Fathers and mothers sharing the ‘mental load’

By Ruth Fordyce
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

There has been quite a bit written recently about the ‘mental load’ carried by mothers. Many mothers now return to the workforce fairly soon after having children, and begin the juggle of part time working (or in some cases full time), as well as what is essentially still a huge role carrying the domestic ‘load’. This includes of course the obvious tasks of housework, cooking, caring for the children and so on – but many women are becoming aware that it’s the ‘mental load’ that is exhausting, as much as the physical tasks that need to be completed.

What do women mean when we refer to this ‘mental load’? We’re talking about things like:
– keeping on top of notes and newsletters from school/childcare
– tracking important dates each week and month, anything from when the vaccinations are due, to what day of the week the library books need to be returned
– buying birthday presents for parties your children have been invited to
– thinking ahead to the next stage in your child’s development … What do we need to start the baby on solids? When should we try toilet training? We need new school shoes soon (again!) … and so on, and so on!

When women return to work after having children, it seems there is often an expectation they will continue to manage all of this thinking and planning, rather than it being shared by both parents.
This point is made brilliantly in this post, which went viral earlier this year on social media:

https://english.emmaclit.com/2017/05/20/you-shouldve-asked

It highlights so effectively that when fathers expect to be delegated to, or offer to ‘help’ around the house or with the children, this implies that the mother is in charge of the domestic duties, not him. This doesn’t reflect the equal partnership that many women are wanting in their family life – and indeed that many fathers would also say they aspire to!

So how do we get fathers more involved? Certainly in my local neighborhood I see a lot of dads involved at least in the drop off and pick up at childcare and school. When I went to the Easter and Book week parades at our primary school this year, there were lots of dads in attendance too. Does this indicate simply a willingness to attend specific events or complete particular tasks in the weekly routine – or does it also reflect that some dads do spend a lot of time thinking about and planning family life, and are willing to shape their working life (at least somewhat) around prioritizing involvement with their children?

And where are the dads’ voices in this? Most of the articles and posts I have read on this topic are the thoughts of women (see one exception below). So I thought perhaps enough from me, as yet another woman writing on this topic! Why not try and start a conversation with some families where Dad IS involved in the planning level of family life; who is sharing the ‘mental load’, if you will.

Is this you? Are you a dad who shares the mental load?

(and does your wife/partner agree that you share the load?!)
How have you implemented this? Have you been this involved from the very beginning or has it evolved over time?
What are your tips for other families who want to make this happen?
What are the challenges that dads face, that might block them from being a more equal partner in the planning and managing of family life?

For example, here are the thoughts of one dad:
https://www.lifehacker.com.au/2017/05/how-to-share-the-mental-load-of-chores-with-your-partner/

If you are a mother reading this, encourage your partner to respond or have a conversation about it and give us some feedback!

 

Ruth Fordyce is a Registered Psychologist at The Resilience Centre in Sydney. Find out more about Ruth by clicking here.

Forgiveness – how it works in abusive relationships

In the second of this three part series of weekly podcasts on forgiveness, Lyn Worsley discusses how forgiveness can work in abusive relationships, both personal and work related ones. Starting with self respect. forgiveness enables both parties to move towards growth.

Introducing….my dog Zoe.

Recently, at The Resilience Centre, we have been running a weekly group for adults titled “A Life Worth Living”.  It’s basically designed to help people who struggle with their emotions and tend to experience intense feelings which interfere with their quality of life.  Amongst other things, the program includes some skill building around how to stay in the present moment and tolerate distressing emotions. I was telling my teenage daughter about the course a bit before heading out to my first group session.  Her insistence that I take our dog Zoe as a possible comfort for some participants was intense.  I could see how her relationship with our dog had been very significant for her in hard times.  Perhaps she had a point? Perhaps having a dog like Zoe in the room might bring a useful dimension for some people?

I need to point out that not all dogs would be good for this job.  Zoe just happens to be a dog who radiates CALM.  She is as chilled as they get without being lazy.  She’s curious, and perceptive, and she can rest in one place for a long time.  I decided to take her along to the group and since then I have not looked back.

Not everyone is a dog lover so some participants have been ambivalent.  Others, however, have eagerly welcomed her.  Having a dog in the room has provided an ice-breaker (in varying states of nervousness) and allowed people to share their own dog stories before perhaps talking about themselves.  She has provided an additional avenue for distraction or soothing when group members feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. Being able to focus on simply patting a dog and tap into the various senses that go along with that is very calming for some people.  Just as sitting in nature might be for others.

