If you’re a parent who wants to raise healthy, happy kids AND think we need more love in the world, this article is for you!
In the last part of my article, Dizzy Tired to Crazy Inspired! 5 Steps to Spirit-Centered Clarity, I shared my huge aha moment (as Oprah would call it!).
After peeling away lots of layers, I discovered the real driving force that’s fueled my love for all things healthy for so long …
Love for my life and for the gift of my body, mind, and Spirit!
In my last article, I also promised to divulge the second piece I believe was missing from the conversation at the summit I attended that addressed the pediatric obesity crisis in our country.
The Missing Piece: REVEALED!
In all the breakout sessions, not once was there mention of our children’s emotional and spiritual health.
Whether the conversation centers around ending pediatric obesity, improving the long-term health predictions for our kids regardless of their weight status, or simply setting our kids up for good long-term health and happiness, it focuses primarily, if not solely, on improving our children’s nutrition and physical activity.
These are extremely important considerations that our full need attention. But they only address part of our children’s total well-being.
More and more research is now showing the impact that our emotional and spiritual state have on our overall health.
Think about it for a minute. What happens when you feel stressed, sad, mad, or depressed? Do you typically feel good physically?
That’s because these emotions trigger stress hormones, which increase our heart rate and blood pressure, tax our digestive and immune systems, and compromise our ability to sleep (among other things) — all of which affect our overall health.
Cortisol even causes us to crave sugar!
“Happy hormones”, on the other hand, lower our heart rate, blood pressure, and depressive symptoms; improve digestion, sleep, and even behavior; and aid brain development, learning and memory — all of which are particularly important for our kids.
A Hard Look At Our Kids’ Emotional Health
Did you know that stress, anxiety, loneliness, and even suicide are on the rise among adolescents and teens? So the implications on our children’s health extend beyond concerns over excess sugar, processed food, and inactivity.
Our children’s physical well-being is only part of the puzzle. Their emotional and spiritual health are important pieces that contribute to their whole health, happiness and overall well-being.
In a compelling issue of Time magazine titled, Anxiety, Depression and the Modern Adolescent, Susanna Schrobsdorff wrote an article called, Teen Depression and Anxiety. Why the Kids are Not Alright. She quoted teenager after teenager who admitted to experiencing high levels of stress.
What I find the most disturbing is how alone these kids feel. They don’t have the tools to process their stressful emotions. And these particular teens talked about how they purposely hid the truth about their emotional state from their parents.
One girl interviewed for the article said that it was three years before she admitted to her parents that she cut herself when she felt stressed because she couldn’t explain why she was doing it.
Another girl hid her emotions from her parents because she couldn’t bear to see worry on their faces.
“I don’t want to make it someone else’s problem,” is the reason a boy named Tommy kept his feelings quiet. But when he described his stress, he said, “I’m calm on the outside, but it’s like a demon in your stomach trying to consume you.”
A girl named Faith-Ann appeared to feel a similar way. She said, “We’re the first generation that cannot escape our problems at all. We’re like little volcanoes. We’re getting this constant pressure, from our phones, from our relationships, from the way things are today.”
To swing back around to the obesity issue, a Norwegian study found that 4- and 6-year-old children who were given food to soothe their emotions were more likely to emotionally eat at ages 8 and 10. These children tend to reach for sweets. If food becomes their go-to for emotional comfort, the likelihood of them becoming overweight or obese increases.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition also found that kids who were given food as a way to calm their emotions were more likely to emotionally eat. And the more they appeared calmed by the food, the more parents continued giving them food when they were upset, unintentionally setting them up for a lifelong struggle with emotional eating and potential overweight issues.
Our children’s need for a constructive way to help regulate their emotions for better emotional health.
This is where our spiritual health comes into play.
A Scientific Snapshot on Spiritual Health
First, I want to address some of the reasons why giving attention to our spiritual health is important from a scientific perspective.
- New and growing evidence shows that spiritual health is linked to better emotional health — regardless of a person’s religion or health behaviors.
- Spiritual people typically display greater resilience when it comes to stress and anxiety, experience less depression, have lower blood pressure and even possess a stronger immune system.
- Spiritual people tend to engage less in self-destructive behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, drugs and suicide.
- Early research showed that women with lower spiritual well-being displayed higher levels of emotional eating.
- The medical field is now acknowledging that there may be a role for spiritual wellness in the medical arena.
- So what’s the definition of spiritual health?
I loved the way it’s described, ironically, on www.familydoctor.org.
“Spirituality is the way you find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life. Many people find it through religion. Some people find it through music, art, or a connection with nature. Others find it in their principles and values.”
Researchers also tie the qualities of wisdom, compassion, joy, and connectedness, and moral sensitivities to spirituality — all of which are qualities that I want my boys to feel inside and to experience from the world around them.
Now I want to let you in on why I believe so strongly that we need to address our spiritual health from a personal perspective.
A Peek Inside My Personal, Life-Changing Revelation!
I grew up believing in God. We went to church more often than not, but to this day, I’ve never considered myself a religious person. I thought of myself as Faith-filled.
