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March 14, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 110

What Is Real Self-Care for Parents? Special Guest and Author: Pooja Lakshmin, MD

Episode 110

What’s the difference between real and faux self-care? Dr. Pooja Lakshmin helps us rethink what it means to care for ourselves and answers listeners’ questions related to her new book, Real Self-Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness (Crystals, Cleanses, and Bubble Baths Not Included). Dr. Lisa and Reena find out how to realistically manage life’s pressures – from raising kids to managing aging parents – while making self-care a priority. Dr. Lakshmin discusses the personal journey that inspired her new book and the step-by-step approach to real change that she details for readers.

March 14, 2023 | 30 min

Transcript | What Is Real Self-Care for Parents? Special Guest and Author: Pooja Lakshmin, MD

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 110: What Is Real Self-Care for Parents? Special Guest and Author- Pooja Lakshmin, MD

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
So, Lisa, we talk so much about self care, self care, but I feel like people don’t give us real solutions in this moment that can make a difference.

Lisa Damour
It’s true, right? A lot of talk but really where does the rubber hit the road on self care?

Reena Ninan
I am so excited to have Pooja joining us who is absolutely amazing. She’s got this new book out it is fantastic. You’re gonna because it has solutions. Dr. Pooja Lakshmin is a psychiatrist and New York Times contributor and she’s author of this new book out today. It’s called Real Self-Care. I love the title “crystals cleanses and bubble baths not included.” Isn’t that fabulous?

Lisa Damour
It’s a great title. I knew immediately I was like, Oh, this is my woman.

Reena Ninan
You did. You were talking about this. You’re like I have the perfect person. Her book outlines a program for redefining wellness and it really couldn’t come out at a better time. Pooja, welcome.

Pooja Lakshmin
Thank you so much for having me, Reena. And Lisa, I’m so excited to be here today.

Lisa Damour
Well, we’re honored and congratulations on your publication date. It is a big deal. And so we are just thrilled.

Pooja Lakshmin
Thank you. Thank you. Yes, it’s definitely a journey, as you both know, of kind of getting a book out and birthing birthing a book into the world.

Lisa Damour
Absolutely. Absolutely. All right, we’re just gonna get right down to business, we put out a call to questions to our fabulous listeners, and we pulled together ones that we just thought you can help us with so much. So here’s the first one. What’s the best way to schedule self care? Is it a few minutes a day or longer stretches less frequently? How should we think about this?

Pooja Lakshmin
Yes, this is a great question. And I think actually sort of gets to the heart of my message on real self care. And my answer might be a little bit controversial, in that I, you know, as a psychiatrist, I specialize in women’s mental health, and I am working and I’m constantly working with patients who are struggling with not being able to find time for self care. And my thesis in real self care is that when we make self care a task to check off, especially if you’re somebody who is like me, kind of a perfectionist, type a wants to do everything on the list, it just ends up being another burden. So I would actually say to this listener, instead kind of take a step back. And let’s not think about self care as something to do, or something to buy or something to schedule. But instead let’s think about self care, real self care as a way to be.

Reena Ninan
But Pooja, you know what I struggle with. I actually have to pencil it in because it’s not like breathing or having to cook dinner like something like if I don’t do it, there’s a consequence, which is at the point of my life, I feel like I’m at. So how do you deal with people who say, Okay, I took this two hours to get a massage, I feel better, but now I’ve got to work extra harder to make up for that time that I had for myself.

