The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez

I’m so thrilled to share that we have surpassed the ONE MILLION download mark on the Sparking Wholeness podcast! So what better way to celebrate than with an episode featuring an integrative psychiatrist who discusses the mental health impact of COVID-19!?

Dr. Amelia Villagomez is an integrative psychiatrist at Progressive Psychiatry in Fort Worth, Texas. She attended medical school at Texas A&M, completed her training in General Psychiatry at Yale, and did a fellowship in Child/Adolescent Psychiatry at Harvard. To further her education in holistic healing methods, she completed a fellowship for integrative medicine at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine and is certified in mind-body techniques. In this interview, Dr. Villagomez addresses the top mental health concerns during this pandemic and its aftermath.

img_8306

Download the episode here or subscribe on iTunes here.

Topics addressed:

  • How children and adolescents may actually be seeing a decrease in mental health concerns during this time, which poses the question: is an international pandemic less stressful than going to school?
  • How the pandemic is forcing us to rethink current paradigms.
  • Managing uncertainties and expectations.
  • The increase in insomnia, its causes, and what to do about it.
  • How the abundance of information may be negatively impacting us, stages of disaster, and potential trauma resulting with the current season.
  • The importance of mindfulness and staying in the current moment with self compassion and self awareness.
  • Nutritional support for mental health and why your brain needs 7-9 different fruits and veggies a day.
  • Why the gut-brain connection is something we should all be talking about.
  • Why the concept of PLAY is so important for mental wellness and holistic health.

Continue reading “The Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 – Interview with Psychiatrist Dr. Amelia Villagomez”

Easy and Delicious Bacon Bruschetta Chicken

img_7692

Who’s sick of cooking the same old, same old and is ready for something new and EASY? You can’t tell, but I’m raising my hand. I am currently in training for a new whole food nutritional program I will be launching soon, so I’ve been playing with some recipes, changing things up, and throwing together new things to incorporate (as usual) as many colorful veggies as I can in one meal.

The original version of this recipe I received courtesy of my friend Megan, from a detox program I ran a few years ago. It’s versatile, because it works for people who have issues with gluten or dairy, and it’s so easy and fast – who doesn’t love that?

Even my picky three-year-old loves this recipe! He likes it with jasmine rice, which is a pantry staple in our house!

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store-bought (dairy or nut free? Use basil paste or fresh basil)
  • 6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a Dutch oven, season chicken liberally with salt and pepper.
  3. Layer chicken, seasoning, garlic, basil pesto, tomato, and bacon.
  4. Place lid on top and cook in oven for 1-1 1/2 hours until chicken is cooked through.
  5. Serve with rice, pasta, or my favorite – cauliflower rice!

*For crock pot option, follow directions above and cook 4-6 hours.

That’s IT. Now, if you are like me, it will need more seasonings than the recommended amount above. So play with it; add what you like. And as always – let me know what you think!

img_7698

Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle

When I was 21, I made a suicide pact with myself. I felt the weight of the world on a consistent basis, as I struggled with depression, mania, and the chaos of jumping from one failed medication to the next. My mind was not my friend, and I didn’t feel safe in my body. At the young age of 21, I was fatigued from fighting the swirling thoughts and the heavy waves. I was burdened by being the only one who suffers from such a debilitating disorder.

I didn’t want to be on this exhausting earth any longer than necessary.

I decided that by my 41st birthday, I would end it all.

Today I turn 39. I have been in a stable place mentally for over a decade. The giant roller coaster I used to ride with my moods is now just a soft swell, a gentle up and down of a kiddie coaster.

I have no intention of ending my life. Not now. Not ever.

img_7600My life is a gift. My illness is a gift. For so long I lived in shame about my diagnosis. I didn’t want to share about it, and I didn’t want to look “abnormal.” I knew I carried a stigma. Today I am learning that thanks to my moods, I get to see the world from a different lens. Colors are richer and brighter to me. The air is fresher. Sounds are more soothing and meaningful. Everything is vibrant and alive. And even when they are not, and I experience a drop in my mood, I see the dark side and feel more deeply than others… meaning I can empathize with others’ pain in a way I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I know now that my pain has a purpose. My pain showed me who I can be in spite of a broken brain.

