again.

Another amazing way that we can reach beyond ourselves, is to serve someone else! Service can be incredible for our soul! Helping others in need brings joy, plain and simple. I struggled with this for a long time, because I was barely surviving life and taking care of my home and family--how was I supposed to make dinner for someone else?? The thought honestly made me want to cry! I couldn't add one more thing to my plate, I was so overwhelmed. But, I came to realize that I could serve in little ways. God sees every effort! Even little services can mean a lot to someone! I totally could send a loving message to a friend or give some groceries to a homeless man as I drove out of the Walmart parking lot, even if watching someone's kids or making dinner for someone was not something I could do at that time. We always have something to give, even if it's small.

During the holiday season last year, I wanted to do some elaborate service of providing secret Christmas gifts to a family in need. But, time and funds were tight, and I was already overwhelmed, so, I just took a couple tags off a tree for local people in need, and also found a donation box at the grocery store for kids who'd lost their belongings in a huge fire. My boys and I donated several toys and lots of art supplies (hey, I had it on hand! Plus, art always makes me feel better!) and my boys were thrilled! They felt the joy of service and were able to help someone else--and that's what's most important, not doing the most elaborate, secret 12-day service project! haha!

Here we are, about to drop off the art supplies to the donation box. :)

I just do what I can. And, when things are a bit calmer, I DO volunteer to take that dinner to someone who just had a baby! We shouldn't run faster than we have strength.

Serve your family. I know, I know--we serve them all day long!! Dishes, laundry, driving to practice, making food, etc...And, give yourself a freaking pat on the back for that!! (Seriously, those tasks are monotonous and never-ending, but they are accomplishing an amazing work: shaping and caring for other human beings!!! So, a pretty huge deal! You are amazing!) But, besides the daily "tasks", are we remembering to have loving connection with our kids and spouse? And, I know already talked about this, but it's just so important. And, it can come in different ways. How are you personally good at connecting as a mom? What speaks to your kid(s)? My kids love dance parties, and me too! So, we do that daily! I also love reading with my kids! I love singing, joking, and talking with them. These things bring me joy as a mom, so I try to do them as much as I can! But, I think I've baked/cooked with my kids like 5 times ever and each time ended up in tears by all. I don't like to play hide and seek or wrestle with my kids. Honestly, I rarely craft or paint with my kids, because its such a huge, messy ordeal! But, I do color and draw with them. :) Some people love throwing cool parties for their kids! Some love to decorate and make cool birthday cakes! That's awesome! Some love to play sports with their kids. That's awesome too! Some like to garden and serve their family by feeding them yummy produce! Just find ways to serve and love your family, spend the time and do it! Do what YOU can do to serve and have joy in mothering.

If you don't have kids, how can you serve and give attention to kids in your family or neighborhood? What about connecting with an elderly neighbor or family member who is lonely? Or any neighbors, friends, or people in your life? Deliberately find ways to feel joy in serving, loving, and nurturing others. It will make life happy!

For a long time, I thought serving others when we were struggling ourselves, was just to make ourselves see that "See? Others have it so much worse than me." But, that is pretty negative--it's shaming ourselves that we are selfish and have no right to be struggling. But, really, EVERYONE has hard in their life!

When I hear of someone losing a child, or dealing with infertility, my heart goes out to them so much! That would be utterly devastating. And I hug my babies tight! I try to make it a moment of gratitude and love, rather than doing what I used to: sitting there and shaming/berating myself for struggling with the daily tasks of being a mom, when--how dare I? Aren't I grateful for my kids? Don't I love them? Now, I just try to sit in the love and gratitude, and not heap guilt on my head.

And, honestly, like 10 minutes later, when one smacks the other one in the face, or they sneak all the s'more stuff out of the cupboard and later I find messy marshmallows and chocolate in their bed, 😳 (true story) spoiler alert: I still get frustrated. I'm not taking that moment to "hold my baby tight" haha. I'm taking that moment to enforce some time-outs! But that's ok. Life with kids will be far from perfect, even if we're insanely grateful that they are part of our life.