Despite my Faith, I didn’t have the kind of relationship with God that I have now until I became a mother. When I my boys were little, I had an experience that shifted my understanding of God that changed my life.
When I was a child, I pictured God as a man who looked like Jesus sitting in a beautiful white throne wearing a long white robe with children dressed in flowing white clothing sitting on the floor all around Him and angels floating above Him in a place far far away called Heaven.
I believed God loved me, but understood him to be far removed from me, guiding so many people with so many prayers. I believed he listened to all of our prayers, but that we had to patiently wait for Him to answer them.
I attribute my strong Faith to the belief I’ve always held that God loves us all and wants only the best for us. I never believed, ever, that God would strike out in anger despite what I learned in church. Reflecting back, I think that’s why I didn’t learn what I should have from Bible school. I didn’t agree with a lot of what I was being taught so I chose to tune most of it out.
Even though I felt loved by Him, I felt separate from Him. So I grew up feeling mostly alone to navigate all the sad, confused, and angry emotions I experienced growing up because of my parents’ tumultuous divorce, ugly custody battle, and fighting that went on for 10 years.
I often turned to food for comfort. But somehow, I always managed to maintain a somewhat reasonable limit on my emotional sneak-eating binges which is why it never spiraled out of control. I attribute my ability to do that despite the fact that I had to deal with major adult issues as a child, to my Faith. Deep down, I’d drawn a line I wasn’t willing to cross because I didn’t want to mar the gift God gave me.
As a young adult, I learned to eat healthy and discovered that I actually didn’t hate exercise. What I found was that nourishing my body with healthy food and exercise not only felt good physically, but also removed the guilt, insecurity, and body image issues that I’d struggled with for so long.
But exercise and eating healthy didn’t heal the wounds and sense of separation I felt from others that were still left on my heart.
When I became a mom, these old wounds felt new. Like many new moms do, I’d lost my sense of self when my boys were little. I struggled with mood swings and depressive symptoms, but was too ashamed to admit how I was feeling to anyone. So I did my best to hide them, although my best always wasn’t very good.
The separation and loneliness I felt piled onto top of the old stuff, weighing down on my chest and often making it difficult to breathe.
The Day My Blinders Came Off
Then one day, I attended a group meditation class that was being held at a place where we went for a weekend getaway. It was the first time I ever experienced meditation. And boy was I surprised by what I experienced. I hadn’t felt that calm, that peaceful, that ease in breathing in years … or probably ever.
That was the beginning of my exploration into what it feels like to be spiritually and emotionally healthy.
In my 15+ years of eating healthy and exercising regularly, I’ve never felt a sense of emotional well-being like I started feeling once I incorporated a spiritual practice into my daily routine.
The biggest and most profound change I’ve experienced is my new understanding of God.
In the spiritual teachings I’ve studied, God is not always referred to as God. God is also referred to as the Universe, Universal Life Force, the Divine, etc. But regardless of what language is used, it all leads back to the same understanding, which is that we’re not alone.
What a revelation!
This means that even though it may feel that way sometimes, we’re never alone!
There’s always a Loving force with us, guiding us, and supporting us.
The more I engage in my spiritual practices, the more I sense that Loving energy both in and around me. So much so that I’ve redefined God as pure LOVE. Everything around us that’s beautiful, that’s good and pure, that’s comes from Love, is God.
I now see life differently. I understand that my feelings are a result of my thoughts and I can change my thoughts at any moment. All I need to do is shift my perspective.
The stories about myself I believed for so long are just that … stories. Not truth. I can change those, too. It takes work and dedication, but everyday I’m releasing old negative thought patterns and creating new, more empowering ones.
And oh the miracles I see now. Miracles were things we were taught in church to be a rare, extraordinary phenomenon. But now, I see miracles everyday. I see them when my boys give me spontaneous kisses or tell me that I look beautiful. I see them when I see the first rose bloom on my rose bushes. And I see them when synchronicities appear or things strangely work out for the best.
This is the kind of spiritual health I want for my kids.
I want them to understand that they are divinely loved and cared for at all times and are not alone to navigate through all of the stress that emotional challenges that they’ll inevitably face as they get older.
I want them to feel loved not just by me but by a greater power that’s larger than us, so they feel emotionally strong and resilient.
I want them to feel worthy of love and make the connection between healthy choices and self-love.
And I want them to feel innately, divinely Loved so they want to honor this Love by offering themselves love, acceptance, compassion, forgiveness, and empathy, and pass these qualities along to others!
In my children’s picture book series, The Super Dynamos, the superheroes teach the children that the greatest source of power in all the universe is Love. My mission with the series is to teach children that Love-motivated choices that nurture their bodies, minds, and Spirits will help them feel good from the inside out. And when they feel good inside, they’ll be better able to use their own unique superpower to do amazing things! Find out more.
My friend, I’m still learning how to develop stronger emotional and spiritual health everyday. But I’m dedicated to supporting you and your children as best I can to live a wholly healthy, happy life that’s rooted in LOVE!
Imagine if we all treated ourselves with more love, acceptance, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, how these qualities would spillover to all the people around us. The ripple effect would be amazing!
Are you in? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment below! Lots of love, Pamela. xoxo