Continue reading “Freedom from the Mental Illness Shame Cycle”

Nourish Hormones, Detoxify, Improve Sleep and Boost Immune Health with Esther Blum

Esther Blum is a nutrition expert I have looked up to for quite a while! She is the bestselling author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat, Eat Drink and Be Gorgeous, Secrets of Gorgeous, and The Eat, Drink and Be Gorgeous Project. As an Integrative Dietitian and High Performance Coach, she provides 360 degrees of healing with physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual support. She has appeared on Dr. Oz, the Today Show, A Healthy You with Carol Alt, the ISAAC show, ABC-TV, FOX- 5’s Good Day NY, and Fox News Live. Esther is also frequently quoted in E!Online, In Touch, Time Magazine, The New York Post, The Los Angeles Times, In Style, Bazaar, Self, Fitness, Marie Claire, and Cosmo.

headshot-7

In this jam-packed episode of the Sparking Wholeness podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • How to detox properly
  • How to improve hormone function
  • Why protein is essential and why you may not be eating enough
  • Why managing stress should be foundational to health
  • What does leaky gut have to do with health and how to improve it
  • The real deal with gluten
  • How to hack the immune system
  • Practical sleep tips
  • How finding wholeness starts within

You can schedule a call with Esther here, and the first 12 people who respond get a FREE consultation!

Listen to the episode on iTunes here or my show page here.

Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis

No amount of sugar or substance can make my brain buzz the way a dose of hypomania can. The ideas, the thoughts, and the LIFE that course through my head – all those are amplified in a time of crisis or extreme change. Being thrown off my daily routine or sleep schedule is a risk to my mental health. So throwing me into a global pandemic and giving me access to information 24/7 can really shake things up.

I find myself hopping around from medical research sites to conspiracy theory groups to political commentaries and read over all the comments and opinions. I am an excellent mimic. In order to manage my symptoms early on, I found a way to adapt to acceptable behavior and commentary, so I wouldn’t have to stand out any more than my buzzing brain could allow. I know what I shouldn’t voice in public or on social media, at risk of anyone thinking I am “crazy,” the C word accusation being one of my biggest threats. I fear other people’s opinions of me more than the average person, because deep down inside I know that my brain functions differently from everyone else’s, and that is scary. So I turn inward, and obsess, and research some more, and head down rabbit hole after rabbit hole, at the expense of my sanity.

At first the racing thoughts and buzz are a high, and they fuel me and energize me. At some point though, my brain reaches breaking point and I have to make it stop. I’ve been down these roads long enough to know where they end – in verbal explosions or in heavy medication to shut it all off.

ferris wheel and ship
The carousel ride that is bipolar disorder.

So I fight. I maintain my mind by shutting off my triggers. I stop researching, stop listening and reading to anything that will throw me into a black hole of information. I take naps, and I go to sleep early. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never struggled with sleep. I can always breathe myself to sleep. In for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds, out for 8 seconds. I burn off the energy through heavy exercise. I write, I dig into my feelings and name what is going on instead of escaping through obsessive behaviors.

The thing about bipolar disorder, is that it manifests differently in everyone. Everyone struggles in a unique way, and everyone has different triggers.

*To hear more details from others who suffer and how they manage, click to listen to Episode 29 of the podcast on my show page or subscribe on iTunes.

I’ve compiled a list of my favorite tools for finding stability during times of major stress or life change. Before I list them, here is the caveat – these tools aren’t always effective in the middle of a full-fledged episode. It is really hard to tell someone who cannot physically get out of bed due to depression, “You should just lace up your shoes and go outside. Why are you just laying there?” Or telling someone who’s manic, “Slow down and go to sleep.” It doesn’t work like that. These are physical illnesses that affect the physical function of our bodies. Our brains aren’t capable of telling our bodies to do what our bodies need to do. This is why we have to be on the offense and employ these tools REGULARLY, during times of stability, so that they are habitual and instinctual. The sooner we can tighten up these strategies at the beginning of the roller coaster climb or at the beginning of the dip downward, the better off we will be. Continue reading “Being Bipolar in a Global Crisis”

Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health

I don’t have to remind anyone that the last few weeks of this pandemic and period of social distance have been unlike anything experienced or seen in our lifetime. My work schedule has been interrupted, my husband’s work schedule has been interrupted, our social life has disappeared, and my kids are completely thrown off. Field trips were cancelled, basketball season has been delayed, and school went online until…when? Do we even know? Dates spin in and out of my head, fighting for the return of normalcy. Is it April 9th? 21st? Or do we wait for the 30th to resume prior activities? I can’t even keep track.