Animal Assisted Therapy is reported to have a number of benefits for those with mental health challenges including:

  • decreased anxiety
  • increased sense of comfort and safety
  • reduced loneliness
  • enhanced self-esteem and confidence
  • increased prosocial behaviours
  • decreased behavioural problems  1.

One therapist in the US talks about using her dog in the therapy room:

“Clients find solace and calm while petting Lainey, even when they are talking about something stressful. She immediately notices when someone is emotional and makes herself present to be pet or provide a much-needed hug”.  2

I am working towards having Zoe in the room that I practice in.  If you would especially like this; please express your interest at the time of booking an appointment with me.  If you prefer not to have Zoe around or have some sensitivity to dogs please let reception know also.

Forgiveness – the process of “letting go”

Clinical psychologist, Lyn Worsley talks to Leigh Hatcher about forgiveness in this three part series of weekly podcasts. Forgiveness is so much a part of healthy relationships and in the first of the series Lyn discusses the process of moving to a place of “letting go” and how even in the psychological sphere of our minds, every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

How to achieve an optimal healthy Brain?

How to achieve an optimal healthy Brain?

The engine is the most vital part of a car. When we refuel, many cars require a high-performance petrol to run the engine. It appears the intake is going to affect the outcome, i.e. enhancing the performance or functions of the car.
By the same token, the brain is the commander of the mind and the body. It consists of the cognition, long term and short memory, decision making, controlling emotions, and also coordination of the whole body system through the spinal cord, all the nerves and muscles in the body. There are many self-help books, fitness centres, and programmes to advocate for physical health. On the contrary, there are not many books or advocates talking about how to achieve an optimal, healthy brain both short term and long term.
Every organ or devise has a lifespan. We occasionally hear that someone needs a lung transplant, a heart transplant or a kidney transplant. Have you heard of any brain transplant? How do we protect our brain life or even maintain the various functions of the brain to enable it to be run effectively? In other words, how do we reduce the chance of clinical dementia when we are going to age? Younger people may say it will not happen now as dementia only happens in older people. One thing worth mentioning is the brain starts ageing from the age of around 24. We need to think about how to match our brainspan with our lifespan now. According to the neuroclinical psychologist Dr Nichola Gates (2016), there are four steps to achieve optimal brain function and reduce clinical dementia.

Boosting our healthy brain

Most people already know what to eat to reduce heart disease, diabetes, lowering our cholesterol, etc. But is there any food out there that is particularly beneficial for our brain?
First of all, we need to include elements of the Mediterranean diet in our meals. Food that is low in saturated facts, and high in anti-oxidants are preferable, and also include wholegrains, high amounts of omega 3 food such as oily fish, eggs, avocado, etc., vegetables and fruits. Processed meat such as ham and salami might have to be avoided as it might be carcinogenic. Food that can promote good mental health should include food containing calcium, protein, vitamins D3, B3, B5, B6, and B12, folic acid, Vitamin C, zinc, copper, and amino acids including Tryptophan. All vitamins Bs are good for mental health especially B6 and B12.

Research indicates that there is a link between the brain and the gut. Most of our serotonin neurotransmitters are manufactured in our gut rather than in our brain. Chronic stress can affect our immune system as well as changing the barrier function in the gut making it more prone to infection. Most of the Irritable Bowel Syndrome is caused by anxiety, and it demonstrates the gut-brain-stress link existence within our system.

Reducing our brain burden

All drugs have a different pharmacological effect on the brain as they have different effects on the perception and cognitive function. Too much or over stimulation of dopamine due to substance abuse can increase the dopamine level by five to ten times the normal levels thus overwhelming the brain, leading to the consequences of reducing the capacity for critical thinking, decision making, learning, and memory, as well as poor brain function.

Research shows that there is a 16% chance of getting dementia for smokers. Some life style factors that can also lead to dementia such as lack of exercise, chronic stress, cardiovascular disease, smoking, poor sleep, illicit drug, alcohol, diabetes, and obesity are unhealthy brain burdens.

Excessive consumption and chronic alcohol abuse will damage the brain. When alcohol reaches the brain, it damages the connective tissue at the end of the neurons which results in disrupting neural communication. Fortunately, it is a temporary damage, and the brain will repair it once the ethanol remits. Chronic alcohol abuse and excessive consumption of alcohol over a period of time will affect the cerebellum and the frontal lobes. Frontal lobe dysfunction leads to difficulties to make decision and judgement, regulate emotions and affect the executive functioning. Cerebellar atrophy will lead to the classic symptom of ataxic gait which affects muscle coordination in balancing and walking. Wernicke syndrome can also happen due to extreme loss of Vitamin B1 as it is being depleted by alcohol. People with Wernicke syndrome shows ataxic wide gait, and involuntary changes to eye gaze with rapid side-to-side movements. Moderation of alcohol consumption is crucial in order to extend our brainspan.

