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Managing the stress of newborns and preemies

lovin_sleepNothing can really prepare you for having a newborn.  It is like nothing ever experienced. Even if you have older children, every baby is different and brings new challenges.  Having multiples is an even greater challenge, and even more challenging is having those multiple babies early.  Some of the tips in this article you may have heard before, however some I hope are new.

What not to do:

  1. DO NOT blame yourself for any mistakes you think you are making.  It is all part of the learning process.
  2. DO NOT go it alone.  Get any and all help that you can.  Even contact your insurance company to see about any home care you might be eligible for if you have no other support.
  3. DO NOT isolate yourself from friends or family.  Use support groups online, it will help you feel less alone.  Reach out to whomever you can.

What will have the most impact:

  1. Use the time you have to relax and even meditate if possible.  Even 5 minutes of meditation can have more benefits than x number of hours sleep.  Try the one I recorded at www.reddingcounseling.com/links and scroll to the bottom for the link.
  2. Eat and drink!  Not just your babies need nourishment, so do you!  Make smoothies for yourself with protein powder if eating is too hard or time consuming.
  3. Tell yourself everyday that you are doing the best that you can.  Tomorrow will come and you will trudge ahead.

Special considerations:

For some carrying multiples, you might have your babies early.  These babies may have special needs for a while.  And they might even spend time in the NICU, while you get to go home.  You might even be able to take one home, while having to leave one or more at the hospital.   One thing to remember about having to go home without your babies, is that you need to use that home time to your advantage.  Sleep, bathe and eat.  When you go to the hospital you can better focus on being there for your babies.  The small amount of respite you get while at home will help you deal with the stress of going to the hospital and dealing with all that comes with it.  Take advantage of any newborn classes or groups.  Use the hospital social worker for any help you need with services.

When to look for outside help:

Post partum depression is real.  It is not weakness.  It is not a sign of a bad person, or mother.  It may start as a slow feeling that you are not ready to be a mom.  It may be an absence of a connection for your babies.  This is not your fault.  This is the powerful nature of hormones and what they do to your fragile mental state after birth.  Utilize online support groups for post partum depression.  Also contact your insurance company for a mental health professional referral specializing in post partum depression.  The hospital may also have referrals for you.

Your health can only take a back seat to your babies and children for so long.  At some point it will only hinder your ability to parent the way you want to.  Sleep deprivation with the overload of trying to meet your babies needs are a combination for mental overload.  Your body is trying to heal after the birth and getting your body and mind to relax even a little bit everyday will go a long way.  You deserve to take care of yourself and this will help your babies.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT, Cht, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Hypnotherapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Trumbull.  She is a mother of 6-year-old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.  Her website is www.reddingcounseling.com and phone is 203.274.0158.

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Spring cleaning your emotional health

Spring is here and it can be a good time for spring cleaning your house, and also a good time to do a nice mental health cleanse. This time of year can be energizing with the blooming trees, flowers, birds, and pleasant weather. Take advantage of that energy and use it to take a good hard look at how you might want to change your life. One way to do this is by “meditating” or “visualizing” on what those changes might be. You may also consider changing a relationship by doing a “relationship cleanse”.

Meditating on what you want to see change in the spring is a healthy way to visualize areas of your life you would like to see change. Schedule some time a few days in a row for this process. Find a place in your home that you can spend 5 minutes without interruption. Take your smartphone and use Pandora radio tuned into the Calm Meditation station to get you started if you don’t have a relaxing CD. Find a comfortable position and start breathing through your nose and out through your mouth for about 10 breaths. Scan in your mind’s eye the areas of your life, family, work, health, etc. Picture one area you want to see change and focus on it. Picture what you will be doing differently, what people will see the change, and how you will feel if the change took place. Continue this process the next day or the next time you can meditate. Once you have a good idea of what you want to change write it down as your goal. Take this goal and define objectives and then tasks. An example would be:

Goal: Reduce the amount of yelling at the kids

Objectives:
• Take time to understand their behavior
• Use positive self talk/mantra
• Engage in ”fun” time with kids

Tasks:
• Use a journal and list the times that I yell the most and see what lead up to it
• Write a list of what the kids might be thinking or feeling when they act a way that gets me angry
• Write down some mantras/self talk to say out loud or to myself when I want to yell (“this isn’t that bad”, “yelling isn’t communicating”)
• Schedule time each day or a few days a week to play with the kids

Another area you can spring clean is your relationships. We can call this a “relationship cleanse”. Start by taking a look at relationships that have worked in past and those that didn’t. Write down what is most important to you in a relationship and what you cannot tolerate or what seems to exhaust you. Now picture your circle of relationships. The inner circle is usually made up of family and very close friends. For those people who are single this would include any relationship that you would consider significant. The next circle is good friends and family you don’t connect with as often. The outer circle would be those people you need to deal with either at work or school, however, you don’t need to have an intricate relationship. Once you look at criteria for each circle and you have mentally ‘tagged’ the people in your life as to which circle they fall into you can visualize how moving someone from one circle to another would improve your life. This visualization will help you see the boundaries you want to continue, remove or create.