Pooja Lakshmin
Yeah, absolutely. So that is, you know, in the book, I talk about how we have faux self care versus real self care. And faux self care. Something like a massage is an activity that you do is a product to buy and it ends up being actually another burden on your list because either you feel totally guilty and ashamed that you can never get to it or when you’re actually getting the massage or you’re spending all your time worrying about your to do list. When you get out of the massage. You’re totally just like oh my God, I need to catch up on everything. Whereas real self care is not a noun, it’s a verb. So in the book, I lay out four specific principles. goals. So of course, everything starts with setting boundaries. Because as we all know, if you’re somebody who’s listening to this podcast, you know all about boundaries, right? So that’s the backbone of real self self care. But once you’ve learned to say no, then what do you do after that? The second principle is self compassion, which I’ll say, for myself, self compassion is so hard, it’s always something that I’ve kind of rolled my eyes on. Because I kind of think, you know, like, oh, it’s like very woowoo, you’re just kind of going easy on yourself. Whereas in the book, I really highlight Dr. Kristen neffs framework of self compassion, which is based on psychological flexibility, which basically means that we’re developing a different relationship with our mind. So you start to speak more kindly with yourself? And then you look at what are actually my values, like, what really matters to me? Am I somebody who it is really important for me to cook a homemade meal for my family every night? Or am I somebody that feels great about ordering and takeout or doing an easy meal proper, I shouldn’t say easy, no meal prep is easy. But you know, like, you have to sort of design your life according to what your values are, that’s going to look different for everybody. And then the last principle is understanding that it is actually super powerful to be making these decisions for yourself, because we’re all living in this system that is totally stacked against parents and women and marginalized communities. So I guess to your point about the massage, right, one person’s massage could be deeply nourishing, if they are, you know, doing all the work of setting boundaries, getting clear on their values, understanding why setting this time aside for them is really important. Another person’s massage could be for self care, if it ends up actually just being a time where they feel guilty about everything else.

Reena Ninan
You know, at the beginning of the year, in January, we went out to lunch with some girlfriends, and I found I kept saying we kept seeing each other Oh my gosh, it felt like we were on vacation. And I realized that can’t be just a once here like I need that to be able to function now. And that was eye opening. But what I love about this book, you talk on a very personal level this wasn’t just some research you did you talk about how you were working nonstop and being they see they see I was explaining the Lisa is is a term we have people from the Indian subcontinent referred to as when you’re from there like being from you know, having you know, families from there, you know that the the cultural norm is work, work, work yourself to the bone like you just keep working. There’s no self care is probably not in the Hindi language. I feel like maybe though it was never taught to me. What what caused you to reassess? What are your own self practices? And did it change when you became a mom?

Pooja Lakshmin
Yeah, that’s a great question. So part of this book is definitely a very prescriptive hands on guide with lots of, you know, reflective questions and tools and exercises. But it also there are some kind of memoir components to where I share my own, you know, really, actually quite chaotic journey where I was, you know, like Reena was saying, you know, South Asian, my father’s a physician, it was always sort of assumed that I would go to medical school because I got good grades, and you know, is going to be a doctor. And I found myself in the second year of my psychiatry residency, you know, married and feeling just really disillusioned actually, with psychiatry and medicine, because, I mean, one I was burnt out, but also, I was being taught that, you know, when somebody comes into the ER, and they’re suicidal, you know, you prescribe medication, or you refer them to psychotherapy, but we weren’t given any solutions for what to do when you know, somebody’s homeless and housing is their main issue, or they were just fired from their job, and they don’t have health insurance anymore. So it was all these systemic issues that were actually the root cause of our problems. But I wasn’t learning anything about how to fix those things. So I actually dropped out of my residency, which to my, you know, Indian parents that was like, home, that was rough, that was a rough thing. And I moved into a commune in San Francisco that studied female orgasm. And I spent two years researching the neuroscience of female orgasm and it was a really, it was a transformative time in my life. But ultimately, I left the group and came to find out maybe five or six later years later that it was a really dark story inside that group and, and it was actually a cult. So you know, in writing real self care, it for me, it was like this. This journey of I was so disillusioned with allopathic medicine that I ran to the other side, and I was like Eastern medicine, spirituality, all of these other alternative complementary modalities. I was like, Well, the answer must be here, right. And then I found out that there’s lots of contradictory bad stuff over there too. So ultimately, again, like it can’t just be one on wellness practice, it can’t be a massage, it can’t be a guru, it really has to come from you. You can’t really just like take this cookie cutter solution.

