Archive for October, 2018

The witching hour began around 5 p.m. each day. I had two hands and three babies: twin 18-month-old boys and an infant daughter, all of whom were perpetually in the throes of a crisis, fall, or unpredictable bowel movement. My husband would be coming home from a new job and a three-hour round-trip commute, and my stepdaughter would be rolling in from middle school with teenage needs. They were always walking into a war zone.

I didn’t need to chitchat and be asked, “How was your day?” I didn’t need “I love you” either, or even “Thanks for all you’re doing.” I needed the person to walk through the door, roll up their sleeves, survey the situation, and pitch in. I needed help, stat.

So how could I get my fellow soldiers up to speed quickly and help me where the crisis was most intense? I needed them to be ready, and I needed to communicate the plan. So I asked my husband and stepdaughter to ask me the following as soon as they walked through the door: “How can I help?”

Four small, powerful words. They moved us immediately into collaboration, into a place of teamwork. It was the fastest way to integrate them into the moment and get the help I needed. They were no longer observers of crisis; they were EMTs, and we were moving to the next step, side by side.

Soldiers, emergency room doctors, and anyone else who deals in crisis has a shorthand for “I’m here; put me to work where you need me most.” I had spent years working in restaurants, and I knew what it felt like to be deep in the weeds—and more importantly, how to help a fellow chef out of the weeds. I had regularly appeared on live TV, and I had seen network crews do a form of this as well.

Now that I was in caregiver mode, I was always responding to what everyone else needed—or anticipating the needs of those who couldn’t speak. What I needed was someone to help me.

As soon as my husband and stepdaughter started using the mantra (and following up on the request that was made), that pile of dishes in the sink, that dirty diaper that needed to be changed, that hungry child who wanted a snack—suddenly, those to-do items were crossed off my list, lightening my mental load. I had less weight to carry.

In the spring of 2017, a cartoonist named Emma wrote an illustrated story about the “mental load,” the implicit project management work that lands in the lap of (typically female) primary caregivers. This resonated globally, and soon the phrase “mental load” was plastered across social media, everywhere.

“How can I help?” doesn’t solve the mental load, but it acknowledges the role of the caregiver as team leader and the other adults in the home as part of the team. Someone’s gotta quarterback the logistics of children. But the same person can’t be the quarterback and the receiver. “How can I help?” enables you to quarterback and creates a domestic culture of receivers ready for the pass, prepared to complete the play.

Image: Sidney Morgan

It’s never too early to start delegating work to others. Kelli DeFlora, owner of Montclair B.A.B.Y., a birth, advocacy, breastfeeding, and yoga center in Montclair, New Jersey, recommends having a list on the fridge as soon as the baby is born. “There’s always laundry to do, dishes to wash, and meals to make. When well-intentioned friends and relatives come through the door, you can say that the best way they can help is to take an item from the list and cross it off when it’s done,” says DeFlora.

“I see too many parents these days who try to do everything for their child, and disable them in the process,” says Peter Della Bella, M.D., a psychiatrist and New York University child psychiatry professor. Dr. Della Bella supports the “How can I help?” approach to family problem-solving. “Younger children, especially, are put in the position of being active participants, having to reflect, and having to work with someone to identify and solve problems. Arguably, problem-solving skills are the best skills parents can engender in a child.”

If you’d like to implement “How can I help?” in your home, try these techniques to make it part of your family fabric:

  1. Connect with your partner purposefully about roles in the home. Clarify who is taking primary responsibility for home care, childcare, finances, food, etc. Get clear about who is the lead on what.
  2. Share this article with your partner. Confirm that you’re both interested in using this technique.
  3. Have each project lead identify the trouble spots (or witching hours) in their role. When do they feel like they’re getting pulled into the weeds? Are there specific times of day, of the month, of the year, when the responsibility starts to get stressful?
  4. Role model “How can I help?” Now that you know where your partner needs help, say the words. Role model this behavior for your children if they are old enough. Find opportunities to use it on a daily basis: navigating out of traffic, spilled milk, sharing the laundry folding, etc. “How can I help?” can fast be applied in almost any tense scenario or moment of conflict.
  5. If help isn’t coming, ask for it directly. Say, “I need your help.” Pause for positive response, connect for a second, then delegate. Have a follow-up, and give positive feedback if it worked.

Can you imagine your partner, family, and friends walking through the door during the witching hour, asking what needs to be done, and then doing it? On the regular?

It’s the greatest phrase since “I love you,” and I say greater because the “I love you” is implied. And to it is an added “I got your back,” “We’re in this together,” and of course, “This is our family.”



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Think your flow looks different this month? Here’s what its hue could mean.

Your period may show up every month and annoy you with the cramps, bloating, and fatigue that come along with it, but it deserves a little respect. Your monthly flow can actually provide a lot of insight into your overall health. For instance, if you’re struggling with irregular periods, that’s a sign you may be dealing with a thyroid problem, polycystic ovary syndrome, or a hormone imbalance, or that you’re underweight. And if it doesn’t show up at all, well, you might want to try a pregnancy test.

The color of your period blood may also provide some insights into what else is going on inside your body. It can come in a rainbow of shades from pink and whitish to bright red and even dark brown. Here, we explore what each period blood color might mean—and let you know when it’s time to call your doctor.