I realized that the counsel to serve others when we ourselves are struggling, is more about feeling the joy that comes from serving others and seeing their joy in being loved and helped. Now THAT feels awesome!! Also, it CAN bring perspective and help us to appreciate what we do have, as long as we try to think of it in a positive way.

There are so many ways to lift our souls to something higher!

Reach out to God. (Even if you've never tried, praying is easy! It's just a conversation with a creator who knows and loves you! You should try it! :))

Even if you choose not to have religious beliefs, you can still reach higher! Listen to an inspiring podcast, read an uplifting story, watch a video about people who've overcome hard things, etc! Get some big, heart-nourishing things that lift and excite you!

I got to go to a big event with friends to hear faith-based speakers share their stories--it was so filling to my soul!!

7. Work on your complete WELLNESS by caring for your physical health as well!

Make positive changes to take good care of your physical health. Having poor physical health and fitness can greatly impact your mental/emotional wellness. Now, I'm not saying that working out will cure depression. BUT! It can be pretty powerful! We all know exercise releases natural feel-good endorphins in our body. I mean, it's freaking hard WHILE we're doing it, but it does get easier with time and it can give us such a proud, accomplished feeling afterward! Plus, feeling strong and healthy sure puts me in a good mood! When I eat tons of sugar, I swear I've noticed it tanking my mood. Nutrition plays a big role in how all of your body functions, which--of course-- includes your brain. So, we've gotta make nutrition more important in our lives, ESPECIALLY if we are struggling mentally! When we care for our body and give it love and quality fuel (food) and give it the exercise it deserves, then we will feel better about ourselves! It's not about having a perfect-looking body, it's about learning to LOVE and CARE for our body!! It is the vessel we have to live in and spend our life. We can't ignore it's needs and feel mentally and emotionally good.

I finally decided that I needed to get a gym membership, because working out at home with my little kids was SOO stressful. It was such a fight, and the worst part of my day. My husband and I decided that we could budget in a gym membership for me, and I take my younger two kiddos while my oldest is in school. They love to get out of the house (and I've always phrased it positively like, "Yay!!! We get to go to the gym!!! Momma is getting stronger!!!" and "Oh, let's go see friends at the gym!!" and helped him learn the names of all the ladies who work there, so they feel comfortable and happy there. Don't act like you're abandoning them, or like you're asking some hard thing of them, work to make it positive! And my kids always get a snack while we drive home afterward, so that helps, haha.) It has been INCREDIBLE. Every time I go, I get a break, I'm around other people, I go to classes, (which totally pushes me!) and I seriously love it!!! I LOVE the feeling of getting STRONGER. I feel like I can do hard things--my body can do it!! And, I've never been an athlete or a gym rat. But, heck, now I go 3 or 4 times a week!

Here I am after an exercise class!! I work out, then hide out in the empty spin room for a while. haha.
Working on better nutrition. But, moderation in all, french fries. :)

I love being motivated by a health challenge!

Hit a MAJOR goal by competing in an obstacle 5k! I hate running, but this was soo fun and awesome!!! And I really pushed myself to prepare! I'm pumped to do another one next summer. :) That's my amazing sister-in-law next to me! 

Patrick and I afterwards! You can't tell in this pic, but my shoulders got HORRIBLY burned. Sun screen next time!

Another important part of our physical/mental health is getting enough SLEEP. And, I am the WORST at this. It's a hugely neglected area for lots of people, but sleep-deprivation DIRECTLY affects our mental/emotional health. This one is SOOOOO hard for me. I've always been a night owl. I adore staying up late, and every day I pay for it. I am tired and can fall asleep at any time---till 9:00 at night, then I'm like "So not tired any more!" haha! *sigh* My goal is to get 7 hours of sleep a night, EVERY NIGHT!! If my kids wake me up, that's not my fault, but if I'M causing myself to get less than 7 hours? Then that's just so dumb. 8 would be ideal.