The nicotine in cigarettes will disrupt the neurotransmitter systems that associated with dopamine and reward, as well as causing oxidative stress. In addition, research suggests that a new compound in tobacco called NNK has been found to provoke white blood cells in the central nervous system to attack healthy cells. As a result gray matter is decreasing in the brain that leads to the thinning of the cerebral cortex which involves thinking and memory.

Building brain reserve

The last ten years of neuroscience research suggests that our brain can change and grow due to neuroplasticity. Reserve here means resilience. We have to build up this capacity for the brain to function well and develop functional resilience against pathology and trauma. The research found out that by engaging the brain in more stimulating and mental activities, physical exercise, and social connection will benefit our brain by increasing the performance, stimulating brain growth and decreasing the chance of developing dementia.
A study (2017) revealed that adults who participate in high levels of physical activity tend to have significantly longer telomeres than their counterparts. Telomeres are nucleoprotein structures positioned at the end of chromosomes. As a consequence of mitosis, telomeres naturally shorten and as telomeres shorten, cell senescence increases, and eventually cell apoptosis occurs. In other words, high level of physical activities can enable us to live longer as telomeres will be lengthened instead of shortened. Another research revealed meditation also has some effects on telomere length by reducing cognitive stress and stress arousal, and thus it increases positive states of mind and hormonal factors that promote telomere maintenance. In short, both physical activities and meditation can lead to longer telomeres which mean cell division can still be continuing when we are ageing.

Cultivating wise mind

Marshal Linehan (1995) explained that the wise mind is the balanced part of us that comprises our inner knowledge and intuition. It is that place where reasonable mind and emotion mind overlap. Emotion mind is driven by our emotion whilst reason mind is mainly based on our logic and analytical mind. It can be cultivated through practising of mindfulness skills. The practice of mindfulness skills over time will help us develop our self-awareness and insight. It enables us to look inside and the environment around us without judging, as well as accepting the whole situation. This will foster an internal calmness which empowers us the capacity to regulate our emotions and alleviate our stress. As we know that chronic and long-term stress will develop into depression as stress hormones damage the hippocampus.

References:
Epel, E. Daubenmier, J.; Moskowitz, J.; Folkmna, S.; and Blackburn, E. (2015). Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Journal of American New York Academy Science, 1172:34-53.
Gates, N. (2016). A brain for life: How to optimize your brain’s health by making simple lifestyle changes now. Australia: HarperCollinsPublishers.
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Manual, second edition. NY: Guilford Publications.
Tucker, LA. (2017). Physical activity and telomere length in U.S. men and women: An NHANES investigation. Journal of Preventive Medicine. July, 100:145 -151.

Gabriel Wong
Clinical Psychologist

…But What About The Grandparents!? Parenting and Grandparents after separation and divorce

Senior woman and her two granddaughters smile while looking at freshly baked cupcakes.

The impact that parental separation has on children and parents is a topic that has been thoroughly researched. Many therapeutic, as well as legal interventions hold the child’s perspective as paramount in knowing how to navigate through what is often a challenging process for many families. In supporting children, as well as managing traumatised or grieving adults, a valuable resource within family systems can be sometimes overlooked -grandparents.

Many cultures view grandparents and elders with great respect, recognising their part in maintaining intergenerational relationships. It is no secret that maintaining family contact contributes to improved health and wellbeing outcomes for all family members. In recent years, grandparents seem to have become increasingly more active in the daily lives of their grandchildren, especially in families in which both parents are working outside the home. The grandparent-grandchild relationship holds particular strengths rarely found in other adult-child relationships. Why then is it, that there is such little research that explores the experience of grandparents with disrupted, lost or denied relationships with their grandchildren? We need to know more about how the rupture comes about and, importantly, how to protect this precious relationship.

Grandparents may have to work harder at pursuing contact with their grandchildren following a divorce or family breakdown. Many grandparents experience grief from reduced or lost contact with a grandchild. Grandparents, as the older generation play a role in caring or supporting, not only their grandchildren but also their grandchildren’s parents in giving emotional and sometimes practical, support to their grandchild’s parent. Discipline, parenting decisions and daily living skills are all things that will evolve for many newly separated parents after separation. What was often the role of one or the other parent, becomes a competency that each single parent will need to master. Not only can this be extremely stressful for separating parents, but they may require the assistance of their own parent or parent of their ex-partner to manage this.… Enter a potentially difficult time!