Lisa Damour
I was so appreciative of you sharing your story in the book. And honestly, I was surprised, right, which I’m sure you’re not too surprised. You’re surprised. And, and I felt like it just gives so much weight to the incredible guidance that you do provide in the book. And I was blown away by the book. And I don’t say that lightly. I’m very stingy reader and really valued, how brilliantly you kind of like, rejected the premise, stepped us way back, and then walked us back way back in to trying to sort out how to take good care of ourselves. Okay, so back to a wonderful question from one of our listeners. How do you cope with teens, at the same time when you’re feeling menopausal, finding it challenging? And this is an amazing thing. I will say I am right there with this mom, like I am right there in terms of the timing.

Pooja Lakshmin
I actually I love this question. Because I think it hits on such a core problem for women, especially women in their 40s and 50s, perhaps where you’re kind of in this life stage where you your body is going through lots of changes. Because you know, as women, this is this is the biological burden that we have that our body every 10 years or so goes through a big hormonal shifts, like awesome, yay. And, and then being a parent to teenagers, which I can’t I have a son, who is now almost eight months. So I thank you, thank you. And I know that every phase of parenting has its unique challenges, and bright spots, I would say, from working with the patients in my practice, I think that period of our life, actually hold so much wisdom, because you have made lots of choices in your 20s and 30s, that have now defined you or not to find you, but that have almost sort of come home to roost, right? Like there’s options that are no longer available for you. But there’s also from what I’ve seen in my practice, the sense of like acceptance, and like of knowing this is who I am. And this is what I know that I want with my life. And I think as a parent of teenagers and you Lisa, obviously you’re the expert in this. I think that there’s a way that that type of grounding, like if you can connect to it, if you can step back from those moments of being triggered, and actually come back to what you know about yourself. And what you’ve learned over the course of your life can be powerful. Again, the least I feel like you’re the expert in this not me.

Lisa Damour
I will say, here’s what I will say on the matter. I had an event this past weekend where I was in the worst mood ever, as was my teenage daughter. And I don’t know by what miracle we found ourselves. But we actually went for a hike as a family. And whatever was going on with her and whatever was going on with me who the heck knows. And a bit it did feel I will say from my part pretty hormonal. And my sense from her part is pretty normal. And the hike fixed it. We were out in nature, we were looking and tracks from animals. And so what it made me think about which is like the point you’re making in the book like this has to be built in like you can’t be just sort of hoping you’re going to feel good, right? It doesn’t work like that, like you have to build stuff in. And so I don’t know, I don’t have a lot of wisdom on this particular question. But I will say what works for my hormone bad mood and my kids mood seem to be the same thing in the same moment. And so I think that kind of being gentle with ourselves and not getting into it and not getting into an argument and being like, you know what, let’s just go outside. That seemed to work for both of us in the moment.

Pooja Lakshmin
I would say like just riffing on that. The what you’re pointing to I think Lisa is like the ability to let go of control of any one specific outcome and just saying like, we’re just gonna, we’re gonna go on the wall. We’re just going to let ourselves be. We’re not going to try and fix it.

Lisa Damour
Okay, I have another one for you. How do you teach other than by example, self care to a teenage daughter?

Reena Ninan
Good one.

Pooja Lakshmin
Yes. You know, ever since you asked me to come on, I’ve been sort of meditating on this waiting for some, like profound wisdom to come to me and it has not.

Lisa Damour
That’s how we know you’re smart, you know, you have not found the answer.