This kind of disruption and uncertainty is difficult for me. Change of all kind is hard for me, especially as one who fights to stay mentally stable. I get the opportunity to verbalize that, share about it with my friends (via phone or text only, of course), and have long discussions with my husband.

My kids, however, don’t know how to express their fear or anxiety as well. For them, it comes out in misbehavior, aggression, moodiness, hyperactivity, tearfulness, or even closed off apathy. That is developmentally understandable. As their prefrontal cortexes are still developing, it is difficult for them to access emotions or positive decision-making when they are in fight or flight mode. A stressful trigger, like being told they can no longer see their friends or go to school, is going to take a toll on their bodies. Stress hormones get ramped up, contributing to more fear and anxiety that is difficult to process. Chronic stress can also affect the immune system and its function.

This is true for adults as well. Even though we have the luxury of developed brains, it is still difficult to access our frontal lobe and respond appropriately to hardship when we are faced with extreme stressors.

So what is the solution?

It starts with us.

Continue reading “Mom Life During a Pandemic: How We Can Best Support Our Kids’ Mental Health”

What to Cook When You’re “Social Distancing”

 

img_9532-1

Y’all, times are crazy. While toilet paper may be absent from stores, last I checked there are still some shelf-stable and frozen items available for plunder… I mean, purchase.

So I figured what better time to share ways to create nourishing and filling meals out of a stockpile… just in case.

Reminder – this isn’t about sticking to a diet or trying to “eat right.” This is about finding food that is going to be packed with nutrients to boost our immune systems by creating diversity in our gut microbiome. Vegetables always go together. I’ve never had a combination of veggies I didn’t like. Now, for picky eaters and super tasters that’s a different story. Hopefully, you will find a wide variety of options below to keep you happy, nourished, and full. Continue reading “What to Cook When You’re “Social Distancing””

Roasting Veggies for Beginners

img_9613

Want to hear something crazy? I only started eating vegetables regularly about 9 years ago. Before that, it seemed so daunting to chop and season, and I relied on packaged meals allll the time due to lack of knowledge and insecurity around cooking. If that’s you – you’re in good company and it’s not too late to start!

I thought I’d share how I do it! It’s fast, easy, delicious – and a great way to make in bulk and have on hand throughout the next few days!

Continue reading “Roasting Veggies for Beginners”

Re-Focus 2020 – It’s Back!

img_5067

Can you believe it’s almost March? This new year isn’t so new anymore. Maybe you’ve already forgotten your word of the year, or broken your resolution. Or… maybe you’re still figuring out if you should have a word or resolution!

In January, my friend, body image expert and author of Compared to Who, Heather Creekmore, joined me to coach 50 women in an online group called Re-Focus 2020. This group was a huge success. We both believe strongly that being caught up in body perfection is enslaving. We created the group because we want to help women change their views of themselves and find purpose outside of the scale, pants size, or mirror. We want women to see that there are ways to nourish yourself that have nothing to do with a restrictive diet plan.

Here’s what a few participants had to say about their experience in January: 
Continue reading “Re-Focus 2020 – It’s Back!”

Chocolate Hummus

Nothing says Valentine’s Day like chocolate covered strawberries, am I right? Confession – I don’t love strawberries, and the only way I like to eat them is with chocolate. I am not opposed to melting chocolate chips with butter or coconut oil and making a dip that way, but this year I was challenged to come up with a fun recipe for kids on Valentine’s Day – and I am quite pleased with the results… as were my kids who couldn’t keep their little fingers away.

img_4741

Continue reading “Chocolate Hummus”