What’s Behind Your Poor Health: Life vs. Lifestyle Issues

LifestyleOne of the things I love about our success stories is the far-reaching impact of people’s health transformations. They lose weight (or in some instances gain it in muscle mass). They get fit. They get their basic health in order, and the physical vitality takes on a life of its own with a unforeseen “carry-over” effect, leaving them happier, more confident and newly inspired to pursue other personal goals or productive changes in their lives. This got me thinking about how much the opposite holds true. What about the studies that tell us negative circumstances in our lives become risk factors for a variety of serious health issues, including mortality risk itself?

The thing is, we focus a great deal on the proximate causes of obesity and lifestyle disease (e.g. what people eat, how much they eat, what metabolic issues come into play), but sometimes the actual headspring could be considered “Life” rather than lifestyle issues—negative relationships, family dynamics or job situations, etc. that admittedly don’t force people toward unhealthy behaviors but leave too many of them groping for these as coping mechanisms. From there, the spiral begins. This isn’t to oversimplify the situation or to deny individuals responsibility for their own choices, but it raises a legitimate question: to what extent can getting our lives in order open the door to better health?

We see the headlines on a regular basis linking negative life circumstances or poor quality of relationships to poor health. The latest this week connected the “ambivalent marriage” (in which negative interchange is frequent but not constant and often unpredictable) with higher blood pressure. Research has previously associated hostile and consistently unsupportive marriages with the likes of higher systemic inflammation, slower wound healing, dysregulation of immune function and stress hormone alteration. Likewise, job stress and, in particular, job burnout can raise workers’ use of medical services as well as their risk for stroke and other cardiovascular disease.

While this brand of research relies heavily on self-report and often doesn’t narrow the variables to any gold standard, it’s hard to argue with the results. We know people in these situations or perhaps have been in them ourselves. We can identify or sympathize with what it means to live in an unhappy relationship, to feel lonely, to be in the wrong profession or dread our work environments, to live with various unresolved issues from our past. It’s hard to not feel the toll over time of chronic negative interactions at home, in the workplace or in an extended family or other social structure.

And so the coping begins…. Some people lean into healthy behaviors like exercise that may stay healthy or take on compulsive dimensions. Others begin to turn to less healthy “shadow” comforts like night eating, overeating or “comfort” eating, drinking or smoking, zoning out with sedentary screen time or overworking and undersleeping. An entire psychic-physiological helix gets set in motion, but the portion locking in the entire pattern is that original catalyst—that negative, eventually disempowering “Life” circumstance (or at least our fixed reaction to it).

While I’m not one to let people off the hook for their own choices, I think we know how this goes. People go into denial or feel trapped, “feed/medicate” the gloomy emotions with unhealthy behaviors, thinking that it’s a temporary situation or that they’ll figure some way out of this mess but just for today they need something to take the edge off. “Today,” all too often, becomes many days until it becomes routine. Their motivation to change anything in their lives, including their health, generally dwindles over time. Between the imposed stresses of the core circumstances and added descent into other unhealthy choices, they’re caught and now increasingly at risk for a host of stress related conditions, which (not surprisingly) are also the most common “lifestyle” diseases/conditions like cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression, gastrointestinal conditions and premature death.

We might in these instances be able to identify which came first (the chicken or the egg), but when we can truly trace poor health back to an unfortunate Life situation, where should the most effective approach begin? Should it be following the general prescribed route of adopting healthy lifestyle choices, or should it be pulling up and finally bringing to resolution that initial rotten root. In other words, do you fix the Life or the lifestyle first?

Some months ago I wrote that getting healthy can be an incredible boon to our vitality and equanimity (and, by extension, all good things these factors can foster in our lives), but it is not a panacea. Getting in shape or losing fifty pounds isn’t an automatic fix for all else we struggle with in life, whether it be a toxic work environment, a precarious financial situation, or a dead-in-the-water marriage. Eating a great diet and running a series of 5Ks might make us feel more energetic and raise our self-esteem, but it won’t erase an unreasonable commute that leaves us with too little family time. It won’t eradicate past trauma. It won’t resolve the grief of a major loss.

What health can give us is a more formidable resilience within our lives, a stronger buffer against the impact of stress in its various manifestations. It can offer us a bigger reserve of emotional and physical energy to work with in life, but it doesn’t by any means wipe our slate clean.

Uprooting a festering situation that’s been weighing us down for long stretches of time can be freeing. It can dislodge our lives from seemingly immovable patterns. We can realize with a mixed bag of relief and consternation how much energy and attention that certain situation has drained from us for how many months, or year, or even decades.

And yet… If we’ve allowed ourselves (yes, allow) to go down those rabbit holes of self-denial, of self-diminishment, of self-destruction physically and emotionally, it’s probably unreasonable to believe that shifting an outer circumstance is going to be enough to dissolve all the negative patterns within our daily structure and the defeating self-talk that we’ve amassed (and internalized) within our own mentality.

I believe these situations, should we identify our issues in this way, call us back to the question of health integrity. At some point along the way, we gave away our own health step by step in the name of coping, in the name of avoiding, in the name of abdicating our responsibility. When we’re ready to face the facts of our “Life” conflict, we’re finally poised to cut our excuses off at that original root, but it’s also important to understand they can (and in all likelihood have) become self-perpetuating.

We have to do more than “fix” a problem we situate outside of ourselves. We have to reclaim our own authority. That means we clean up our own patterns by doing the footwork of health and self-care. We acknowledge that we’ll earn that vitality back by our own efforts. Blame has no more place in our day—from either end.

In the end, maybe it’s about finally asserting that our health has the best chance to flourish when our Life (the big choices, relationships and priorities of our lives) and our lifestyle (the details we live regularly) fully correlate.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Do you identify your own situations with this question? What was the answer for you along the way? Share your thoughts in the comment section, and have a great end to the week.

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TAGS:  mental health

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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62 thoughts on “What’s Behind Your Poor Health: Life vs. Lifestyle Issues”

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  1. Taking responsibility for our health nearly always translates into taking responsibility for our life, our choices and their repercussions. The choice to take charge of ones health is a noble first step to overcoming learned helplessness in a society that teaches us to lay the blame on others. Like succumbing to junk food and TV, blaming is arguably the easy route to not taking responsibility for all aspects of our lives.

    1. All too often, what is labeled as “blaming others” is actually the person attempting to diagnose their problems. There isn’t an instruction manual for fixing your problems whether they were caused by you or by someone else, so it doesn’t do much good to tell someone to “quit blaming and take responsibility for your own stuff” if they don’t know how to do that. In short, you’re not helping the situation. And you should be spending more energy looking at your own stuff anyway, because when other people do cause any of our problems, it’s usually because they let their own stuff fester and it’s causing them to malfunction. You can’t be any good to anyone else if you aren’t squared away yourself.