Parenting was challenging the first time around, and it’s likely going to be even more of a challenge when your adult child is now a parent. That’s what you might think, but really, it’s more like what you remember than you think. Your adult child may still think – he or she knows more than you and better than you, just like they did when they were an adolescent. But before you spring into action, take a minute to stop, listen and connect. Providing support through difficult times can often strengthen family bonds. It is important to be able to support your adult child in their adjustment to being a single parent, and that means working to your strengths. If you have a strong relationship with your grandchild, then you may wish to talk things through with them, help them to understand their sadness, disappointment, anger or relief. These may even be reactions that you share on some level.

Grandparents can do something that parents can’t. So, I invite you to do it. And remember, ‘There’s no such thing as an ex-grandparent!

What is Mindfulness and How is it Useful?

 

Written by Ivette Moutzouris

Mindfulness appears to be the new fad at the moment. It has become so popular that it is even being called ‘the mindfulness movement’ and has expanded beyond the therapy room and into everyday life. I thought it would be helpful to explain its origins and some basic core beliefs underpinning Mindfulness because there is so much talk about it and a mixed response about its effectiveness.

 So What is it?

Mindfulness is basically the process of being intentionally aware of the moment, with acceptance and with a non-judgemental attitude. The way in which this is achieved is through a set of strategies/meditative exercises and also by understanding and practicing a more mindful lifestyle.

It has been practiced in eastern/buddhist traditions for over 2500 years as a form of meditation and inorder to simplify and create a more meaningful life experience.

In the late 1970’s Jon Kabat-Zinn (known for his work as a Scientist, author and Meditation Teacher) introduced Mindfulness into a Medical clinic which was treating patients with chronic pain symptoms. Jon Kabat-Zinn refined Mindfulness practices and used these strategies to treat his patients and the results were very positive. From this point it was applied to treat other psychological issues such as Anxiety, Depression, Personality Disorders, Addictions and Chronic Pain.

How Do I Practice It?

Mindfulness is Experiential – it involves learning to be more present in the moment by increasing your skill of attention and focus.

An example of this could be sitting and closing your eyes and noticing the sounds around you for at least 10 minutes or more. There are many variations of Mindfulness exercises but the key to Mindfulness is to slow down and notice what is be happening around you and also within you– i.e. to connect more with your world and to find meaning and enjoyment from it. In therapy we also use it to help notice the internal emotions and thoughts and decide whether to accept, reject, defuse or challenge our internal dialogue.

Mindfulness is an Attitude -It is a lot more than just exercises. It involves learning to have a big picture perspective when you approach issues/hardships and life in general. By this I mean learning to not just notice (and even obsess) about the problem but also notice what else is going on in your life. A mindful attitude helps you to see the positives and the simple joys of life that we often neglect or miss when we are preoccupied, worried or constantly busy.

Some people think that Mindfulness is about being positive and/or ignoring issues but it is actually the opposite. It is about accepting and learning to cope with the hard times by slowing down and working through the issues instead of either automatically reacting or avoiding.  Mindfulness teaches you to be ‘more reflective’ and ‘less reactive’ and when this occurs we are better able to come up with solutions or accept our situation.

Mindfulness is Educational – this occurs as you slow down and begin to notice how you respond to situations. It also teaches you about other people as you nurture more mindful relationships and learn to listen and understand others better. It encourages us to be less focused on ourselves and to have better connection with others. I recently heard an interview with Tara Bach, who teaches and writes about Mindfulness and she mentioned the difference between Illness and Wellness, i.e. the ‘I’ is in illness and ‘We’ is in Wellness. We are relational and it is often helpful in recovery to connect with other people.

 Why is Mindful helpful?

Mindfulness is helpful because as you focus more on the ‘now’ you are less caught up in the past and situations that cannot be changed and also less focused on the future and all the worries about what may or may not happen. Being caught up too much in your past or your future can cause Depression and Anxiety because they are situations that you cannot control. Mindfulness instead teaches you to find meaning in the ‘now’ and even when you are going through a difficult time learning to not avoid it but get through it. It encourages you to look for your strengths and resources and to calm down the automatic emotional reactivity.

When you learn to slow down and observe it not only helps you to alter the emotional intensity of your reactions but also increases your attention, memory, problem solving skills, empathy and compassion. Research has shown that people who practice mindfulness exercises daily for 2 months experience these benefits and brain scans show that other parts of the brain are more active, for example the prefrontal lobe which is responsible for activating positive emotions.

 

Siegel, Ronald.  (2010). The Mindfulness Solution. Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. New York: The Guildford Press.

Harris, Russ. (2012). The Reality Slap. Finding Peace and Fulfillment When Life Hurts. CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Williams, M., Teasdale, J., Segal, Z., Kabat-Zinn,J. (2007). The Mindful Way through Depression. New York: The Guildford Press.

www.mindfulness-solution.com