8. Talk about it when you're struggling!

Just spit it out. Has it been a rough day? A rough week? A rough year?

Find those you feel safe with, and open up! This is totally a natural need, and therapeutic. If you're struggling with your mental health, don't hide it and keep it all to yourself! I did this for too long! Get those around you in the know and on board. Team effort works miracles!! There are so many who are willing--and wanting!--to be there for you, but people can't read minds, and if you just hide your mental/emotional struggle, then you'll keep struggling alone. Make an appointment with a counselor! Look into resources for support groups in your area! Just TALK about it. Sometimes, all I need to do is just express what is bothering me, and immediately I feel like a burden is lifted! Silence and bottling stuff up rarely helps us heal.

Try to do this in a healthy way--don't rant and rave and dump a load of frustration on your husband the second he walks through the door every single day...yeesh! If I were him, I'd never want to come home, haha! But, when there's a quiet moment ask if you can have a few minutes to vent and for a hug. (I'd recommend doing this, rather than pouting around and waiting for him to ask what's wrong, haha.) Or call a friend who can listen and encourage you!

Yeah, that's sharpie. Every time I take a shower, bad things happen. :(

Another rough one...I put the wrong son's name on the picture order sheet. This is Miles, not Hayden. Ughhh. He totally cried when he saw this. Talk about mom fail! :(

9. Work on Seeing the Good in Your Life! 

Ok, now that you've had a chance to talk through and get-out your frustrations, it's time to let it simmer a bit, and cool down. Now, what good can you see?

In general, pretty much all of us have room to improve our thought patterns. There are lots of strategies for this, so you have to find what works for you to help you focus on the good, rather than constantly dwelling on the bad things in your life. You could write positive mantras to repeat in your head when you're struggling. You could keep a gratitude journal. List the good things that happened in that day or tell them to God in prayer at night.

At dinner with our kiddos, we've started doing "Highs and Lows". We each take a turn to tell what was awesome and what was hard for us that day. I love this peek into our kids' hearts! And, I love thinking back on all of my highs for the day! It helps me focus on the good.

Figure out what works for you and DO IT. I am still learning how to focus on the good. I try to really love and enjoy those small beautiful moments with my boys. (Like when we're reading a book together on the couch and no one is fighting for a better spot, and everyone is listening. Or like when my middle boy prays before bed, "Thank you that momma is my cutie!" Haha, I love it!) I've gotta just savor the heck out of those moments, cause I always really FEEL the negative moments, so I want to equally FEEL the good ones and not brush past them! I NEED those heavenly, sweet, adorable, hilarious moments to keep me going! :) I try to tell those good moments to my hubby when he gets home, so I'm not just venting all the bad stuff from the day.

10. Protect and manage your Mental/Emotional energy.

This one is HUGE for me!! Try to honestly look at the things in your life that sap your joy and attention. What is causing you stress? Are there things you can cut back on or give the boot? Obviously, not your children, haha, but...look for what is stressing you that CAN be eliminated or lessened. Then get tough and fiercely protect your life and time.

I am a people-pleaser--but I've had to learn to say no to babysitting. I'm barely keeping up with taking care of my own three kids everyday without losing it! (I still babysit occasionally for friends, but usually just for an hour or two.) And, I've said no to commission art projects. I love to earn money, but I am getting smarter about what I do with my art and teaching. I have felt a tremendous increase in my peace since I stopped taking on commission art work. These projects made me super anxious, and always hung over my head. Also, I felt bad charging enough so that I felt like the effort was worth it to me. It was the most stressful, and lowest-paying way for me to earn money--And I was spending all my time doing it! haha! Don't get me wrong, I was really happy for the projects I was able to do, especially when I knew how much it would mean to a friend or family member! It just had gotten to be too much for me. I needed to find a better way to continue my art career.