  2. As usual, what an incredibly timely post! I’ve been battling with the idea of this for over a year. So what do you do when the “festering situation” is something that really can’t be changed (unless I were to do something against my own personal values)? In my case it is my kids and my home life. (As miserable as I am, I won’t abandon my kids, even though they are killing me!) I love my husband dearly, and he is so supportive and does so much for me, but I’ve considered divorce just so that we can have a custody agreement so I can have my own space and regularly scheduled time off without kids. Tension at home is particularly awful right now because of my younger child’s constant tantrums. I hate every minute of being home, unless they are sleeping. I’ve decided to make the basement my sleeping quarters during the weekdays for a temporary period simply because I need space and to have uninterrupted thoughts, leaving my husband to deal with the kids when they get out of bed for the tenth time, wake in the night, or get up at the crack of dawn. (My husband is gone Friday through Sunday working, so I am “on” for the entire 48 hr shift each weekend.) Sleeping separately makes me feel awful, as it isn’t my husband I need to get away from, but I’m losing the ability to cope at home, where I feel smothered. Work is quite unfulfilling lately too. To cope, I’ve started turning to food – sweets – which I have a long history of doing before going primal in 2013. I’ve also started drinking more and sneaking the occasional cigarette, which disgusts me to no end. I continue to exercise, make sleep a priority as much as possible, and eat healthy meals, and I’m in pretty good shape physically, but I can tell my stress has significantly weakened my immune system and my mental state. What do I do when my old habits of snacking, drinking, and smoking creep back? I just don’t have the will power to fight them all the time, and since becoming a mom, I so miss feeling satisfaction and pleasure, which is why I keep turning to these old habits. I spent the last year working on coping skills/techniques and getting therapy, but nothing has really helped. I’ve also tried to get help with the kids so that I can have some me time, but I just don’t have the resources. I so want my situation to change; I fantasize daily about running off and having my own home. I welcome any suggestions – how can I get out of this rut before it ruins my health or my family?

    1. I guess the better question is, how can I keep this rut from ruining my health? How can I find away to stay away from the bad stuff when stress has worn down my discipline?

    2. Your solution is in your post. Don’t divorce your hubby. Tell him you need that regularly scheduled time off without kids, and take it. It’s not negotiable. It’s either that or you go nuts and the divorce happens.

      Once you’ve gotten that space for awhile and some of the desperate fog has cleared from your head, you’ll be better able to assess any further needs, including divorce, if necessary, but it sounds like it won’t be if your needs are respected and addressed.

    3. It sounds like what you need right now is not a therapist. Not a divorce. Not to beat yourself up more.

      What you need is other Moms.

      Ever noticed how people from the military tend to hang out with people from the military? Or doctors tend to hang out with doctors? When you have a job that is heavily emotionally, physically, and mentally draining, the only people who really understand are those in the same situation as you.

      Your husband is wonderful, but he is also not a mom. He cannot quite get it the same way. I don’t know the age or number of your children, but wherever you live, there are probably ways to find other moms. Neighbors. Church friends. Hobby friends. Other parents in the community at your kids’ school.

      Find other Moms who you can connect with. You guys can swap advice. Suggestions, Complain to eachother. Trade off watching each others’ kids so you can get a break.

      I strongly believe it takes a village to raise a child, but you might need to identify your village so they can help out a bit. It also helps if you can identify your needs, which it seems like you have done a good job doing. You need your space and more alone time.

      For example, I currently have no children, but I LOVE it when my neighbor is at her wits end with her 3 kids and she lets me watch them for a night so she can escape. Sometimes I work from home in the mornings so she can go jogging in peace. There are totally things you can do.

      Also – kids are kids. Although you can’t control their behaviors, you CAN draw lines. One of my friends was an artist and she quickly learned after her 3rd kid that she could not continue her work as an artist with disturbances. She and her husband made a plan. She dedicated one bedroom as her office space, and from the time the kids were 2 years old, they were taught that as long as Mommy was “in her space” (which might be 20 min; and might be 3 hour) working, they did not knock or bother her unless there was a huge emergency. It sounds like your husband is super supportive, so maybe, depending on your particular kids and challenges, you guys could set something similar up.

      Another you might want to try is exploring outside with your kids. It sounds like you feel pretty shut in. But there are many inexpensive places you can go and let the kids “do their thing” with less taxing supervision. For example, going to a park and letting the kids play while you relax with a book on the bench.

      Ultimately, YOUR SANITY is critical for your family. Identify what it is you need, and see what options there are to get there. As we used to say at home, “When Mom ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy”.

      Thank you very much for committing to being a Mom. It’s one of the hardest, thankless jobs out there, but I so appreciate how much you give. You are teaching the humans the rest of the world will have to deal with basic principles of being human, and that’s pretty incredible.

    4. How old are your kids? If they are young, teach them that you need space. When mine were younger, quiet time in their rooms every day was a necessity for my sanity. Now, on bad days, I sit them in front of the tv for an hour so I can take a bath, read, do yoga, or whatever I need to feel better. They are 4, 6, and 8, and the bad days are few and far between because they learned how to keep themselves entertained.

      As far as getting out of bed too many times, you just need to set a firm line. When my oldest was 2, she would get out of bed or call me a dozen times every night. One night when my husband was working late, I put her to bed and told her that I didn’t want to see/hear from her until the sun was up. I locked myself in my bedroom and ignored her for the rest if the night. She eventually screamed and cried herself to sleep in the hallway. I repeated this 2 or 3 more nights, and the 4th she didn’t get out of bed. It sucked, but it saved my sanity.

      I hope you find some respite. I’m sure the 48 hours “on” are trying. My husband travels M-Th most weeks, so I understand how difficult that can be. When he is home, maybe use one of the nights he’s helping with the kids to do something on your own. A long walk, or a cup of tea someplace, an hour reading at the library…

      If your kids are older, please ignore all my advice, and know that I’m praying for peace and comfort for you.

    5. Dear Tired: I have only one and sympathize. My husband and I could not have coped with more. A couple times I have come home from work, get in bed and close the door and let him deal with it. I had a friend in grade school in the 70’s, we were probably in about 6th grade and went to visit her Mom in the hospital. What was wrong? The long and short of it was her Mom was a stay at home Mom but every year she spent a week in the hospital to get a break from the stress of raising a family with 3 or 4 kids.

      I agree with what others have said, the problem is not hubby but making some needed changes. Here are my ideas as food for thought: (1) swap baby-sitting with others so you don’t have to pay but can get some time off, especially on the weekends; (2) any relatives that can help? Cousins/ nieces/nephews that need community service hours? (3) get the kids involved, be honest, they need to do more at home, help with the youngest, whatever is feasible (4) Do you need a new more draconian or different approach to the tantrums? Does that child need other assistance? (5) Do less around the house whether it be with the kids (homework) or chores (this might require a change in expectations, or again more help from the kids and/or spouse). (6) Plan more playdates and other fun events with others while husband is working, we like free concerts and other activities, story time at library, etc. (7) If your children are old enough to know their numbers, they can be told not to come bug you at the crack of dawn, that worked with my 5yo, she could not come into our room on the weekend until the number on the clock started with an 8 unless something was wrong. Started training your kids you need your own time. Don’t be a martyr (if you have that personality type), better for you to enjoy life and be a better mom and get your own time than to be selfless and miserable. Make this a priority. You obviously need a change, even a few small changes could make a big difference. Back to coping, this time is so fleeting, before you know it they’ll be out of the house and you’ll be nostalgic for these crazy chaotic days.

      1. Wow, thank you all for responding. I am so appreciate of your support and advice. This is like an interactive journal entry. Very therapeutic. Better ideas than I got in real therapy.

        I could write a book about this – my frustrations and everything we have tried to find happiness, improve family life and improve my coping with motherhood. In short, my kids are normal 3 and 6 year olds who are not incredibly misbehaved, though we are in a hard period now. This issue is more that I have poor coping skills and cannot tolerate commotion. I am pretty proactive though, and made lots of efforts to improve this, but old habits die hard, and I prefer my old comforts when things get bad.

        Motherhood, for me, has been hard, with some incredibly hard times and speckles of happiness. I am a creative type, though maybe not in the traditional sense, who could get wrapped up in my ideas for days without stopping for a break, and caring for others really interferes with this process, leaving me feeling like I can never really stay in my zone, a place I very much need on a regular basis. My three-year-old, in particular, is having a hard time learning that he isn’t the center of the world (but I will not give up trying to teach him otherwise! Partly a maturity/age issue), but closing a door and telling him not to come in has not been effective for the situation, at least not yet. I note that we have high expectations and are not scared to discipline our children. If anything, my son’s recent behavior is a reaction to my irritability and constant yelling, and not our coddling of him.

