by K.C. Lomonaco, Psy.D., R.N.
(This message was written in December; as this is now a blog post, we will leave it for folks to take what they will from it, at any time of year.)
My name is KC Lomonaco and I've been a Kali member for 4 years. I work as a psychologist at Denver Health and In 2020 went back to school for my bachelor's degree in nursing so I could pursue my psychiatric NP, in order to provide breadth of care for my patients. I have worked in integrated care for the last 13 years and specialize in Women's Health from about late teens through adulthood. I have a strong bent towards social justice in health care and feel really strongly that everyone should have access to excellent health and mental health care. While I can't be the gym's local shrink, I am happy to connect anyone and everyone to support and am happy to be an ear if you need some tips on wellness and health.
To get us started, I thought I would throw out some ideas for dealing with the upcoming holidays where we all tend to eat too much, drink too much, and deal with too much: too much family, too much stress, too much too much too much!
1) Make sure you prioritize the things that help you feel grounded and well. This includes lifting heavy shit so get yourself in to a class or open gym. Now is the time to step in and step up to the bar. If you can't get to the gym or you're out of town get out for a walk, a run, stretch, do yoga, have a dance party in the living room -- ANYTHING, just MOVE! There is lots of evidence that show that exercise and movement improve both emotional and physical health. In fact a recent study found that for mild to moderate depression and anxiety, 30 minutes of moderate exercise was as effective as an anti-depressant in controlling and improving symptoms.
2) Get sleep, eat well, and watch the alcohol intake. I know what you're thinking, this takes all the fun out of the gatherings and holidays. I know, I know! But there are still lots of ways to eat, drink and be merry without overdoing it. Sleep and healthy eating help improve brain function, reduce inflammation which can lead to increased pain and depression (who knew!), and just help us feel better. Who hasn't had a food hangover after the holidays?
And speaking of hangovers: alcohol affects all of the above; it's disruptive to sleep and while it may feel like it's helping with depression and anxiety, it can in fact make it worse. So be mindful in your imbibing and try breathing techniques or apps to manage mood and anxiety before you see your parents/cousins/aunts/uncles/office mates etc. They do actually rewire your brain in positive ways.
3) Set boundaries! SAY NO! It's ok, go ahead try it. Tell me no. NO! Start small and grow it. I know how hard it is to say no to things, to people, to opportunities but in this busy and stressful time of year and on top of that add the stress of COVID and that we haven't gathered in a while, and we want to say YES to everything.
But saying yes can make us more stressed, not less. Know that it's ok to say NO and that in fact your mental health will thank you for it. You don't have to do it all. Ask yourself a few simple questions: Do I want to do this? Will I enjoy doing this? Will I be happier doing this? If the answer is NO to any of those questions, say NO! If you say yes, can you set a time limit for being there? Can you have an "out?"
Sometimes, with our loved ones setting boundaries about things like hard discussions or topics of discussions is challenging. It's ok to do it before you see them. Saying something like, "I know you love me and have my best interest in mind and I'm really looking forward to spending time with you this holiday, but I'm going to ask that we don't talk about XXXX." Hold your line. Keep setting it. Tell them they are welcome to discuss with their partner, your aunt, the church group, but you're not willing/wanting to talk about it with them. Tell them how important your time is with them and you want to be able to enjoy it to the fullest. Ask other allies for support in this. Always know its ok to walk away from the table. Take deep breaths and return. Per #2 above, adding alcohol in to the mix can make these conversations harder/bumpier so be mindful! Start small with these boundaries if this is a hard one for you, then get in to bigger more difficult topics as you grow.
4) Perfection doesn't exist. Set reasonable expectations for yourself and for your loved ones. We all have bumps and lumps and warts. Be gentle. Try to be graceful and offer grace. Take deep breaths and move forward slowly and mindfully! Seek support from loved ones and have activities (See #1) in place that help you heal, feel strong, and keep you grounded. 5) Check out these apps: Calm, InsightTimer, UCLAMindful, Breethe, or Headspace. Some are free, and others have subscription costs, but they really are amazing. I use Calm daily and even my kiddos love it and use it nightly. Please be in touch if there are topics in the future you'd like to see addressed in these wellness newsletters. You can reach out via email:
Riseandrenewpsychology AT gmail DOT com