So I started teaching and face painting again! But, I knew that I needed a flexible way to teach so I wouldn't burn out. So I am teaching in two month sessions, rather than going the whole year without any breaks. I am building in recovery times into my commitments and life. And, when I have some other big commitments, with family or my church, then I schedule less art workshops and face painting parties. I am very lucky, because I have a flexible way to earn money and slowly build a career. But, we all have ways we can make adjustments. Maybe you can go to part-time if you are currently working full-time. Or, maybe you can cut out a certain sport or group that is taking too much time/energy. Set boundaries and learn to say "Thanks, but not this time" to friends and families on days when you feel the need to REST. It's OK!!

Every week, I try to plan for one evening with nothing going on. Even fun commitments still require being "on" and we need down time. This is a hard one for single moms, (MAJOR RESPECT TO YOU!) especially if their ex doesn't share the responsibility of taking care of the kids part of the time. If they work all day, then have to take care of home and kids in the evening till late, without a break, they will get so frazzled and burnt-out! They need to find ways to get help!!! Offer those women help when you can!

My art party bag! :) It was fun to start teaching again! I especially love teaching adult watercolor workshops.

Mommy and me watercolor class!

I am getting better at delegating in my church responsibilities. I'm learning to set boundaries. Like, I am so happy to go on visits once a week and have a meeting afterward--I love giving that service! But, I can't do twice a week. I just need the other nights open for other responsibilities and family time. Also, I don't volunteer to help if I can't. And, that's ok.

There are sooo many good things you and your family can be doing, but you can't do it all!! Not if you want a manageable life. You can't and shouldn't sign up your kid(s) to do EVERY extra-curricular activity. Your life will be too stressful, and it can negatively impact your kids. It's becoming more and more common for YOUNG kids to experience anxiety/behavior problems, and it can often be caused by a stressful, over-programmed and over-scheduled life!! They developmentally need down-time in their days. They aren't short adults! Let them have some time to be kids and have fun and be bored and have to get creative. Make sure they have time to do chores and help around the house instead of having every second scheduled out--especially if you're doing their chores for them, cause they're too busy and tired. Shoot, I'd MUCH rather have kids that learned how to work, than have kids who did every single extra-curricular activity ever!

They need family time too, like dinner together as often as possible, reading time, snuggles, bike rides and walks in the neighborhood, and family movie nights. If you are a super doer kind of person, and you thrive in busy, high stress environments, then you can have a much higher level of busy in your day and still feel ok. But, if you feel frazzled, rushed, and stressed, you need to reevaluate. Plus, YOU might thrive in a fast-paced life, but one of your kids struggles with it and hates the busyness and the pressure.

You just have to protect your time and energy! I, being a people-pleaser would always think, "Oh I could help with that!" and put in 100% effort. But, I only have so much to give! I'm now asking myself, "But, SHOULD I help with that?" Giving 100% in one area, means all the other areas are suffering. Every time I have become over-booked and stressed to the max, with too many things to take care of and be in charge of, after it's all done and the adrenaline has worn off, I totally crash into depression afterward for several days. Which is a crappy ending to any holiday season. So now, I give WAY less effort, and keep things more simple. And, I've learned to say, "I'm sorry, but I can't do ______. I'm choosing to not take on too much in my life at a time. It makes everything happier for me and for my family. Thank you for understanding!"

Teach your kids and model how to make these decisions in our life; When they aren't getting enough down time or family time, have a discussion and help them decide what they chose to cut out of their life, or at least take a break from. Be a good example by doing this yourself in your own life, instead of running yourself into the ground.

This is one of my biggest lessons I've learned in the past few years: Do what you need to do to manage your emotional energy, because you need it for parenting! It takes the best of you, not your meager left-over patience and energy. Our family is worth that! Your peace and joy is worth that!

Here are some ways I've helped my daily emotional energy. Like I admitted earlier, I literally started going to the gym for the childcare. The mornings lasted so long and it was such a struggle with my three little boys going bonkers and killing each othe, especially through the winter when they couldn't play in he yard for very long, and I was at my wit's end! So, I got a gym membership. And, several times a week, I started taking them to the gym. They would play and run around in the childcare room, and I would exercise then relax. And, life suddenly became doable!

