Sadness vs. Depression

Being a human necessarily means that we will experience a wide range of emotions: anger, jealousy, bliss and even sadness. Some say we need to experience sadness and melancholy in order to truly appreciate happiness when it comes.  I’m not sure I totally believe this, but I get the idea.  Regardless, feeling sad from time to time is part of the human experience.

Depression, on the other hand, is not necessarily part of the human experience.  Common? Yes. In fact, almost 10% of the US population will experience some type of depressive disorder this year (source).  But, many of us will go our entire lives without experiencing depression.

So, what’s the difference?

  • Sadness can come and go; depression may last for weeks, months, or even longer
  • Sadness may cause tears or a low mood; depression makes it difficult to do what we need to do in life (perform our job, take care of our kids, take care of our bodies/home/finances)
  • Sadness is often brought on by a life event (job loss); depression may be brought on by a life event, but not always.  Sometimes it just shows up out of the blue
  • Sadness is annoying when it lasts for a while; depression affects how we sleep, eat and interact with the world
  • Sadness makes us feel down; depression can make us feel guilty, hopeless, helpless and like things will absolutely never, ever get any better
  • Sadness makes us cry; depression can make us irritable, withdrawn and even suicidal
  • Sadness will likely resolve on its own; depression is a mental illness that requires treatment.  Individual psychotherapy, group counseling and medications are all options for treatment.



Picky Eaters and Family Stress

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Having a picky eater in the family can be super stressful for all involved: the picky eater themselves, the parents, the siblings – everyone.  No one enjoys having mealtime conversation include nothing but:

Please, just one more bite!

I worked hard making this… you better $%**@ eat it!

You’re never going to grow if you keep eating like that!

Luckily, there are lots of strategies for making mealtimes more pleasant and healthy (physically and psychologically!) for all involved.  I was recently interviewed for an article on reducing stress around mealtimes by my favorite speech pathologist and feeding specialist, Melanie Potock.  The article appeared on the ASHA Leader Blog a couple weeks ago.  Check out the full article here:

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We Should All Be Talking About Ashley Madison

Photo via

Photo via

The Ashley Madison website leak is more than just fun to gossip about.  It’s providing all of us an opportunity to talk about some tough – but important – stuff.  I recently wrote an article for the American Psychological Association blog, Your Mind. Your Body. in which I outlined a bunch of conversation starters stemming from the Ashley Madison leak.

Don’t be tempted to take the easy way out and simply make fun of Ashley Madison’s clientele.  Use the episode to have meaningful conversations with:

  • Your partner
  • Your kids
  • Yourself

Check out the full article here:

Your Mind. Your Body.

Your Mind. Your Body.

Parenting Kids With Different Body Types

Just because kids have the same parents, doesn’t mean they have the same body types – and that can be a tricky thing for parents to navigate.  I recently wrote some tips for parenting kids with different body types for the awesome group Produce for Kids.  To read the entire article (It’s short, I promise) check it out here.  And while you’re there, be sure to look at all the fun, healthy food ideas on their site.

Check out the full article over at Produce for Kids

Check out the full article over at Produce for Kids

Mental Health and Risk Taking

That's me taking a risk a couple years ago.  Yikes

That’s me taking a risk a couple years ago. Yikes

Risk-taking is one of those things that can be both good and bad for mental health.  Examples of unhealthy risk taking:

  • speeding
  • taking illegal drugs
  • having un-protected sex with strangers
  • playing with firearms in unsafe ways

You get the idea.  Sometimes when people engage in these behaviors continuously, it can be a sign of mental illness.  But what I really want to talk about is the positive side of risk taking – the part that is actually good for your mental health.

Here’s how it works: when we get to a certain age with certain responsibilities and drive minivans (OK, maybe that’s just me), adrenaline can become noticeably absent from our lives.   I’m talking about the good kind of adrenaline, the kind that kicks in when we do daring, thrilling and sort of scary (in a good way) things.  Examples might be:

  • taking a rock climbing class
  • dancing on stage
  • giving a talk on world religions
  • participating in an improv comedy sketch

The first part of our life is filled with risks.  Swim races, class presentations, new schools, riding a bike  – childhood is chock full of risky, daring events that are scary at first but almost always work out in the end.  And after the adrenaline and nerves have subsided, kids are left with a new found confidence – something that is immensely important to good mental health.  The problem is, when we become old boring mature, these opportunities are harder to come by.  So we have to seek them out.