Whatever you decide to do to make changes in your life you need to remember to start slow and make changes incrementally. Doing everything all at once tends to be overwhelming and not long lasting. Less really is more when it comes to mental health movement. Be sure to discuss any big changes with loved ones and get some help and support. If you find it hard to even think about making any changes and you are having trouble with everyday tasks, you might need to talk to a professional. Please don’t struggle with any type of depression by yourself. Ask around for referrals or go to http://www.therapistlocator.net for a Marriage and Family Therapist near you.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Fairfield. She is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management. Her phone is 203.274.0158 and website is http://www.reddingcounseling.com.

How to kick the blahs of winter

It is now February and the holidays are done.  We now have to deal with the aftermath.   The new toys still don’t have a place.  The kids aren’t going outside to play as often and seem to be inside all of the time.  For some of us the muffin top got bigger and is taunting you at every moment, especially when you drive (okay maybe it is just me).  How do we break the boring blah feeling that comes at this time of year?  Here are a few ideas you can try to get through until the spring:

  1. Sit with those feelings. Don’t fight them.  Sometimes we just need to let all those bad feelings take over for a bit.  However it would be more productive to schedule this in.  It sounds odd I know but can be very effective.  Pick a time during the day, maybe before the kids wake up or maybe lunchtime or after the kids go to bed.  Take that time to be sad or bored or annoyed.  Once you control the when and how, the feelings lessen. They will be less overwhelming.
  2. Enjoy the downtime and slower pace.  The kids are in bed, it is cold and dark outside.  Instead of worrying about the dirty kitchen, grab a book, kindle, or your iPad and relax!  If you have a hobby, (i.e. sewing, knitting, crocheting, scrapbooking) get to it and let the process and finished project exhilarate you again.
  3. Schedule some fun events.  Call friends for coffee, a walk, lunch, dinner, drinks, or whatever you enjoy doing.  Schedule some date nights.  Most schools are publishing their winter continuing education – how about line dancing or learning a craft?  Having these things to look forward to will help keep you upbeat.
  4. Create some outside activities inside.  Create a camp out with the kids, have an inside picnic or a treasure hunt.  My kids love pillow forts.  They also make trains, space ships and other great things out of the coach cushions.
  5. Turn on some music and dance with the kids.  Or your spouse for that matter.  Kids love to see us have fun and get goofy.  Their joy will spread.
  6. Just let the blah feeling pass on its own. We know that spring makes us feel better naturally and, as much as you may not believe it now, spring will come in its own time.

Spring will be here real soon.  In the meantime if you can’t shake your low moods, call a friend or family member that lifts your spirits.  If it gets to be too much and you are overwhelmed, you may need to get professional help.  Contact a friend or your insurance for a referral or check out www.therapistlocator.net for therapists in your area.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and an office in Fairfield.  She is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.  Her website is www.reddingcounseling.com and phone is 203.274.0158.

Reducing stress during the holidays

I am a firm believer in making life simpler.  Never is this harder to do than during the holiday season.  We get so wrapped up in all the action, excitement and hype.  After Halloween the stores have holiday decorations up.  Really?  Two months of being barraged?  Every holiday season seems to come sooner and go by faster.  While there are many stress management techniques, the best way to lower your stress is to change your view of the holidays.  What are your expectations for the holidays and specific celebrations?  Can you scale it down?  Who or what will make it more difficult?  Let’s think about it.

Create new expectations.  Think of one or two things you want the holidays to represent.  Now ask yourself some questions and see if the answers align with what you want the holidays to represent.  Are you hosting all celebrations?  Do you make cookies for everyone you know?  Do you buy gifts for every friend and their kids?  Do you have issues with a particular friend or family member every holiday season?  If what you have done in the past and expect to do this year don’t align with what you want the holidays to represent then things need to change and you have the power to change them.