Sometimes, when my little boys are fighting/crying/screaming, and I feel like I’m about to LOOSE MA DANG MIND😫, I buckle them in the van and drive to the hills. The hills are my happy place—I grew up against the foothills, and spent plenty of time there, hiking, four-wheeling, hauling hay, and moving pipe. As a teenager, my cousin Nicole and I would blast music and take off down the dirt roads snaking though the hills. 😊 A while back, during a particularly crappy day, with lots of tantrums/screaming/fighting from them—and crying out of sheer frustration from me—without planning it, I dropped Hayden off at afternoon Kindergarten, and drove straight for the hills. I turned on a movie for the little boys and just zoned out as I drove. And the hills worked their magic on me again. I came out of my miserable haze while gazing down at the valley. I’m sure God sent me to the hills that day. ❤️ Now we go often; the boys beg to go “ride in the hills.” 😊 It's always so lovely. (Except that one time I got the van stuck in the snow and we had to call Patrick...he drove 30 minutes to get us and missed a work meeting. 😬) But, usually our drives are awesome!

Now and then I let them get out of the van, haha. 

I go probably every other week to Fred Meyer for grocery shopping, cause they have a childcare room. If my husband has to work late, and it's a nice day, I buy some food from a deli or drive-through and take it to the park for an easy picnic, and after we eat, they run around while I chill.

You like how I made my younger two sit buckled in a stroller till they ate a sufficient amount of food? haha! I am not chasing them around the park, trying to get them to eat!

You gotta do what you gotta do to get through and break up the day, and build in some helps for you. These little breaks for me add up to a lot of saving my sanity!

OK. Those are my TEN strategies. 

I've learned so much from this journey. Like:

Having days when you struggle with being a mom, does NOT mean that you don't love your kids. And it doesn't mean you are an ungrateful jerk. It's ok--it's a hard role. Don't make it harder by heaping guilt on yourself. Just keep trying. That's good enough!!!

Also, this life, our joy, and our families are absolutely worth fighting for!

When you feel yourself slipping to a low place, or crashing down, stop and use some of your tools. Already have your plan in place! What are you going to do to slow or stop the descent? I'm not talking about ignoring or stuffing down feelings of should feel and talk about your emotions, that is a great thing! I'm talking about letting yourself get so low that you can't even lift yourself to climb back up. Reach up for help before you get to that point!

Remember that silly gardening analogy? Well...don't give up on your garden!!! It takes work, but it (YOU!) will bring so much beauty and goodness to this world! You are precious. Cultivate your mind, your soul, your "YOU" because the world, and your family, needs YOU. You have infinite worth! You have precious things to offer those around you. Never doubt that. And, our paths will all be unique, but we all have basic needs, to love and be loved, valued, productive, noticed, appreciated. To feel connection. To feel joy! So, keep fighting and don't give up. Put in the work, get the help, do whatever it takes to be able to THRIVE and love your life!!!

Thank you so much for reading this massive list!!! I hope some things stood out to you that can help you in your life!!

I'd LOVE to hear your input....which of these strategies have you tried? What are you excited to implement? What strategies would you add? (I might have to add the best suggestions to the bottom of this post, cause I'm sure I missed stuff! haha!)

It would mean so much to hear what has helped you when you've dealt with depression or anxiety, or just had a hard time finding joy in motherhood and life.

Also, please share this so that those who are struggling, and people who have battled anxiety/depression can read this and share what helped them!! I love you guys so much! I'm immensely grateful for the support and love that you've given me from sharing my own journey with my mental health. I seriously wish the best for all of you and your journey with having joy and peace in this life!

Love you friends!

PS. Who would be interested in doing a mental health challenge facebook group kind of thing? Where we each work through each of these steps at the same time, then come together to discuss our progress on that step? Cause accountability is huge for making things happen! Let me know! *hugs!*