If it’s pinkish…


You may have low estrogen levels, especially if the pink blood is accompanied by a lighter-than-usual flow, or if you’re an avid runner, says New York-based functional medicine nurse practitioner Margaret Romero. Studies have found that excessive exercise can lower estrogen levels, which can subsequently mess with your period, sometimes causing it to disappear altogether. (It’s not uncommon for female professional athletes to stop ovulating.)

While this may not seem like a big deal (who hasn’t fantasized about never having to deal with a period at least once or twice?), low estrogen levels can increase your risk of osteoporosis if left untreated. So if you’ve recently started training for a marathon, have started working out for the first time in your life, or have upped the intensity of your workouts and you notice that your periods are suddenly lighter in color and flow or less frequent, talk to your doctor.

Romero says other potential culprits of a pinkish flow can include poor nutrition, PCOS, or perimenopause, which is when your ovaries start producing less estrogen in preparation for menopause (generally, it occurs around four to five years before menopause).

If it’s watery-looking…


You may have a nutritional deficiency. Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, says that a white-ish, diluted flow can be a symptom of severe anemia, especially if you notice your period getting lighter and lighter when it would ordinarily get a bit heavier. If, after monitoring your period for two or three cycles, you’re worried that this could be the case, talk to your doctor about getting tested for nutritional deficiencies.

To make matters a little more confusing, an iron deficiency might instead be caused by heavy periods. (A Finnish study that examined 236 women with heavy periods found that 27% were iron deficient and 60% were severely anemic.) If you bleed through pads or tampons in less than an hour, wake up at night to change your pads or tampons several times, or are always tired, it can’t hurt to get your iron levels checked.

If it’s dark brown…

dark brown

You may have older bits of uterine lining and blood that are just now making their way out of your body. But don’t panic: This is normal. “We’re not sure why this happens in all cases, but sometimes the blood is sitting around for a while and comes out particularly slowly,” Dr. Dweck says. “It has a lot of time to oxidize, which is why it can look brown or almost black.”

Everyone will shed her uterine lining at a different rate (like snowflakes, each period is unique), but for the most part, seeing some dark brown blood at the beginning of your period or toward the end of it is nothing to worry about.

If it’s a thick jam-colored red with large clots…

jam colored

You may have low progesterone levels and high estrogen levels. While some clotting is normal, says Dr. Dweck, clots the size of a quarter or larger can indicate a serious hormonal imbalance. Romero recommends reducing your consumption of dairy, soy, and sugar and seeing if that makes a difference.

Fibroids are another possibility. They’re most often benign, but they can be painful, so if you suspect they’re behind your heavy, clot-filled periods, ask your doctor for an ultrasound.

If it’s a mix of gray and red…

mix gray red

You may have an infection. You’ll probably also experience a really “foul, necrotic stench,” Dr. Dweck says. Get tested so you can get the right treatment.

Women who miscarry sometimes notice gray chunks of tissue that look like “liver,” Dr. Dweck says, so if you think there’s a possibility that you’re pregnant or having a miscarriage, call your doctor ASAP.

If it’s a bright, cranberry red…


You may have a healthy, regular period. Again, everybody’s “normal” will look different, but generally speaking, a consistently bright red flow that looks a little like cherry Kool-Aid is a signal that everything is working as it should.


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There are some days you just cannot resist the urge to indulge when someone offers you a free doughnut in the office. It might feel like your impulsive choices are arbitrary, but if you pay attention, there may actually be a clear pattern for which days you can’t control the cravings. According to new research, your self-control plummets the day after a sleepless night. Why? Stress.

In a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers asked 211 college undergraduates to complete an online survey every night for 30 days. In it, they were asked about things like how much they slept the night before, their alcohol use, the current day’s activities and events (for example, if they were having a conflict with a friend), and how stressful their day had been. The researchers also specifically tracked how much difficulty the participants were experiencing with self-control by having them either agree or disagree with three statements: “Right now my mind feels unfocused,” “Right now my mental energy is running low,” and “Right now I am having a hard time controlling my urges.”

“We found that after a night of shorter sleep than usual, participants reported having greater self-control difficulties than usual,” Garrett Hisler, a research assistant at Iowa State University and one of the study authors, explained to mindbodygreen.

Part of this effect was because sleep loss made the day more stressful than usual, which then increased self-control difficulties. “Thus, sleep loss both directly made self-control more difficult but also indirectly made self-control more difficult by increasing stress,” Hisler explained.

Basically, in addition to sleeplessness itself weakening your willpower, your self-control is further compromised because of exhaustion-induced stress, making it even harder to say no to your vice of choice. When you’re perceiving more stress, self-control feels way more difficult, leading you to make a variety of bad choices.

Just being aware of the relationship between sleep, stress, and self-control is beneficial and may encourage you to think your way through a self-control obstacle. However, the best thing you can do to avoid temptation altogether is get the right amount of sleep every night, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates is “at least seven hours.”

“If you are on a diet and trying to resist the temptation of sugary foods, making sure you are getting enough sleep can be one way to reduce stress and increase the likelihood that you successfully resist their allure,” Hisler said.

If you are having trouble sleeping, there are several things you can do to combat insomnia, according to experts. Try shutting down any blue light sources—your phone, iPad, computer, the like—an hour before bed, keeping your thermostat between 62 and 80 degrees, and avoiding caffeine after noon. You’ll start to feel your impulse control kicking back into gear in no time.


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