How will you can scale it down?  What stresses you the most?  How can you make the changes you need in order to enjoy the holidays without the stress?  What traditions do you want to start or continue for your children?  What would never be missed?  Try and scale back everything you can, even something as small as reducing your holiday card mailing list.  Maybe you host less occasions, if you still host serve less food,  or ask people to bring dishes or dessert.  Also you can suggest secret Santas where appropriate.  And if you stress over relationships then focus on one positive thing or conversation you want to have with this person.

Who or what will make these changes difficult to implement? Think about what barriers you will encounter should you decide to change something or scale down?  How can you word your desires to those who really want things the way they have always been?  When talking to others about change be sure you tell them it is about you.  “The way we have been doing things stresses me”, “I need to do this for me”, “please help me do this”.  Create your own mantra and use it everyday when things get out of control.  For example; less is more, I can create calm in my life, this is my choice, I am in control of my life, etc.

Make a plan now!  Discuss it with your spouse or significant other.  Stick to it.  Check in with yourself daily.  If your stress level, on a scale of 0-10 (1-never, 5-somewhat, 10-often/very much) is an 8, 9 or 10, use that mantra!  Take care of yourself!!!!!!  Walk, stretch in your living room, meditate for 5 minutes a day or more to decrease stress.  If you continue to feel overwhelmed and cannot shake the anxiety or depression seek help from a professional.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 5 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.

Keeping it simple in the life of overscheduling

A month into the new school year is a good time to feel settled in and back in the groove. However it can also be a time that you realized maybe, just maybe there are too many darn things to do! There’s soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, football, music, and many other things to fill in every free moment. When does homework get done or a little family time? For those with preschoolers, maybe it is also too many playdates or storytimes. How does this happen so fast? It could be that we live in Fairfield County and sometimes we are valued by what we do or accomplish and not on our quality time. If this is sounding familiar now is the time to review the values and the lasting memories you want for your family.

It is a challenge raising responsible children versus overstressed children. It is important that children grow up to be responsible for their actions, work and behavior within reasonable limits. Think about how you grew up; what worked and what would you have changed about the choices you were given? Would you have liked to spend more time with your parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Would you have liked more activities? Were the activities you participated in ones that you wanted to do or your parents wanted you to do? Too many, none? How did it help your self-esteem and sense of belonging? What kind of family life do you want for your children? What combination of scheduled family time like game night, movie night, meals together? What rituals and traditions? How about out of the house activities? Does it always have to be sports or how about interests like the library, chess club or the arts? How do you balance everything and avoid running around from one thing to the next, barely able to eat dinner, going to sleep late and scarcely squeezing in homework?

Now it is time to plan. Take the time to streamline all of the activities in your family’s life and continue to check in with your children to see how stressful their schedule may be. How do you streamline all of the activities? Start with the answers to the above questions. Ask yourself and your family when they are the most happy. Then ask on a scale of 1-10 how happy each activity makes them. Are there outside expectations or pressure in doing an activity? What can wait for the summer when there is more time? Is one activity a season better? Check in with each member once a month to see how the new plan is working. Just working together to prioritize activities tells your children that you are more interested in what makes them happy rather than just “doing things”. As they review their schedule each month they will become more aware of how activities affect them. When they get older you may expand the criteria for an activity from “makes me happy” to “I enjoy being with others”, “makes me proud”, “I feel like part of a team”, “I feel healthy” or other things they value.

Remember what works for one year will need to be reevaluated the next. One child might be able to handle and thrive on many activities while another might not want more than one. Continue to discuss with your children and help them prioritize. Most importantly remember to schedule and find time for family. Family dinners are perfect for communicating about the day. Family movie nights with DVDs and popcorn go a long way as well. Remember do you want a Webster definition of family; a group of individuals living under one roof, or do you want a group of individuals who spend time together and have great memories of that time?

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.

Fertility and the path to parenthood

Why does it seem that everyone in the world is pregnant and having babies when you have been trying for years and spend every waking moment thinking about it? I wish I knew. God knows you don’t want to hear the word infertility ever, yet it seems to be on the tip of your tongue and front of your brain constantly.

Nine years ago, when I was 32 and married a few years I thought I could have babies quite easily. Why wouldn’t I, I was young and healthy? Sound familiar? The journey started with my OB whom I had been seeing since I was a teenager. Someone I trusted with my fertility health. Her philosophy with me was, come to me if you don’t get pregnant in 1 year. Needless to say with cycles that varied from 34-49 days using the standard method of ovulation detection was impossible and frustrating. Fast forward to one round of clomid and not even being able to bring my cycle to under 35 days it was scratch that and move on quickly to FSH and insemination. All the standard tests were normal.