I wrote this quote on my phone at least a year ago after I heard someone say it in an NPR interview.  I am sad to say I didn’t write down who said it or what they were talking about, but here it is:

The key to keeping yourself fresh and relevant is to do things you don’t know how to do

I love this idea, and it fits perfectly with the notion of risk taking being a part of good mental health.  Now get out there and do something that makes you nervous!




Summer (School’s Out!) Stress Disorder

Summer 2009 196

Is school out in your area?

It’s been out for over a week around here, and I’m noticing there’s a little extra stress happening in some households.  This seems to happen every year around this time when the predictability and structure of school that keeps kids occupied for a good chunk of the day comes to an end.  And while the last day of school can bring a huge sense of relief and excitement for some families, others might find themselves saying:


Of course, Summer Stress Disorder isn’t a real mental health diagnosis, but the freedom of summer can certainly be a real source of stress for some parents and kids, too.  To keep summer stress to the minimum, consider the following tips:

Talk about it.  Sitting down as a family and talking about schedules, plans and expectations for the next 3 months is a great idea.  Even if your kiddos are preschoolers, they can benefit too.  Older kids (even those home from college) can also benefit from understanding the rules and guidelines for summer (Is curfew the same? Are they expected to work? Do chores around the house?)

Have a plan.  I’m big on planning, and big on structure.  Not everyone shares my philosophy on running a home (which is completely fine, by the way – there are lots of good ways to raise kids!), but I do think having some basic plans for how days and weeks are organized are a good idea.  Will there be time set aside for reading or math practice? Rules around screen time? Participation in camps, volunteer activities, sports or classes?  Kids need downtime, but they need at least a bit of structured time too.

Have fun. Staycation – something popularized in the recession – is now a part of our vocabulary.  The great thing about it is that there are now TONS of websites and blogs dedicated to helping families plan outings near home.  Whether or not big trips are in your summer schedule, fun can be had close to home.  Encourage your kids to help you choose an activity and involve them in the planning process.

Take a break.  Family time is great, but so is alone time.  Don’t forget to schedule in a bit of time for yourself this summer.  3 months can feel like a reeeeaaaallllly long time when every moment is spent with kids.



Mental Health Is More Than Mental Illness

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Today I am joining many other bloggers around the world in support of the American Psychological Association’s Mental Health Blog Day #MHBlogDay.   Here’s a bit about why recognizing and talking about mental health in May (and every month, really) is so crucial:

Congress designated May as Mental Health Month in 1949 to illustrate the importance of mental health issues to the overall health and well-being of American citizens. Each year, bloggers will join APA  for a Mental Health Month Blog Day to educate the public about mental health, decrease stigma about mental illness, and discuss strategies for making lasting lifestyle and behavior changes that promote overall health and wellness.
“Mental health” does not mean “mental illness.”  While understanding mental illness is important, a well-rounded understanding of mental health also includes things like parenting, dating, friendships, aging, healthy eating and exercise, financial planning, spirituality, work-life balance and happiness – among many, many other parts of life.  In this way, everyone should be participating in Mental Health Blog Day, because it’s something we can all relate to.
Add your voice to the event or check out what other people are talking about over at APA.

Taking Your Child To A Funeral


Should we take our kids to the funeral?

That’s a sad question that most every parent will have to ask themselves at one time or another.  We recently lost a dear family friend and my husband and I found ourselves asking this very question.  Now that a few weeks have gone by and I’ve reflected a bit, I have come up with a few thoughts on the topic.  Here goes:

Funerals are important for many reasons: they provide structure to our grief, they answer questions about the meaning of death and what happens after life, they give us the opportunity to grieve with (and support) others; and perhaps most importantly, they allow us to participate in a tradition that humans have been participating in for many, many years.  And just doing something that our ancestors did can be comforting.