        I do understand that to some extent this is just a stage my family is in and I have to ride it out and work to improve it, but in the meantime, what is best for my health when it comes to eating and working out? I go back and forth daily about this. Fitness and eating right are so important to me, to the point where not meeting my own goals makes me depressed. I am a strong 125 lbs now with a few pounds to lose (I’m 5’2”), but I was obese (210 lbs at age 22, and 180 lbs during my two pregnancies at 28 and 31). I know the work it takes to lose weight, and I am a bit fearful of ending up back there and having to break bad habits all over again.

        Are my health and fitness priorities keeping me from going off the deep end (physical activity=stress management) or are they heading me that direction? The idea of letting my fitness priorities slip saddens me, but I wonder if I would better manage my motherhood duties if I just gave it up for a couple of years. Do I stop giving my limited resources to bootcamp at the Y and cooking every meal from scratch and trying to get my kids to eat their veggies? Do I relax my eating/workout standards for a year or two, eating out and sleeping in instead of working out, even if it means lowering my level of fitness?

        As I write this, these sound like questions that a stranger on the internet couldn’t possibly answer for me, but I am having trouble deciding and post this to seek opinions of like-minded people. Balance and moderation have never been a strong point for me. I was so happy and calm when I was fat (though it was pre motherhood, so the situation was different), so in some ways, I don’t feel like I can be my own guide in deciding what is best for me.

        1. There are so many things I’d love to have time to say, but as another tired mom, I’ll just make one suggestion. Well, maybe two. (Many other people have made some great suggestions already.)

          Have you considered skipping the boot camp workout in favor of a walk outside? I’m not sure where you live, of course, but if the weather allows, getting outside can help. I love walking by myself, preferably on a city bike trail or at a metro park, but even just around the neighborhood is nice. But leave the kids at home. On rare occasions I can wake up before mine and sneak out for a walk. Very rare, but those days I’m so much nicer to my family and get so much more done.

          Second, have you ever tried batch cooking? I’m not one for balance and moderation either, so I cook like crazy for a weekend and end up with a month’s worth of meals. Usually I plan ahead for this and choose recipes very carefully. However, a few weeks ago I stumbled upon grass fed ground beef for $2.99/lb and “better than conventional but not organic” chicken breasts for $1.99. I bought 20 pounds of beef and 15 pounds of chicken. My husband thought it was nuts, but over the course of two days I made 38 meals and stashed them in our chest freezer. Take some chicken breasts, cut into portions, toss on some marinade and freeze in a freezer-safe zip top bag. When you’re ready, thaw it and toss it on the grill or bake it. Voila. Meal from scratch, made by you a month in advance. I made chili, sloppy joes, beef and bacon cottage pie, and pre-cooked beef for burritos. (My family clings to grains, but I skip the buns and tortillas.)

          And one last thing. I wanted to punch anyone who said this to me when my kids were waking up at 5:30am, throwing tantrums, and needing me ALL THE TIME, but…..it does get better. Really. Waiting for it to get better can feel like torture, but it does get better. My kids are 8 and 11 now, and they’re so much easier to deal with than they were at 3 and 6. Life isn’t perfect, and there are new problems at every age, but now they can entertain themselves and even make their own breakfasts. And they get it when I say, “I need you to stop talking for five minutes and leave me alone.” Well, they do most of the time.

          You’re on my mind.

        2. One thing you need to learn about kids and development is you can’t push it. Pushing development before its time is what causes the worst conflicts. Definitely discipline if it’s a behavior that’s going to have an immediate or almost-immediate bad consequence but if it’s just annoying, choose your battles. Discipline isn’t about controlling everything they do but about guiding them to learn to behave in a more mature way, and there are so many methods for doing that, not all of them involving yelling. (Take it from someone who yells.)

          Another thing. Do you have a tendency to get overstimulated even when it’s not your kids? Has this been a longstanding problem? There seems to be a trend of adults announcing that they think they’re autistic without ever seeing a therapist, but I suspect there are adults who fit somewhere on that spectrum and were never diagnosed because it wasn’t severe enough. This is particularly true of women, since girls got passed over for Asperger’s diagnoses for so long even when they fit the criteria. This is way out in left field I guess, but you could bring it up with your therapist and maybe explore whether it makes any sense and if it turns out this is an issue for you, you could then explore some coping methods that might work better for you.

          And basically everything everyone else said.

    6. I’m sure this won’t be a popular answer but… these are beings you created, you brought them into the world. Perhaps you need to figure out why your kids are driving you crazy and correct the issues, instead of avoiding them.

      Your youngest kid is throwing tantrums, can you stop that with discipline? Are you handling the tantrums properly or further encouraging the behavior? Are the kids bored and thus annoying? Are they involved with activities that engage them and give them something to do with all that extra energy?

      I’m sorry you’re going through this, I hope you can work towards a sanity saving solution!

      1. Amber, a woman can love her kids dearly, to the point that she would lay down her life for them, and still be unable to cope with the everyday hassles. Not all of us take to motherhood like ducks to water. Sometimes it’s an ingrained lack of patience that’s the culprit, or a naturally short fuse. Sometimes, as with “Tired”, it’s the feeling that everyone wants a piece of you until there’s nothing left for yourself. ALL kids are difficult and annoying from time to time. Some parents simply deal with it better than others.

        As the mother of a handicapped child (now an almost fully-functioning adult, thank God), I can really sympathize. Conversely, I feel your comment does little but load guilt on someone who sounds emotionally fragile to begin with.

        To “Tired”: You are stretched too thin! Continue with the therapy if you can afford to do so. Meanwhile, if the children are old enough to understand, learn to create and enforce a few boundaries. It is possible to love and care for your kids without letting them run roughshod over you. Are you presently working outside the home? It’s hard to parent small kids and hold down a job as well. Can you take a leave of absence or perhaps reduce your hours? Do you have friends or family that will take the children off your hands occasionally for little or no charge?

        Kids do eventually grow up. But in the meantime, you need to do some brainstorming. Try making a list of what you can do that WILL help you, rather than itemizing all the negatives. Check with your city/county to see what resources might be available. You might be surprised at what all is out there.

      2. I am certainly not avoiding the issues, but I can’t stare them in the eye 24/7 either 🙂 We try to ignore tantrums, when possible, and disciplining when we can’t ignore them, and we don’t feed into them. We are still trying to find and employ the best technique for this kid, who has a will of steel but is not unreasonable or normally attention seeking. The kids get enough activity, but I’m not sure about boredom. I don’t wish to become their entertainer; boredom fuels creativity.

        1. I’ve worked as a nanny and I’ve had my own child. I’ve also been in some quite liberal moms groups whose children are quite frankly ill-behaved because they are never disciplined. Ignoring a tantrum is fine unless you are ignoring it then giving in when he wears you down. If he’s getting what he wants, in any way, you are perpetuating it. There were times when my daughter was 3 and 4 that she would throw fits and even grab my legs when I tried to walk away or put her in her room. She hit me when I tried to make her stay in her room. At that point she got a spanking because no other reasonable techniques worked. Once or twice of that, and the tantrums stopped because she hadn’t gotten her way and she was not allowed to hurt me. I hated spanking her and felt guilty about it, but I couldn’t allow her to hurt me in the process. I know some people will freak out that I said that. But my daughter is one of the nicest most well spoken communicative kids that many people have remarked upon how helpful and sweet she is. So just my two cents.

