College was a good time for me, but something happened when college wasn’t the center of my life anymore: It was like I woke up and didn’t know who I was. Change is hard, and I almost lost myself trying to adjust to my new situation in some unhealthy ways. Do you ever feel like you have lost your identity?

Author Anne-Marie Alger defines “identity” as “a group of attributes, qualities and values that define how we view ourselves, and how others may also view us.” Identity involves the labels we place on ourselves, the activities we do or even the places we work. But what happens when we let those labels take over our whole lives? We get consumed by one attribute or quality, and then we begin to lose the rest of ourselves. What happens if we are stripped of that one quality or attribute that we strongly identified ourselves with? A guest on Oprah’s podcast Food For Thought said it this way: “We lose ourselves because we are betraying ourselves in some way.” Now that’s food for thought!

For my entire life, people have viewed me as upbeat and very social.

But then adulthood hit me after college graduation and I was not ready. I’ve always had people around me, but I wasn’t nearly as social the last semester of school and after graduation because “adulting” required me to be alone more. And it made me feel like I had lost my identity.

Seeing less people and having fewer social interactions caused my moods to change and I was not the upbeat and social Akeyla that everyone knew. My friends and I had to work, so our relationships felt like they were changing in a negative way. We were too busy to connect with each other. I noticed I was changing, and my energy was so different. I felt depressed because my social life wasn’t as full as it had been. And I began to hate that my social life dictated my feelings and mood.

Recently, something hit me while I was teaching at a summer camp. I began to realize that I had let my social life become my identity. This realization helped to change my perspective and as a result, my relationships with my friends and family began to improve. Moving into adulthood, I now know can have faith and confidence in myself, my talents and my abilities.

Here are some tips to remember when you feel like you’ve lost your identity:

  • The most important relationship you have is with yourself! Knowing who you are will make it easier to seek help if you begin to lose yourself.
  • Remember to invest in yourself. Alone time can be the best time!
  • You don’t have to build your life around socializing, but there are lots of ways to keep in touch with your friends. The older I get, the more I realize that people are just busy. We can’t be around each other 24/7 but we can still keep in touch.
  • Stay connected with your family. They are your biggest supporters. And guess what? They know you the best! They will probably notice any changes before you do. For example, my Nana noticed the changes in me first.
  • Change isn’t necessarily a bad thing, so get used to it. Find healthy ways to deal with it since it will be happening for the rest of your life!

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As part of her job, Amy Boulware walks alongside caregivers. So when she found herself caregiving for her grandmother and mother, she thought she had the tools she needed.

“I did not expect to be caregiving for two,” says Boulware. “My grandmother moved closer so we could take care of her. Shortly after she moved, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I quickly realized caregiving is very different when it is your own family.”

At one point, Boulware found herself running between hospital rooms trying to care for her mom and grandmother. On top of her caregiving responsibilities, she continued working and taking care her own family.

“I was definitely burning the candle at both ends trying to keep up,” Boulware says. “One night, I came home late. As I walked through the door, my youngest daughter yelled from the bathroom, ‘Mom, can you get me some toilet paper?’ I went to where we usually keep toilet paper, but there was none. I searched the other bathrooms.  There was no toilet paper in the house. I had a complete meltdown over no toilet paper. As I’m lying on the bed sobbing, my oldest daughter comes in the room with a very large package of toilet paper.

“She says to me, ‘Mom, Daddy and I talked on the way to the store and we are pretty sure this really isn’t about toilet paper, but here is toilet paper and a pint of chocolate ice cream because we thought you needed it.’”

Surprisingly, the “toilet paper incident” made Boulware realize she was exhausting herself.

“Carrying the load by myself was not the answer,” Boulware says. “I called my uncle and asked him to take over the finances. I called my sister and asked her to come home more often. We hired caregivers to help with my grandmother and we did some other creative things that made a huge difference.”

Since she has walked this road, Boulware offers words of wisdom for caregivers:

  • Ask for help. Recognize other people’s strengths and ask them to help you in those areas. Help can come from many places, including family, the faith community, friends and paid caregivers.
  • Time off is a must. Thursday night became date night for the Boulwares, and nothing interfered with it. Caregivers, family, friends and co-workers all knew that evening was sacred, so they helped them to have much-needed time away. The Boulwares turned their phones off and decided not to discuss caregiving at all.
  • Routine changes can help. Boulware’s grandmother lived close to her daughters’ school so the girls went to her home in the afternoon. The family ate dinner there one night a week. Making this change eliminated a lot of stress. Plus, they made memories with their grandmother that are forever etched in their minds.
  • Be a supportive spouse. Never once did Boulware’s husband tell her it was too much. In fact, she describes him as supportive and as a great gift as he walked alongside her. It brought them closer together as a couple.