The other part about funerals, though is that they are sad, and often quiet, and can bring up lots of questions too.  So, should we bring our kids along? A few things to consider:

  • Kids can be a wonderful distraction from grief.  Lively, healthy, happy children can be a lovely contrast to the pain of losing a loved one.  But not always.  Sometimes they are too much of a distraction, though – like my 3 year old would have been at the funeral – he didn’t join us.  In this case, they might be best left at home.
  • Funerals are part of life.  We are all going to die.  As hard as that is to write down, of course it is true.  Shielding our children from that reality isn’t doing them any favors.  Allowing them to witness others grieving, consoling, supporting, remembering and loving each other is.
  • Life isn’t just about us.  At the recent funeral I attended, I experienced the importance of tradition, history, culture, language, music and food in times of grief.  Just like in times of celebration (weddings, births, baptisms), grieving families benefit from the familiarity of shared family and community traditions.  Life isn’t all about us.  It’s also about the many people who came before us, and all those who will come after us.   And important lesson for all kids (and adults) to learn.
  • Sometimes things are boring, long and uncomfortable.  The funeral we attended was all in Greek (literally), was quite long, and we pretty much had no idea what was going on.  But that wasn’t the point.  The point was to sit quietly and respectfully as we remembered our deceased friend and showed his family our love and support.  Just like life isn’t all about us, it also isn’t always instantly-gratifying.  The sooner and better we learn that, the easier life will be.



Snack Time with Produce For Kids

The other day my kids and I decided to try a couple new, yummy-sounding snacks from the Simply Summer Cookbook – the new, free, e-cookbook from Produce for Kids.  Get it here!

It was a typical day: coming in from school after a long day, lots of homework, piano lessons, soccer practice, doorbell ringing – you know, the typical.  (Why do we pack our lives so full of busy-ness? I guess that’s another post for another time).  Anyway, 3 of the 4 of us felt like it was a good day to try something new.  One of us spent the entire time moping on the couch – but I felt like 3 out of 4 was as good as it was going to get so we went for it!

The 2 participating children chose the Sunny Breakfast Skewers and the Peach Pie Smoothie as their recipes to try.  Luckily we had almost all the ingredients on hand:ingredients

We made the skewers first.  I must say that the peanut butter-coconut mixture was DELICIOUS all on its own:

peanut butter

Skewering the fruit and waffles was a fun activity, though the metal sticks I had on hand were a little dangerous.  Wood might have been better.  Oops:skewers

Next we made the smoothies. Super easy:smoothies

The finished product:smoothies

Overall the snacks were delicious.  Preparation took a little more time than I would normally spend, but the results were worth it and we had enough skewers leftover for the next day! Delicious!

Check out these recipes and a bunch of others in the new Simply Summer Cookbook.


How To Stop Comparing Yourself To Your Neighbors

Brooke Becker: Shutterstock

Brooke Becker: Shutterstock

Comparing ourselves to others may be one of the most detrimental things we can do for our self esteem. When compared to the Facebook posts of our “friends,” our kids are never as well-mannered or athletic, our spouses never as romantic or wealthy, and our jobs never as glamorous or high-powered. Shutting off all our social media outlets might be one strategy for stopping the constant comparison to others. The problem with that is, comparisons are easy to make no matter where we are. So here’s another idea: Have a little self-compassion.

Treat yourself as you would treat a close friend or family member.

For example:

Set realistic expectations for yourself. You would never expect a friend to raise 2 perfect children, work 50 hours a week, maintain a HGTV-worthy home at all times and still fit into her prom dress. So why do you expect that of yourself? Keep your expectations real and do-able in this lifetime.

Accept your idiosyncrasies. We all have them: weird, quirky things that make us who we are. For example, I have a friend who can’t tell a joke to save her life; she always gets the punchline wrong. It’s one of the things I love about her. Embrace the parts of you that make you, you – even if they are, technically, imperfections.

Understand that you will make mistakes. Why are we so much more accepting of other people’s missteps, failures and screw-ups than we are our own? I’m not sure. But I do know that most of us could stand to be as gracious to ourselves as we are to others.

You never know what’s behind the front door.  When all else fails, and you still find yourself comparing your life to the other, fancier people in your life, know this: Everyone has struggles of some kind.  What looks perfect rarely is, and everyone (yes, even the most confident, beautiful and rich among us) have our foibles and weak spots.

Portions of this post originally appeared as part of a series on Personal Development Genesis