        2. I don’t know if it’s still in print, but my mom had a book that I think was called The Strong Willed Child that she found helpful for one of us. 🙂

      3. Okay. There’s the thing where a kid yells and screams in an unpleasant way. There’s the thing where a kid is exhausted and can’t self-regulate anymore, so has a fit. And then there’s a tantrum. My younger child is 11 now and I can’t remember anymore whether the latter two are really just one and the same thing. But we’re talking about a biological state where the kid has “run out of spoons”, can’t control themselves anymore and they’re feeling like crap, usually very tired, and that’s all she wrote.

        All you can do in a case like that is get them somewhere they are not bothering anyone but themselves and maybe you, and wait for it to blow over. You can’t bully them into not tantruming; they are literally not ready to fully control their emotions at all times yet. You CAN try your best not to put energy into their fit by yelling at them or asking them what’s wrong over and over, so that they aren’t reinforced that that kind of thing gets extra attention, but in my opinion the problem IS that they’re getting too much attention and stimulation and that is what is setting them off… they must discharge, they have no choice, and they can’t yet control how that discharge happens.

        But I think there’s a correlation between little’uns who throw full-on tantrum fits and having one or more parents who also have emotional regulation issues. I remember my son throwing a tantrum once when we had to leave the playground, and his dad was occasionally known to punch holes in the wall when he was angry. I knew another little boy who would go into meltdown after a long day and HIS dad would lock himself in the bedroom after a bad day and hide from his whole family so they wouldn’t have to deal with his mood. Even though I couldn’t see or hear him I could still feel the emotional thunderstorm hanging over the house.

        So I’m thinking the apple don’t fall far from the tree and that this is something to work with where the kids are concerned to help them self-regulate emotions in a healthy way. But they’re not ready to hear that crap when they’re three. So say nothing, do the Parental Walk of Shame if you’re out somewhere public, take ’em home if you’re not home and let them spend time in their room til they can calm down… or til they fall asleep, which is a bit more likely, IF they’re not already asleep by the time you get them home!

    7. I have so much sympathy for you! I have been where you are, which directly led to my current job as a social worker providing education and support to young families in crisis.

      Two resources for tantrums: (1) The Happiest Toddler on the Block, by Dr. Harvey Karp. Great techniques for heading off tantrums before they start, while building a strong relationship with your child. (2) The Explosive Child, by Dr. Ross Greene. This is the book you need if your child’s meltdowns go way beyond what’s developmentally normal. It gave me a much better understanding of what was going on with my hypersensitive, inflexible oldest child and allowed me to see the world from her perspective.

      She’s 13 now, and I can tell you, it gets better, much better. But also that the toll that it takes along the way is real. I’m still struggling to get my health back on track and find space in my life for other things that matter to me. Sometimes I “joke” that my love for my kids is a bit like Stockholm syndrome… but I’m not entirely joking.

      1. Thanks. We are definitely working on the tantrum issues, and I think they are within normal ranges, though I’ll check out the books. My daughter had the same issue at the same age, and I’m confident it is mostly a stage but recognize we need to handle it properly.

        I love the Stockholm syndrome joke 🙂

    8. Others have given practical advice regarding your situation with your kids. I have to echo what others have said – do not divorce your husband. Aside from you possibly losing support from him (you clearly mention how much he does for you), it would be terribly unfair to him, and your real problem seems to be not getting enough of a break from the stress.

      I just want to add something from the other angle, that might be helpful. You are obviously feeling overwhelmed, to say the least. I would suggest getting a full thyroid panel done (TSH, Free T3 & T4, both types of antibodies, and reverse T3 if you can get it), as well as adrenal testing (a saliva test with four collection times in the same day is usually best). Adrenal issues in particular make us really susceptible to getting overwhelmed. Thyroid and adrenal problems seem to turn up fairly often for women doing Paleo or Primal diets. Sometimes we need a little bit higher amount of carbs in the diet and sometimes less intense exercise until things start to improve. You might read the information at the Jaminet’s website regarding that.

      You also might want to get dopamine levels checked. Lack of pleasure can be a sign of dopamine deficiency. You may want to read the article at Suzy Cohen’s website regarding that. https://suzycohen.com/articles/depression_low_dopamine/

      I would also suggest looking for a hobby that isn’t too time consuming to help with both the stress and the unhealthy coping strategies. I personally love knitting and crocheting. They’re known for helping people get into a “flow state”. It can be done in very small snatches of time, and quite inexpensively. If your kids are old enough to hold a crochet hook, they might like to try, too. If they have something they enjoy keeping them busy, you’ll get more time to breathe.

      As a last note – has your youngest child been checked for food allergies and intolerances? They are a pretty common cause of tantrums.

      Don’t give up. Things can change for the better even when we feel as though they are going to continue forever, or at least too long for us to deal with.

      1. Interesting what you mention about hormones. I was really extreme primal in 2014, working out hard and eating almost no carbs. I started to lose menstruation. Since then, I have been irritable and I have suspected a hormonal imbalance (with cortisol or adrenaline) but couldn’t convince my doctor to test me for those. T3 and 4 were normal, and my iron is good. Since then I’ve slowed down the work outs, stopped fasting and started eating more carbs and sleeping more, with some results, but I’m still out of whack I think. I’ve always wondered about a dopamine issue too. Thanks for sharing that link.

        PS. I have far more hobbies that I have time for – I think it is part of my problem.

        1. It sounds like you are making progress! There’s adrenal information at Dr. Alan Christianson’s site that may help you further. Bright sunlight early in the morning, eating breakfast within an hour of waking, and increasing the amount of carbs at meals so that you have most at dinner are kind of the highlights of his adrenal reset program.

          I would just caution that a “normal” free T3 and free T4 level doesn’t necessarily mean you have a really good thyroid situation going on. The normal ranges that many labs and doctors use are far too broad, and in some cases actually out of date. And having a high reverse T3 level can make normal free T3 and free T4 levels irrelevant in terms of how your body is actually using the active thyroid hormone. Reverse T3 isn’t active, but gets taken up by the receptors, and results in hypothyroid symptoms even if all the other markers look good.

          This article has links to thyroid practitioners (which is how I finally found a doctor who ordered the full panel), and compounding pharmacies, which is a possible way to find a local doctor who is willing to treat thyroid conditions in an effective way. Thyroid and adrenal issues typically go hand in hand. https://thyroidpharmacist.com/articles/what-type-of-doctor-should-you-see-if-you-have-hashimotos

          Here’s a link to thyroid and adrenal tests you can order yourself: https://www.stopthethyroidmadness.com/recommended-labwork/. I know I’ve seen other places where you can order yourself, can’t remember where right now.

          It is tough when you have lots of things you want to do, and feel like you have no time to do them. An occasional down side to the knitting was that really young kids like to get their fingers in the yarn. 🙂

          I just saw your comment that gave more details about your situation. Maybe try lower impact workouts part of the time? Bootcamp at the Y still sounds pretty intense. If you have an adrenal issue, too intense exercise can actually cause weight gain sometimes. Besides all the possible effects on hormones and mood. If you have a stroller or bike, you could take your kids with you on walks/runs/bike rides when you don’t have time to exercise on your own.

          If it were me, I would still focus on eating healthy and sleeping, I wouldn’t overdo the eating out. But I wouldn’t worry so much about a little bit of extra weight. I mean, you can do what you need to to keep it from getting completely out of hand. For what it’s worth, my doctor told me she has overweight patients who have much better markers on their tests than some of the rest of us.

          I can’t help but notice how many times you mention before motherhood and after motherhood. Did you start having problems while still pregnant or immediately afterwards? I’m wondering if your hormones never got back to what was normal for you. Maybe look into some of the amino acids and their relationship to neurotransmitters. The irritability, lack of pleasure, overwhelm, and what sounds like possible depression would seem to point to some issues there.