Pooja Lakshmin
And I will say I was a terrible teenage daughter to my mother. Terrible. And our relationship only got better once I went away to college, that we needed that space, although I did run away from residency and move into a commune just to make her mad. [Laughter] So but you know, I think two things come to mind for me. So in real self care, what I’m doing is I’m, so I’m talking about faux self care as a tool, right? There’s lots of different tools that you can use in the moment. But those tools are going to change in different seasons of our life. Real Self Care is a principle, a principle is something that you can use over a long period of time, that applies to any number of life circumstances and situations. And so I think, with teenagers, teenage girls, we are often looking for a specific tool or a mantra or an activity or practice, when in fact, if you kind of step back, and maybe think about what are the principles of what I would really love for my daughter to learn about herself, and her place in the world, what are, you know, maybe what are like the five things that I think will give her, you know, help her develop her relationship to herself, and bring yourself back to those principles. But then the tools, the way that she actually goes about whatever self care activities, she decides to engage in whether she finds her self esteem and playing sports, or whether it’s dance, or whether it’s, you know, her social group, or whatever it is, all that is great. But it’s more about sort of those specific principles that you define, you have to define those for yourself and for her with with her.

Lisa Damour
I mean, I love that. And actually, let me just jump in real quick. One of the ways I say the same thing, and I just love hearing you talk about is like coping is actually highly personal, like what helps one person feel better is very different. You know, like, some kids love to clean their rooms, when they’re upset, other kids would never clean their rooms. So the way you frame that if like, you can’t tell her what to do, but you can give sort of the broad outlines of how you want her care for herself how you want to think about her right to be centered and study in the world.

Pooja Lakshmin
And those just to kind of give some maybe, template principles, you know, it’s all the stuff that you talk about Lisa, you know, helping helping teens understand that their feelings, that it’s okay to have feelings, it’s okay to have bad feelings, that they’ll be able to get through those bad feelings that they can ask for help. Right, just all of the wisdom that you’re kind of soaking up here, all of those things can sort of be applied, but but they will manifest in highly specific ways, depending on your child’s temperament, and their personality, and etc.

Reena Ninan
So, you know, we want to wrap up and sort of talk a little bit about when you’re, you are caring for others. And one instance, I want to ask sort of if your team has mental health issues. The question here is from a parent, how do you care for yourself when you’re also dealing with that?

Pooja Lakshmin
I love that question. I love that question. Because it’s so it doesn’t come up enough. I feel like there’s so much conversation about how to get your teen help, but really not as much for parents. So the first thing I would just applaud the listener for recognizing that they’re struggling and a couple of things. One, I would say I want to validate that it is really hard to have a team that’s going through mental health challenges. One, it’s so hard to find the right provider. Finding a good psychiatrist or psychotherapist or psychologist is, it’s like dating, right? You have to go through all these different trials, right? So just acknowledging that you are in this space of uncertainty, and you really want to fix it. But it’s going to be a process. It’s not going to be something that gets better overnight. So kind of leaning on some of these principles of real self care in that your, your job is not to make all of the problems go away for your kid. Your job is to do as much as you can to regulate your own nervous system, because that’s going to be what actually you model and transfer to your child. So certainly getting your own mental health support, whether that’s through a therapist or psychiatrist, I do also think that having other parent friends that are going through a similar struggle, Lisa, you’re nodding, I’m sure that you recommend this, you know, you just having someone else in your circle that you can sort of vent to. That’s accepting where it doesn’t also just important on this is where it doesn’t feel competitive, where it feels safe.

Lisa Damour
Ya know, what you the what you said about parents regulating their own nervous system. And what kids need, especially when they’re struggling is for us to be a steady presence. And the only way we can do that is if we have a place to take our own concerns. I have one more question for you, Bucha. Before we let you go, and I know this is a big one in your book. From one of our listeners, how do I set boundaries with aging parents while remaining caring? And how do I handle my feelings of guilt around all of this? Yes.