Being a caregiver is innately stressful, so properly caring for yourself is a vital part of the process. If you are running on empty, it is difficult to effectively care for others, but asking for help is not a sign of weakness. A helping hand or two can make all the difference.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Most mothers, whether they work inside or outside the home, feel like their job is never done.

“It’s true,” says Sara Emanuel, wife and mother of five children. “I constantly feel like I run myself into the ground trying to get everything done, and I have to guard against living in a constant state of guilt over all of the things left on the ‘to do’ list. I know that’s not healthy, but it’s hard to turn my brain off or to think about doing something just for me because I am exhausted.”

In addition to constantly feeling like the job is never-ending, moms compare themselves while looking at Facebook or Pinterest. And, in an informal survey, an entire group of women admitted comparing what they do for their children with what other moms are doing. 

“I try not to compare myself to other women, but honestly it’s hard not to,” Emanuel says. “I catch myself comparing how I handle discipline to how another mom handled a similar situation, thinking, ‘I wish I had been that creative.’ I think if most moms were honest, we all spend a lot of time beating ourselves up for what we aren’t.”

Emanuel says she believes that women in general want to look like they have it all together.

“It makes me laugh when someone comes up to me and says, ‘You’re always so put together. How do you do it?’” Emanuel says. “I’m thinking to myself, ‘You only see me once a week. Sometimes I don’t even get to shower.’”

In reality, there are a lot of moms out there who feel alone, inadequate and like a failure.

Andrea Gyertson Nasfell can totally relate to what Emanuel is describing. So, she joined forces with director Jon Erwin to write the script for a movie. 

Moms’ Night Out is the story of a frazzled mom, Allyson (played by Sarah Drew) and her friends. They long for a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a much-needed moms’ night out. But in order to enjoy high heels and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours. What could possibly go wrong?

“This movie was so encouraging to me,” Emanuel said. “My husband and I laughed out loud at so many of the scenes. We felt like they must have been stalking our family because those very things happen in our home. It felt good to know it isn’t just us.

“The craziness we experience happens in every home in America. It really made me know it’s OK if things get a little crazy. I need to give myself a break. I have continuously beat myself up over my own definition of being a ‘good mom.’ I am a good mom and what I do is important.”

If you need some reassurance as a mom, a good laugh and a moment to appreciate the beautiful mess we call “family,” Moms’ Night Out is one movie you’ll definitely want to see.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

How Taking a Break Benefits Moms and Kids

Stepping away can be a great thing for your family.

Some moms think leaving their children with someone else, even for a short time, is not an option. However, taking a break can benefit both moms and kids.

“I know moms who feel guilty if they are not with their children 24/7,” says Leslie Parrott, therapist and co-author of The Parent You Want to Be. “It is almost as if leaving the kids with someone else would be a sign of weakness. Yet, I know many moms are tired and stressed and long for a break.”

Dr. Parrott knows exactly what it is like to long for a break. She gave birth prematurely to her oldest son, and he required round-the-clock extended care.

“Even though I felt some guilt about leaving John in the care of someone else, I knew I needed some time away to relax and re-energize. Taking care of a medically fragile baby is quite stressful. Scheduling 1 ½ hours away for quiet time, twice a week, helped me to be a better mom. I realized I could not pass on what I did not possess. If I was exhausted, my son picked up on that and was fussy as well.”

Children need to understand that attachment can remain firm even when there are brief parental absences. 

When they have the opportunity to rehearse this, they learn that there are other people in their lives who love them and can take good care of them.

“If parents never give their children the opportunity to experience these absences, when it is time to enter kindergarten or they are separated for some other reason they often experience extreme anxiety,” Parrott says. “I remember my father telling me about his first day in kindergarten. He had never been away from home before so he was very nervous. His class went outside for recess and when the bell rang, he panicked. He could not remember where to meet the teacher, so he just walked home.”

Being away from your children can refresh you.

It may also give you fresh perspectives about them, Parrott advises, even though some parents may feel anxious about leaving their children to take a break.

“There have been times when I have gone away and come home and received a report on my children from their caregiver, allowing me to see them through her eyes,” Parrott says. “Things I don’t see because I am around them all the time are the very things our babysitter points out to me. I get the benefit of her wisdom. One time, upon returning from a trip, my friend asked me if I had noticed how much John had matured. ‘He is implementing his politeness skills with everyone,’ she said.

“I think that moms who deny themselves the luxury of time away and time for their marriage truly believe they are doing something heroic. What I have experienced with many of them is they are tired, stressed and frustrated. And, their heroic acts don’t create the results they imagine.”