          Forgive me if this is too intrusive, way off base, or you may have already started dealing with it – but your apparently negative feelings regarding motherhood and mention of how balance and moderation are not your strong points, make me wonder if you feel like your own mother wasn’t a very good example for you? If you had to deal with extreme behaviour from your mom, it could be affecting you now. I don’t at all mean that your behaviour is extreme, just that the experience might be negatively impacting how you view your ability to be a mother.

          Have you really talked about these issues with your husband? From what you say, it sounds like he would be really supportive in making changes that would help you.

          I wish you the best, and hope that you start to feel better soon.

        2. I think it says a lot just in your name: Tired Working Mom.
          My .02 cents worth… I think it’s insane to have children and go to work full time on top of that. That alone is just so stressful. Stress is the big killer. We have total imbalance in our society. As recently as the 70’s when I was in High School, I knew of not a single mother that worked in my middle class neighborhood. It takes two to work full time to make it for most couples now. I really don’t know what to tell you, it’s rough out there.

    9. Huge hugs and warm wishes.

      A few ideas that might help: 1) Since it sounds like you can’t afford a babysitter, do you maybe have a little extra cash to get a mother’s helper and stay in the house in another room while your kiddos are entertained? 2) if you have no extra money, join a mom’s support group and either swap kids for an hour or two OR have little get togethers and let the kids play while you all talk about how annoying the kids are right now :p 3) Are you a member of a gym, or could you afford that? Mine has free babysitting, and that used to be a lifesaver for me when my daughter was little. 4) sometimes kids are easier when they don’t have their siblings around, so if you have a bit of extra cash to afford a babysitter for just ONE kid, you could take a little break and enjoy one on one time with the other child.

      Have you considered ways to get your kids involved in what YOU want to do? I used to take my daughter to the park and walk on the little wooden walls (balance!), swing on the monkey bars, race her across the field.

      Cooking together can be fun. I actually never enjoyed it, but my daughter did so I tried to figure out ways to do it with her.

      I hope you don’t beat yourself up too much for the coping mechanisms you’ve found, because it sounds like you’re doing the best you have and you are self-aware enough to know your limitations. Maybe try to cut out one coping method that you find unhealthy, or try to limit it to specific days and/or times and know that you have a way to get a little relief at some point.

      This time really will pass quickly. The days are long, but the years are short. Hang in there, sister. You are NOT alone.

    10. Young kids can be very trying and draining. Sometimes a shift in perspective is needed. Often the behavior we see from young children (and older too) is them trying to communicate with us in the very limited ways that they know how. A great resource that helped us a few years ago was “Language of Listening” where you’re taught to recognize the types of things the kids are trying to communicate and let them know they’ve been heard. Check out: http://www.languageoflistening.com. Good luck.

    11. I can so relate to your post! I remember my years of motherhood with a sense of despair; I was stressed far beyond caregiver snap and went into severe chronic depression. Yes, I loved my children. No, I did not love being a mother.

      I’m going to disagree with the posters who suggest spending time with other mothers. This is, of course, coloured by my own psychology, and that should be taken into consideration. What I needed was NOT other mothers, but my own company and the company of adults who could talk about anything other than children, but particularly the company of adults who shared my interests.

      What I found was that other mothers means other children: yet more noise, yet more confusion, yet more sense of alienation. It was next to impossible to have any kind of conversation; each woman had at least one eye and most of her mind on her child/ren whether we met in a public space or somebody’s home. Such conversation as did occur centred on – children! Sicknesses, achievements, tantrums, dentistry…there might be a grand pity party…there’d always be some irritating female who’d shame anybody who was less than ecstatic about motherhood… If I swapped child-sitting, I might get an afternoon without my two children, but I’d pay for it with an afternoon of 4 or 5!

      In my experience, the hardest thing to bear was the obliteration of my personhood. I was gobbled by the Mommy monster. That was my identity: Son’s Mommy, or Daughter’s Mommy, or Surname Kids’ Mommy. My ex-husband’s family even called me Mommy instead by my own name. They did the same to other mothers of young children in the family, as if it were a royal title far more valuable than the individual.

      I remember begging my ex to take the children away for an afternoon, or at least be with them while I went for a walk, alone. When he suspiciously demanded a reason, all I could ever say, sometimes while sobbing gustily, was that I just wanted to breathe. I only once said “You’ll HAVE to look after them, I NEED some time on my own” and went for a walk. He crammed the kids into the car and they came after me, kids screaming their lungs out because he told them that I had run away because I hated them.

      I would suggest that you get a thorough physical evaluation. It sounds as if you’re run-down and depressed. You may need nutritional support: stress burns through vitamin C and the fat-soluble vitamins. You may need a lot more magnesium. Get your iron levels checked; low-level anaemia can make one really miserable.

      I’d also suggest consultation with a mental health professional. You may be able to get this free through your employer (EAP covers five or six sessions), or through a women’s service’s group. It’s extraordinarily freeing to be able to openly air your contradictory feelings about your children in a non-judgmental situation.

      To me, the most telling part of your post is your saying that you are starved for satisfaction and pleasure.

    12. Dear Tired Primal Mom,
      Your situation really resonates with me. I am a bit of a health nut who raised 3 kids. My husband and I both had corporate jobs throughout. Raising kids while working and trying to stay healthy was the hardest thing I have ever done or ever will do.
      HOWEVER, I don’t think I could have worked and raised my kids and stayed married and successful throughout without staying healthy!
      My youngest was incredibly needy, high-energy, and willful. I can tell you from experience that you need all your strength and health to deal with a difficult child!!
      As to the tantrums, you MUST banish the kid to a room with a good door (which you should set up to lock from the outside) while the tantrum is going on. Make sure they know ahead of time that they are going to get locked in that room any time they throw a tantrum, and not be allowed out until they have been quiet for about a half hour after. Set a kitchen timer when things get quiet. DO NOT HOVER AT THE DOOR! This has several reasons. YOU should not be subjected to the sound and fury of the tantrum. Get away from that stress! It is impossible for you to be a calm, good parent with this going on. Also, it deprives the tantrum kid of an audience, which stops the craziness and anger from spreading through the household, and tends to make the tantrum shorter. And it will teach the kid to end a tantrum on their own.
      Once you announce this, you MUST follow through. It will help to save your sanity.
      I also would like to suggest that you set certain time periods: A set time for spending time with the two of them playing outside, a time for each kid one-on-one (maybe just before bedtime?), AND A SPECIAL TIME FOR MOMMY TO DO WHAT SHE WANTS (exercise time, yoga time, art time, whatever). If they interrupt your alone time for anything other than a REAL EMERGENCY (fire, serious injury, etc.) there should be a clear punishment – perhaps they go to the room with the lock on the outside for a half hour.
      Do not feel that this is being selfish. It is like putting on your oxygen mask first in an airplane crash; you need to do this to be able to take care of them. And they need you! In one, sane piece!
      They also absolutely need to learn to control themselves to be viable adults some day. They need to learn that their parents rule their home, just as they will need to know how to respect teachers and employers some day. YOU are the one they need to teach them this!
      The last thing I want to tell you is that you CAN survive this! I did. (barely :)) And my difficult, willful, challenging tantrum-thrower is now a sophomore in engineering school. And she is now as nice and thoughtful as can be. Good luck on your journey!

  3. Yes, I can relate to the above post.

    Life situations involving toxic family interactions set the stage for “shadow” compulsive/overeating behaviors when I was no more than 10 years old. It took me several decades, unfortunately, to rid myself of family relationships that only helped to reinforce negative childhood patterns that became habits.

    It wasn’t that I was unaware that I bore responsibility for my actions. It was just that when a child is programmed by older people in the family, it is often much more difficult to make the kind of choices (such as ending those relationships) that will help to bring about change. Happily, leaving certain people behind has led to a kind of peace and lessening of overeating that has helped me tremendously. Too bad it has to be that way, but sometimes that is all we can do.