Pooja Lakshmin
It’s such a great question. Two things. One, remember that if you have not set boundaries before, and you’re just trying to right now, with aging parents, you like, I think you have to be realistic. So you are probably if you’ve never done it before, you it’s going to feel really bad. And you need to look for yourself, especially in the cultural context. So for example, in South Asian culture, you know, it’s setting a boundary is a big deal. And it doesn’t go well. Again, I had to drop out of my residency and move into a commune because I didn’t know how to set boundaries. Right? So you have to I think, be realistic, your parents aren’t going to change, right? Because they, you know that they’re not going to change. So you have to be willing to understand what is reasonable for you, working on your communication skills, finding a mode of communication, whether it’s email or text. And under also understanding very clearly, what is your goal, or what are the outcomes that you’re looking for in this situation. So if it’s like, just, for example, if it’s something like, you know, my parents expected me to come over every night after dinner, so so that I could help my dad with his laptop or something like that, and I can’t spend go over every evening, right? So your outcome is to deliver it your the goal that you have is to deliver the news as compassionately as possible, and you can do that, you’re going to feel guilty. So the guilt, then that is what you take to your therapist, right, you can’t take that guilt back to your parents, because they’re not going to be able to provide that emotional support for you. Just like Lisa was saying, you know, with in the parenting situation, same thing applies, you need a separate space for yourself, where you process all the feelings, like the place that I see my patients get most tripped up in these situations is where you’re expecting the person who you’re setting the boundary with, to also take care of your feelings, they’re not gonna be able to do that.

Reena Ninan
And acknowledging and knowing that, that’s such great advice. You know, as we wrap up here, you know, you wrote this great piece for The New York Times called how society has turned its back on Mothers, it isn’t about burnout, it’s about betrayal, we’re going to put that link in our show notes as well. Pooja, but as we wrap up, what is it that you hope parents out there, both women and men honestly, take from the things that they can do that are tangible changes, that could make a big difference?

Pooja Lakshmin
Yeah, I think I want folks to know that you can start right now, where you are on the map, even if you know, the idea of self care makes you want to run for the hills. Just knowing that it really is about your relationship to yourself. And thinking about how you make decisions, how you communicate with people in your lives, what is actually bringing you energy in your relationships, what’s not. I know it sounds daunting, but each of these different principles and the steps that I lay out in the book, they are really accessible. And, you know, I like to say that there, you don’t have to do it perfectly. Like you just have to start you just start and then it continues. It’s not something that you win at or that you have to be perfect at.

Lisa Damour
Pooja, thank you so much for writing this book, I have to say what I found about it to be most compelling is that you do not over promise you do not offer solutions that like oh, this is magically going to work and we all know it’s not going to work. It’s an extraordinary combination of being both subtle and practical, in its applications. And I just you don’t see that very often. And you really like knocked it out of the park with this and you’re gonna do so much good. And we are so grateful for you.

Pooja Lakshmin
Thank you so much, Lisa. That really means so much to me coming from you.

Lisa Damour
Well, I only say the things I really believe so it’s true.

Reena Ninan
I can vouch for that.

Lisa Damour
But just thank you so, so much for joining us.

Reena Ninan
And the book is called “Real Self-Care.” Crystals cleanses and bubble baths not included. Dr. Pooja Lakshman, thank you so much for joining us.

Lisa Damour
Thank you.

Reena Ninan
So Lisa, what do you have for us for parenting to go?

Lisa Damour
So listening to Dr. Lakshmin talk reminded me of wisdom I actually picked up from a psychologist I adore named Nancy McWilliams, a brilliant woman. And she was talking about what change looks like. And she was talking about not big changes, just like Dr. Lakshmin was. And she said, think of a ship leaving port, if he adjusts its trajectory by one degree in 100 Miles is going to hit a different continent than it would have started at if it had never adjusted by one degree. And so one of the things I found really inspiring about that, and I’m hearing it in Dutch elections message as well as it’s not going to be giant changes, it’s going to be setting this boundary, it’s going to be not counting on the people you’re setting boundaries with to support you about the fact that you’re setting boundaries. But those small adjustments if we stick with them, over time, amount to dramatic life changes. And I just want to share that because I think sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s hard to feel like any little things gonna make a difference, but sticking with it, I think really does.

Reena Ninan
I love that. I absolutely love that. And I love that what she said was just acknowledging that there’s a problem here and then taking that step, as you’re suggesting the combo of both of your advice, I think is so fabulous. And next week, we’re going to be talking about therapy. How do you tell what’s the right course of therapy for your child? Lisa helps us better understand all of our options. We’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
See you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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