When considering the parent-child relationship, the parent’s call is to always be the healthiest person in the relationship. Taking a break can help with that.

If you’ve never been away from your kids, Parrott encourages moms to do something different.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Schedule brief absences. Even short periods of time away from your children can be refreshing for your family.
  • Don’t worry about making sure everything stays the same. In reality, a short change in routine won’t damage the children.
  • Find friends you trust, with children the same age as yours. This was a blessing for the Parrotts. The children became such great friends that they begged to get together again. The next visit became a play date for the kids and the parents!

“I truly believe the best gift I can give my kids is the gift of love from other people besides their mother and father,” Parrott says. “I walked in the door on Saturday night from an out-of-town speaking engagement. The children were all ready to get out the keyboard because our babysitter had taught them a duet. They don’t know how to play the piano. I could tell she had spent time coaching them and doing something different than I would have given them even if I had been home. I smiled as I watched them play and thought to myself, ‘This is good.’”

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV!

Why do so many people make a big deal about being single?

I choose to see my single season in life as a time for self-discovery and self-reflection. Being single allows me to do things for myself, to concentrate on getting in a position to do what I want and discover the things that matter most to me. Being single is not a bad thing. Not staying home waiting for my prince to come knock on my door and rescue me from myself is a great thing.

The truth is, I am enough with or without someone. I get to see the positives of being able to watch what I want on television, going places when I want, and truly getting to know myself more. People in relationships, if they’re not careful, often lose themselves to fit the picture of what others would like them to be.

I am who I am. I love me more than any other person can and being single is not a life sentence. Instead, it’s an opportunity to grow as a person and discover myself on a much deeper level.

I choose to embrace being single right now, and I believe that love begins with me. Here are a few ways you can love yourself more and discover the person you are inside:

  1. Write positive quotes and stick them on your mirrors, doors and anywhere else around your home.
  2. Educate yourself on an interest you have. Maybe you could take a Spanish class or go back to school for a degree. Education or mastering something you enjoy gives you room for opportunities to grow while keeping you productive and optimistic.
  3. Exercise. Working out lowers stress and releases endorphins, which make us more positive. When we’re positive, we can present our best selves to the world.
  4. Join social groups with common interests to stay engaged with others as you discover more about yourself. The Meetup app allows people in the same city to connect and ride bikes, walk, run, and enjoy a host of other interests together.

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How many friends do you have? As I started the new year, I chose a different kind of resolution. Instead of adding a new activity or giving up something, I decided to work on two skills: having balance throughout life and being intentional in my friendships. It’s so easy to let the business of life takeover, but I’ve decided to be intentional with the people in mine. If someone crosses my mind, I contact them just to let them know I’m thinking of them.

Yesterday, a friend came to mind so I decided to give her a call. My intention was just to touch base with her so she would know that I was in her corner no matter what! After we talked, I started to think about the word “friendship” and what friendship looks like now that we have social media…

I thought about my childhood, how I saw my mother and my aunts sitting around the table talking about life, parents, work, husbands… kids. There was an understanding that this was a “safe zone” – and what was said at the table stayed there.

I think about my life now and how I have a table that no one talks at. Instead, I sit with my computer, connecting with my friends on Facebook. I see their pictures, watch their Facebook Live videos and celebrate their personal wins by clicking like or sending them a message.

Do I acknowledge my jealousy and envy when I see the fancy date night pictures, the brand new cars or the spectacular couple trips to beaches and exotic countries? How do I figure out if I am being a friend to them or if I’m only being a fan of their life? And what is the difference? Where is the personal connection? How are we engaging our hearts and hands aside from pressing letters on a keyboard? Physical presence is irreplaceable, even by an online relationship.

A friend seeks and wants joy and success, no matter what is going on in life. They walk beside, and supports when times are tough. A friend tells the truth even when you are afraid it might hurt. A friend spends time – in real time.

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Did you know that nearly half of girls ages 3 to 6 worry about being fat, and about one-third would change a physical attribute, such as their weight or hair color? That’s what Stacey Tantleff-Dunn found when she conducted a study at the University of Central Florida.

Girls and boys of all ages feel bombarded with messages of how they should look and what defines beauty. Based on these definitions, they begin a lifelong quest to be beautiful – often doing unhealthy things that could impact them for the rest of their lives.

“Between movies, television shows and airbrushed photos in magazines showing women with ‘perfect bodies,’ impressionable young girls get the idea that it just isn’t acceptable to be anything but a size 6 or smaller,” says Pamela Kelle, licensed nutritionist and registered dietician.

“What many don’t realize is what they see on the screen isn’t real. Their body was never intended to be that size, yet they go on fad diets and do all kinds of obsessive workout routines to get themselves down to their dream weight. The only problem is, even when they get to the size they wanted to be there is still this small voice inside saying, ‘It’s not good enough.’”