    Po Bronson mentions this in his book, “What should I do with my life?” He states that “inevitably it means ditching your old support system” even though it will “inflict pain on those you love”. It was hard for me to read this but it rang so true for me and caused me to realize why it was so hard to lose weight, feel better, etc, when I was still trying to interact with those people. I thought knowing as much as I could about nutrition, exercise, and doing “everything right” would fix things. It didn’t. It was only part of the puzzle. I am so grateful for a chance to turn things around even if it meant losing some things to gain others. I have Sisson and company to thank for a large part of the support.

    Grok On!!!

  4. To tired mom,

    Your post appeared after I entered mine. So sorry to sound unsympathetic to what you are going through.

    When you have children, things get much more difficult. You can’t just walk away.
    I applaud your idea of finding a different room/space in the house at a time when you CAN get away because you need that personal time/space to be a good mother. Moms have the toughest job sometimes because there is no getting away from it all the was some people can do. Best of thoughts for you.

    1. Haha, I figured you probably were not suggesting I cut ties with my young kids, even if things get toxic at times 🙂

      1. i don’t think anyone has mentioned that maybe your kids need more closeness and affection. you husband is away a lot and you are trying to get away from your kids in your mind even when you are in the house with them. my mom was a nurse with 4 kids and an unsupportive husband that put her down regularly. when my mom was home, she was sleeping from depression and our house was disgusting. luckily i had my grandmom down the street and could hang out at her house. also i had caring teachers. whenever i got just a little bit of extra attention from them, i was so happy.

        i think you should get your health in order as you and others have been suggesting. get on some kind of anti-depressant and get a little fatter if it’ll make you feet better. you can always change when the kids hit 10 and say ‘bye mom, i’m going out’. you don’t have long to wait. the discipline system for the kids is still important. my mom had no energy to discipline us. we were like little wild animals running around laughing like crazy people . we did manage to have a lot of fun in the middle of a mad house.

  5. It sounds like some of the stress from the kids is due to misbehavior. I would suggest taking a class called STEP – Systematic Training for Effective Parenting – this is a parenting system taught all over the country for many years and it can be highly effective for parents to understand why their children are misbehaving and how to handle it. This system was used in my family and taught on a volunteer basis to other parent groups by my parents for years, and I have seen first hand how well it works. Many family counseling centers offer classes in this method of parenting. There are also several STEP books based on the work of Dreikurs and based on Adlerian psychology. It can greatly reduce stress for parents if children are behaving better within the family and learn cooperation. Parents also learn how important it is to control their own reactions to misbehavior.

    STEP Systematic Training for Effective Parenting by Don Dinkmeyer, Sr., Gary D. McKay and Don Dinkmeyer, Jr.
    Children: the Challenge by Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D. with Vicki Soltz, R.N.
    Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
    Positive Discipline by Nelson,Lott, Glenn
    Raising a Responsible Child Revised by Dinkmeyer, McKay

    1. I have five kids ages 12 to 26, and a blended family. When all five were in the home, it was a madhouse. Over time, my wife and I learned that we needed to set clear and loving boundaries between the kids and our marriage. Kids are kids and they will eat you alive with their demands. But when they are gone, it will be you and your husband taking care of each other.

      I’d like to add the book “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend to the list of suggested resources. This book explains it all in easy to understand language. These same authors have several other books on boundaries for specific situation (such as Boundaries with Teens and Boundaries in Marriage) Also look at Family Life or Focus on the Family on the web. Lots of resources there.

      Finally, the suggestion of hanging out with other Mom’s is gold. There is strength in numbers!

      Good luck!

  6. Forgot to add, have blood work done if you haven’t recently. I was severely anemic a few years ago and had terrible brain fog, depression, fatigue, no ability to handle stress, and a general feeling of overwhelm all the time. I thought it was just the exhaustion of 3 kids under the age of 5, but it turned out to be anemia. My practitioner prescribed a high-protein diet, digestive enzymes, acupuncture, and a couple other supplements. I felt better in a few months, though I still have to watch it when it comes to strenuous exercise. No cross fit for me!

  7. I just want to say WOW!!! This site is amazing, and visited by a lot of amazing and caring people. There is some fantastic advice in the comments today. I just want to say THANK YOU to all those who gave some very helpful advice to “tired primal working mom”.

    1. My thoughts exactly – extremely helpful advice and delivered very compassionately.

    2. I’d like to second Dan’s comment. Tired Mom was clearly in distress when she wrote her comment, and people could’ve easily glossed right over it. Instead, I was really moved by all of the thoughtful responses to her; they really reinforced what a special, amazing community this is. I’m not a mother yet, but Tired Mom, I hope you find at least a little bit of solace in others’ words! I hope your situation improves soon.

    3. Clearly this is fodder for a separate post from Mark. Our society is so messed up with the lack of alloparenting–moms in their separate houses, dealing with their separate kids. I think Mark alluded to this phenomenon in a recent post, talking about the redundancy of these situations. It would be great if we delved into this particular specific situation.

      Tired Primal Mom, the advice here is so great. Please know that the situation can be at its worst when your kid is three. They are not in school yet, and starting school connects you to the other kids’ moms in a way that can really help (if you can stand at the entrance rather than drop off/pick up in the car pool line, it’s easier to make connections)

      My kids are now 11 and 13, and I can assure you that it gets much easier. First, please remember that this is not forever!

      Second, I used to be a negotiation consultant, and the best lesson I got from immersing myself in that area was that you have to set up your environment to succeed. (Mark’s philosophy is all about that, not just today’s column). You have to step back, get out of the putting-out-fires mode and think how to set it up. You need to enlist adults in your sphere–explain what you need from them to facilitate your “success.”

      Humans are masters at creating environments that suit them. It’s hard to do when you are tired, but it’s essential.

      I wish the best to you.

  8. This message is so important, Mark.

    Eating and lifestyle “details” are totally entangled in the bigger “Life” stuff.

    In my personal experience and when working with clients, I can’t imagine focusing solely on the details…and expecting big, lasting shifts. Usually, there are underlying patterns that play out everywhere, in different ways.

    Looking from another angle, working on the “details” (including changing eating and lifestyle patterns) often brings bigger Life issues to the surface. Many times in our work these relate to past history, family and relationship, for example. Also “limiting core beliefs” and addictions (whether to substances, beliefs, thoughts or actions).

    Sometimes for clients, this is too painful to face. But the ones who are able to look at it–with plenty of support, gentleness and compassion–are the ones who, in my experience, see the most success in adopting and sustaining healthy lifestyle patterns…reaching personal goals around health, wellness, weight, etc…and manifesting bigger Life changes.

    Thank you for this post!

  9. Great topic and it hits a vein for those of us bearing a PRS (Primal Resistant Spouse). Whenever I see someone I have not seen in a while and he or she looks happy and fit, my first tounge-in-cheek comment is, “You look great! Did you get a divorce?”. More often than not the reply is yes. A bad marriage is like bear trap. There are spring loaded iron jaws clamped around your ankle. It’s very painful but even more so if you fight it and try to pull loose. You realize the only way out is to knaw off your ankle or starve to death. The only other option is to accumulate enough strength with love and positive energy to open the jaws and forgive the trapper who captured your freedom and happiness.

    1. Jack, This is exactly what people said to me after I got divorced. I lost close to 30 lbs. People said you look 10 years younger. The unhappiness and stress takes its toll.