The struggle began and so I tried to educate myself on fertility and how to enhance it in any way possible. After two unsuccessful cycles with fertility drugs I made the decision to consult a proven fertility clinic, Connecticut Fertility Associates in Norwalk and Bridgeport. After one cycle resulting in hyperstimulation the suggestion of IVF was made. I was tired and decided to just take a break and keep seeing my acupuncturist to treat my long cycles (possible PCOS) without medical treatments for a while.

I looked for support groups and didn’t find any in the area. However I was anything but private about my fertility health. I found talking with a few friends here and there resulted in finding others who were experiencing or had experienced similar struggles. The support and hope was helpful. Through my fertility journey I went back to school and became a therapist and used my education to help me through the ordeal.

After almost 4 years of trying to get pregnant naturally and with assisted technologies, IVF with acupuncture seemed to be the best combination. This approach resulted in a twin pregnancy and full term birth of healthy boys. Over four years later I can be brought back to that period of time in an instant hearing a story of someone trying to get pregnant or miscarrying.

What I do now in my private practice is help women and their spouses create a fertility plan and increase communication and stress management skills. Starting a support group is another way to help women with stress and create a forum to discuss what only someone who has gone through it can really understand.

What if things are so overwhelming, when do you need help from a professional?

Seek help – ask for a referral from your doctor, look for a therapist on AAMFT website (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) http://www.aamft.org, your insurance referral list, EAP (Employee Assistance Program), or clergy. Don’t suffer in silence.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.

Parenting and stress on the marriage

As a mother of twin 4 year old boys and a Marriage and Family Therapist I am constantly trying to evaluate the way I deal with my husband and children. Daily I think ‘is this the best way to handle this?”, “would I be a good example for my kids or clients?,” Well the answer varies depending on the day. We all know as parents that life happens and we do and say things that don’t align with who we think we are or want to be.

The great thing is each new day we can start again and try to align our values with our actions. How am I supposed to that when I spend every minute of the day just trying to put out fires, stop fights, drive kids to activities, feed babies and clean up the inevitable messes that arise with kids, especially multiples? Yeah I know. However you can. It just takes a little upfront planning. Just like sleep training the kids, short term pain to get to long term gain.

So what is the plan Lenore? It varies with the individual, however here are some ideas:

  • Open communication (how to parent as a team, share responsibilities, etc.)
  • Start dating your spouse again (if you are a single parent then get out on your own)
  • Stress reduction activities

Here is a term that is overused ‘open communication’. As in any cliché there is a core of truth here. To me it means taking time, even five to ten minutes a week to discuss where the kids are in terms of development and how you want to work together on parenting them. For instance with babies the plan would be around schedules, food, socializing, how much to expose to other children, grandparents, etc. Toddlers, how much tv, socializing, sleep routine, potty training, etc. And so on. It also means discussing the roles you each have in the family and how they are working for you both.

Honestly we all go through the day and it turns into a week, months, years and wonder how far apart we are from our spouse, significant other or even oneself in terms of how we wanted things to turn out. To stop periodically and do a check in will help to ensure that all things that you and the family are doing are again aligned with your values.

Going on dates again with your spouse will ensure that you retain that connection with the person you chose to have children with and spend your life. Once a week is ideal, yet not completely reasonable for us all. Once a month is critical. Even if it is going for a walk, hike, bike ride, coffee date, lunch, dinner, movie, or whatever you did before family chaos. On a side note there are studies that say if you do something that gets your heart rates up together it bonds you more. For instance, seeing a scary movie together, or going to an amusement park and riding roller coasters. Always worth a try however no scary movies for me thank you.

Now don’t forget to get some ‘me’ time. A little stress reduction activity goes a long way. Anything that gets you to clear your mind and lessen the strain that comes with parenting. One thing I find that works really well for me and my clients is meditation and breathing exercises are amazing at calming the world down around you. Also finding people to talk to like other mothers/fathers (or mothers/fathers of multiples) to get that feeling that you are not alone.

What if you are so stressed and don’t believe that things can get better? Well, sometimes they just do as the kids get older. Sometimes they don’t. When do you need help from a professional?

Seek help – ask for a referral from your doctor, look for a therapist on CTAMFT website (CT Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) http://www.ctamft.org, your insurance referral list, EAP (Employee Assistance Program), or clergy. Don’t suffer in silence.

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.