Just recently, CVS Health stated they would stop significant image touch-ups in its advertising for beauty products. The company said it has a responsibility to think about sending messages of unrealistic body images to girls. From this point forward, they become committed to not “materially” altering photos used in stores, on websites and on social media by changing a model’s shape, size, skin or eye color or wrinkles. They will use a watermark to highlight materially unaltered images beginning this year.

“There is a connection between unrealistic body images and bad health effects, especially in girls and young women,” says Helena Foulkes, president of the pharmacy division at CVS.

“At every turn, sometimes even in the home, teens become bombarded with negative messages about how they look,” Kelle says. “I strongly encourage parents to be aware of how they talk about food and weight. Many parents talk negatively about their own looks. Teen girls pick up on this and often internalize it. If mom doesn’t think she looks good, the daughter thinks she must not look good either. The goal for our kids should be overall health, not a certain weight.”

You can protect your kids from the dangerous lies in the culture. If you want to teach your children about healthy body image, Kelle’s tips can help you out:

  • Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise;
  • Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family;
  • Don’t talk negatively about your own body; and
  • Don’t expect perfection.

All their lives, women hear things like, “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” and “You can’t judge a book by its cover”. Nonetheless, they are bombarded by messages that say looks are the most important thing. As parents, we have to be conscious about the messages we are sending to our kids – both girls and boys.

Imagine a museum visitor tumbling right into a valuable, centuries-old painting at a busy exhibition.

It actually happened on a visit to a Leonardo da Vinci-themed show when a young boy was so intently focused on the piece of art that he stumbled. As he tried to steady himself, he tore a hole “the size of a fist” in a $1.5 million artwork. Do you think they threw the valuable piece of art in the dumpster? No. They recognized its value and began work to restore it to its original beauty.

It would be a really good thing if we could help our children see themselves for the valuable, irreplaceable masterpieces they are. We all come in different colors, shapes and sizes, and we are all distinctly different from anyone else. That’s not a bad thing, it’s actually a beautiful thing.

Looking for more? Watch this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

It was a typical morning around the house. Between dressing and feeding the kids and making herself look presentable, this mom wondered if she even knew who she was anymore. She enjoyed her children, but always felt like she lived in the mommy fog and had no time for herself. She felt guilty about being away from her kids even for 30 minutes here or there, but sometimes she asked herself, “Where does a mother go to resign?”

Between endless laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning spit-up and spilled milk, keeping up with schedules, bath time, chasing children, and preparing meals, many moms wonder exactly when they will get time for themselves. They feel that if one more person says, “In the blink of an eye they will be grown, so cherish every moment,” they aren’t sure how they will respond.

So, how can a mom recharge her batteries without feeling guilty?

First, understand that taking care of yourself isn’t optional; it’s necessary. You can’t give what you don’t have. If you are always running on empty, irritable and have a short fuse, everybody knows it. It impacts your relationship with your children and tends to bring out the worst in them … and you.

Here is some wisdom from moms who have been down this path before:

  • Plain and simple, ask for help. Healthy people ask for what they need. If you don’t have extended family around, barter with friends or find surrogate grandparents who would be willing to help. Avoid the trap of believing others are too busy to help you.
  • Share the load. One mom shared that she has two children with special dietary needs. For a period of time, she alone made sure everything was in order for every meal. When she finally included her husband in the process, it allowed them both to care for their children’s needs. Not going it alone has given her the freedom to be away without having to worry about them.
  • Create margin in your family’s life. You know your family situation better than anybody else, so evaluate your current set of circumstances. Your children don’t have to be busy every moment. You don’t have to do everything everybody else is doing. Commit to doing what is in your family’s best interest.
  • Do something daily that fills your soul and makes you smile. There are lots of options, from enjoying the outdoors to silently soaking in a tub. Believe it or not, this will help you feel better about yourself and your parenting.
  • Avoid wishing away the moments. Life is short. Instead of wishing time away, embrace where you are and make the most of every moment. Every season has its challenges. Instead of viewing the challenges negatively, surround yourself with people who can help you walk through them, embrace them and successfully reach the other side.
  • Be grateful. In the midst of dirty laundry, food prep, smelly diapers, children pulling on you, fights over toys and lack of sleep, acknowledge your blessings. Even if you feel like you are living in a never-ending fog, gratitude can change the way you feel and think about life in general.

A mom’s role is not easy. But remember, moms have needs, too. If you want to care for your family well, take good care of yourself. Believe it or not, that is what will help lift you out of the fog and prepare you for whatever comes next.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 16, 2016.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!