  10. Personally, I was a pretty easy-going Mom. I decided that happy un-nagged kids were more important to me than a tidy house, though I got good workouts in keeping the house CLEAN. I also decided very early in my difficult son’s life that my sanity was paramount because I would be no good to him dead (it seemed a real possibility at one point) . When I had more kids, I used to take a sick day about once a week and stay in bed with a book, except for making supper. I didN’t tell the kids I was sick of them, but I did tell my husband. The older ones had toentertain the younger ones , and thy were good at it and willing to do it. I believe it helped that we had no TV, sinc I had noticed that the bickering level dropped when ther were only quiet toys like blocks and games in the house. Anyway,after all this rambling, my point is that you have to do what works for YOU to keep your sanity. And if you’ve got a loving and supportive husband, for God’s sake keep him. He’ll be around much longer than the kids will. The other thing I did was to always sit with my husband when he got home from work to just talk and relax. I confess that I never told him just how hard my days with the kids were sometimes because I wanted him to just enjoy them.

  11. Could be postpartum depression. It doesn’t always go away, two kids later it may be lurking in the background and it is real. Between that and/or a lousy thyroid life can become crazy.

  12. I have long thought that the “Avoid Poisonous Things” Primal Law should be understood broadly to include emotional, spiritual, and psychological “toxins” as well as physical ones. This post is a great example of the toll those “poisonous” situations take on our health when unaddressed. So addressing and uprooting the mental stressors I face will always be a central component of my Primal life.

  13. Wow, this was a thought provoking post! I have had some ups and downs in my life, for sure, although I know I am fortunate compared to most. The biggest thing for me, that keeps me on track, is gratitude. I look for the silver lining in even the worst situations. I am even teased about this sometimes, but I believe that positive attitude really carries over to my health. I also have created such a routine of little healthy habits that even during stressful times I am still kind of on autopilot. It’s easier to stick with them than do something else.

  14. Timely article.

    In the last few months I’ve come to realise that losing a lot of weight and getting much fitter have actually been a diversion from some pretty deep-seated problems unrelated to weight or fitness.

    And it’s turned out to be frustrating now that my regular fix of diet and exercise has become the norm; that is, it’s no longer the all-consuming diversion it once was.

    Thanks for the great head-check.

  15. Great article! I found in my life that health came first, for certain. I think the new energy and attitude I got with better health has helped me motivate myself to be better in all areas of my life. As a minister, this has been essential in allowing me to form better relationships and doing my job better!

  16. It is no surprise that the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, co-conducted by the CDC and Kaiser-Permanente, started at an obesity clinic: https://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/

    “One way it was a solution is that it made them feel better. Eating soothed their anxiety, fear, anger or depression – it worked like alcohol or tobacco or methamphetamines. Not eating increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable.”

    “The other way it helped was that, for many people, just being obese solved a problem. In the case of the woman who’d been raped, she felt as if she were invisible to men. In the case of a man who’d been beaten up when he was a skinny kid, being fat kept him safe, because when he gained a lot of weight, nobody bothered him. In the case of another woman — whose father told her while he was raping her when she was 7 years old that the only reason he wasn’t doing the same to her 9-year-old sister was because she was fat — being obese protected her. Losing weight increased their anxiety, depression, and fear to levels that were intolerable.”

    For some people, both motivations were in play.

  17. I just want to again say THANK YOU to everyone for the thoughtful suggestions and also for giving me a place to vent and be heard. The purpose of my post was mainly to get feedback on whether to keep pursuing my primal goals or if they are contributing to my problems (I still hope for some feedback there – anyone think they may have been overdoing it? How do you differentiate between overdoing it, true depression, and a crappy life?) and I was not expecting such an overwhelming show of support and understanding for my family situation. I am so touched that so many cared to respond and with such compassion and sensitivity. It would be easy to assume that I am not disciplining my children if my son is having tantrums (they are really more like frequent but short crying fits, but any expression of frustration by anyone puts me over the edge these days), but I think I am lacking discipline toward my own behavior – I am the one having true tantrums! I am trying to gear up for another weekend of single motherhood and I’ve made a list of ideas. I realize my kids are needing me and my obvious sadness and outbursts of anger are worrying everyone. The hell-hole at home is of my own creation. I need to find a way to change my outlook and to better cope. I need to accept the current limitations of my life; they are temporary. I’m going to make the best effort I can to keep my cool and choose happiness. Wish me luck!

    1. I applaud your determination to make it through. Please do look for some outside support as well. If you haven’t been able to find a mom’s group or something similar, I’d suggest church. There are often people willing to help with babysitting and that type of thing when you need a break. And there are many willing to lend a sympathetic ear.

      I have a small suggestion that may sound silly, but could help a lot if noise is one of your triggers (your mention of the youngest one’s crying fits sound like it) – earplugs! I realize they are not practical all the time, but if you are really feeling overwhelmed and ready to cry or scream yourself sometimes from all the noise, they can really help.

    2. Hey tired Mom, I am sending some love your way. There is no need to blame yourself. Parenting is hard and stressful. It just is. I have three kids under the age of four, so I get it. I am also deeply introverted, and that poses a huge challenge when parenting.

      To throw in my two cents and respond to your questions, if I were you I would absolutely give up on cooking all meals for your kid from scratch. We gave up on that a long time ago. It’s great if you can do it, but not everyone can. Life is long, and if their diet is less than perfect for a year (or more) they will be fine. It’s much much more important that they have a happy mommy.

      My other though is that you should absolutely drop boot camp or other scheduled workouts if that gives you more time to yourself. Since my twin daughters were born, I stopped all exercise except walking in nature every day (with my phone off). It gives me the solitude I crave and refreshes me so that I can be present when I’m with my family.

      Best of luck to you; I know you’ll find your way,



    3. An update to my November posts. I have been doing (even more) internal reflection after this post by Mark and all the great advice from everyone on my situation. I’ve been evaluating the life I’ve made and the life I want. In short, I need to ease up on my standards, as I’ve created a monster. I’m running myself ragged and it is of no benefit to me, or anyone. Working harder doesn’t always mean better productivity, and it really doesn’t equate to increased health or happiness, which are my goals. For the last two months, I’ve been working to cut out some of my life stressors by working out less (and surprisingly the results are the same or better! I’ve lost a few lbs and my muscles are still there!), doing more yoga than bootcamps, adding in some high carb days, toning down the caffeine and alcohol and eliminating the sugar and smoking entirely. While I enjoyed too many social gatherings over the holidays, I am happy to be three weeks in on my goal to go two months without any alcohol, and I just finished two weeks no sugar (the sugar will undoubtedly make a comeback, hopefully in better moderation). I’m not missing any of it – no cravings since day 3 or so. In fact it is a relief to not always be planning the next hit to my dopamine levels and then having to recover from the deep plunge in dopamine after the spike. I feel like I’m finally off the rollercoaster, coming out of this weird cycle I created of punishing my “weaknesses” (guilty indulgences, which I promoted by rewarding any good behavior or dealing with my self-pity) that was contributing to my bad attitude more than I realized. And I’ve started playing the piano, coloring and playing video games for their meditation-like properties. I’ve started visiting the sauna. I even had a massage! My mood is so much improved! Even though money is tight, my husband and I agreed he will start working 24 hour shifts on the weekends instead of 48. I can handle 24! And I started sitting and doing nothing sometimes! I don’t think I have ever done that before! What a difference all of this has made. Joy comes easier, as does compassion, for both myself and my kids. And I have returned from the basement (with occasional use of earplugs!), which has made everyone happy, especially my husband. I still yell and tend to have a short fuse when I’m on my own with the kids for long periods of time, but my rants are short lived and less scary for all of us. Once things started improving with my mood, I noticed my littlest started sleeping through the night more often. Tantrums are improved, but he still is at that age where frustration is frequent and he’s learning how to cope with it. This is becoming a life I can cope with again, and even enjoy at times. I still question if my hormonal levels couldn’t use a little tweaking, and maybe I would benefit from antidepressants, but I really just have no faith in my doctors right now. At least until the MN winter is done, I’m just going to continue to nourish, rest, and live, toning down my health ambitions a bit and go with the flow.

      1. I am so glad things area going better for you now tired primal mum. The tantrums and crying fits are such a difficult phase of motherhood, and all while you are not getting enough rest and sleep and peace. I think you are doing really well and it’s good you can articulate your difficulties so well. I hope things continue to improve and life gets better for you and your family.
        Love from Sheila

  18. Tired mom, my daughter uses art to distract her kids when they start to get on each other’s nerves and before the fighting starts. Plain paper, markers, water colors, crayons (and who doesn’t like to color) all come out on the table and she sits down with them and colors until they get into it, and then she can sit there quietly and read. Also, if you can pick up on the “pre-tantrum cues” you might be able to divert the interest away from the tantrum. Also, when my kids were little and CONSTANTLY talking and I thought I might go insane, I would tell them my ears were tired and I needed some peace and quiet. They would be silent for about 5 minutes, but that was enough to pull myself together. My daughter started calling this time “a piece of quiet for mom”

  19. Delighted to discover your blog and insightful informative articles. I will follow you, for inspiriation and motivation. Thanks for being a role model.

    1. “How do you differentiate between overdoing it, true depression, and a crappy life?” you have 2 healthy children and you didn’t say your husband was a jerk or that you had heavy financial struggles. therefore you do not have a crappy life. you seem to have some degree of depression. did you say you were going to see a doctor- that’s the main thing you need to do. i was anemic from heavy periods (10) and vitamin d deficient (17)- i forget the units of measurement. but anyway, i feel much better just from addressing those two deficiencies. if you don’t have money for a doctor, go to donate blood and they will test your blood’s iron level on the spot. if you are even a little near deficient, they won’t let you donate. i am out in the sun every summer and i was still deficient, so i really didn’t need a test to up my intake to 2000 iu a day. do you take a multivitamin? i am like the grinch and hate noise. i can actually feel myself loosening up in periods of silence. get some heavy duty safety ear muffs from home depot for certain times when you park your kids to watch a dvd and you can have a quieter environment. you could snuggle with them while they are watching the dvd, but you could be reading with the ear muffs on. they might quiet down with more touch time from mommy. just some random ideas. a physical evaluation by a doctor is the most important thing.

      1. Dear Tired Mom,

        Being chronically exhausted, overwhelmed by noise and too much activity, yelling. Those are all things I felt and did even WITHOUT little children! I had adrenal exhaustion and Major Depression. The first basic thing is realizing you are doing too much. There are things you can let go. It’s OKAY to do that! There’s no relaxation or fun in your life to refresh yourself. Ramp it DOWN on the working out and doing all your cooking from scratch. Get an on anti-depressant if you need to. Talk to a girl friend about silly things. There isn’t one ‘right’ way. But let yourself off the hook.
        All that ‘bad’ stuff (drink,sweets) you’re doing to ‘cope’ is just what I did too (even without the kids and a job!) It doesn’t work in the long run, as you know, but it is telling you something! It sounds like your body needs reinforcements. More rest, more fun, maybe adrenal support or thyroid medication. You sound like I did when I was suffering from serious depression and adrenal exhaustion. Do what you need to do to catch your breath. Everyone is rooting for you!
        Someone suggested the big earphones. That’s a brilliant idea. And making sure you get enough sleep is so important. Don’t beat yourself up about sleeping by yourself. Sounds like your husband is doing his best too.
        Best wishes!

  20. Dear Tired Mom, I wish I could just give you a giant hug and watch your kids for the weekend. I so much know how you feel. I was depressed on and off for the better part of seven years after I came home from work to be a homemaker and at-home mom to what was eventually three kids. For me, my rages and “scary mommy” moments were due to depression and sleep deprivation and always being in that “flight or fight” mode. (I, too, would have persistent escape fantasies, that for a time even bordered on suicidal.) I’m very introverted and someone who’s always enjoyed intellectual/artistic pursuits, and being at home with kids is the opposite of time alone to write poems, you know? I also have a history of eating disorders, and found that often my food control mechanism would kick in as a self soothing method. I know so well that cycle of committing to just trying harder–at eating right, parenting better, not yelling–only to slip and then feel worse afterward.

    What has helped me the most is a good therapist and St. John’s Wort, along with the diagnosis of a hormonal problem and being medicated for that, and learning to ask for help from family and other moms. Through all this what I’m learning to do is shift toward being compassionate to myself and letting my decisions emerge from a place of love for me, for my body. And then I find that when I am rested, when I have time alone, when I nourish myself with the food and activity (be it trail running or gentle yoga) that my body needs for health, I am a different person in terms of loving and nurturing my kids! All those years of trying harder and then beating myself up when I failed–and the answer for me was being kind to myself, accepting that I have needs, and meeting them.

    Also, like you, my kids have their own set of issues. Extreme picky eating, tantrums, willful disobedience. Taking my four year old son to church is a weekly exercise in humiliation, it’s so bad! Whatever the issues are, when you are more at peace in yourself, they will be far easier to manage. Maybe they have some allergy, maybe they need a different parenting approach, maybe they will chill out when you do. Whatever it is, when you have compassion for yourself and have filled your own well back up, you will have the inner resources to address their needs more fully. When I ask myself what I wish my own parents had done better in my family of origin, it is always that I wish they’d taken care of themselves so they could have been more functional and stronger and happier.

    As far as your primal goals, I would suggest you might give yourself some space and time to just be in your own body and decide how to eat/sleep/exercise with compassion for yourself, not with the intent of meeting an outside goal. Practice being in your body and taking loving care of that body. Really, you could almost think of yourself as being sick and treat yourself as much as you can like when you’re sick. You eat wholesome foods that your body craves, you ask for help, you sleep. Then when you’re rested and nourished, you can decide when the time is right to get back on the primal wagon so to speak. But really, treating yourself like a creature–sleeping, seeking solitude when you need it, looking for help from your “clan”–that seems pretty Grokky to me.

    I’m so glad you reached out to this community. And all the other ideas about finding other moms and family–it’s spot on. We weren’t made to do this alone. You are NOT alone! Hugs!!

  21. I was thinking, writing and spending a good time on ideas that came to me while reading this article.

    I found 4 things, that form a chain:
    1) Circunstances (“Life”)
    2) Emotions (the emotional response to circunstances).
    3) Health Habits (“lifestile”).
    4) Health.

    Every one of them can affect the next one:
    -Bad circunstances can lead to bad emotions (through the way one reacts to the circunstances).
    -Bad emotions can lead to bad habits (through excuses, emotional eating).
    -Bad habits lead to bad health.
    -Bad health can make the circunstances worse (when it becomes one more problem to deal with).

    And every one of them can also lead to bad health directly:
    -Bad circunstances (like stress, overworking): can lead to insomnia, imunity problems.
    -Bad emotions (like trauma and greaf): can lead to heart and blood pressure problems, insomnia, imunity problems, and other problems.
    -Bad habits: lead to many health problems, like chronic deseases, diabetes, obesity, etc.

    The way to SOLVE the problem:
    -Emotions: cultivating good ones (like love, joy, gratitude), and learning how to reduce or eliminate the bad ones (forgive, forget, let go, seek peace, change focus to what is good), especially not allowing that problems dictate your emotions.
    -Health habits: Just doing what we know we have to do, and not allowing any excuses.
    -Circunstances: if really necessary, change some of them job, people, location, etc). Make your life more simple. Like cavemen =).

  22. Well, heck. You got me. Do you never get tired of hitting the nail on the head? (And do I never get tired of avoiding the inevitable?)