Take it from an expert—and a very busy father of soon-to-be eight young children—all of us have mental health needs.
Chris Fogarty, MSN, APRN, PMHNP-BC, is a Mercy psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner who provides mental health outpatient care for patients of all ages. He also provides consultation for Mercy’s Emergency Department and admitted patients, and has recently worked with ICU COVID-19 patients, and staff suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from the pandemic.
Psychiatric healthcare workers, of course, experience some of the same issues—stress, anxiety and depression—that bring patients into their offices.
Since incorporating a mindfulness practice into his own life several years ago, Chris has noticed a difference in his overall wellbeing.
“It’s a good tool to help take control and be in the here and now,” he said, adding that he and his wife, Monica, a stay-at-home mom, embrace living in “an uncomfortable peace.”
“This means that It’s OK to not have the answer at all times and still be at peace in your heart.”
“I tell my patients that everyone has mental health needs, everyone experiences stress,” Chris said. “No one is a 0 on a scale of 100.”
Devout Catholics, the Fogartys turned to their faith when seeking ways to deal with their anxiety.
Several years ago, Monica enrolled in an 8-week online course called Introduction to Catholic Mindfulness, based on the book, The Mindful Catholic, by Dr. Gregory Bottaro. Using the techniques, Chris and Monica started practicing the prayerful mindfulness as a couple and as individuals.
“Mindfulness can be done anytime but I find it helpful to do it at night,” Chris said. The practice involves self-examination of thoughts, feelings and corresponding actions. “For example, if I’m feeling anxious about a conversation I had during the day, I examine the inner experience of that external situation then I’m able to move on.”
Last year, the couple incorporated mindfulness into family life as a tool to help their children focus and express what they’re feeling. At nightly prayer time, they walk through mindfulness exercises based on the book, Sitting Like a Saint: Catholic Mindfulness for Kids, by Dr. Gregory & Barbra Bottaro.
Chris said that while not all of their children are prone to anxiety, the practice is beneficial to all.
“Putting a name to what you’re experiencing makes you more open to practicing mindfulness. The ability to be present in the here and now, and to have control over your feelings is a blessing at any age.”
Faith-based community support
Active members of Little Flower Roman Catholic Parish in Plain Township, the family enjoys the companionship and support of other families with young children.
“The Church community is what we focus on externally,” Chris said. “It’s the visible body of Christ that we turn to in good times and bad.”
Both Chris and Monica participate in biweekly men’s and women’s accountability groups to socialize, and share experiences and thoughts on marriage, parenting, faith and whatever is going on in their lives.
“I wish everybody had a community to turn like we do,” Chris said.
Running “low and slow”
“I do believe that mental and physical well-being go hand in hand,” Chris said. “When life gets busy, the first thing to go is exercise. Making time to stay active, whether it’s exercising by myself or getting outdoors with the kids, is an important part of how I take care of myself.”
When his wife was pregnant with their first child, Chris gained 25-30 lbs. “To get rid of the ‘sympathy weight,’ I started running. I’m not breaking any records, but I find it enjoyable.”
Despite two knee surgeries – a torn ACL while playing in a men’s basketball league and a meniscus tear that happened while running the anchor leg for his five-person relay team in the Akron Marathon—Chris has no plans to shelf his running shoes.
“When I asked my doctor about my prognosis for running, he prescribed keeping it ‘low and slow’…no hills and not too fast,” Chris said. “He told me not to give up on running because he’d rather that I eventually undergo knee replacement surgery than open heart surgery.”
Working up a sweat—or relaxing—with Jim, Pam and Dwight
A full house and a busy schedule calls for some creative multitasking.
“We bought a stationary spin bike and moved it into our bedroom,” Chris said. “Now, we can watch one of our favorite TV shows, The Office, while working out.”
He said that indulging in nostalgia, like watching a show that you’ve seen dozens of times can help ease mild anxiety.
“We love The Office. When everyone’s settled in for the night, we often relax, and watch an episode or two.” Chris said. “It’s comforting to know what’s going to happen and knowing all the characters. It’s like being with an old friend.”
He did caution that while it’s fine to find comfort in watching a favorite TV show, camping out on the couch for hours of binging is not a good way to take control over anxiety or depression.
Good habits start early
The Fogarty children do not live a sedentary life, and that’s by design.
“We do have an old Xbox but we really limit screen time,” Chris said. “When they have free time, the kids are outside riding bikes, or playing in the yard, jumping on the trampoline.”
The family often spends time together walking in the neighborhood or biking on the local trails.
While treats are not totally off the table, the family does emphasize making healthy choices at the table.
“We try to incorporate whole grains, fruits, veggies, low-fat proteins into our meals,” Chris said. And we do limit the sweets.” When gluten was negatively impacting a couple of the children, gluten was eliminated from their diets. “It takes a little effort but it has made a difference.”
“The self is important”
Ideally, we would all find a balance between work, family, social and other obligations, while practicing mindfulness, exercising and making healthy food choices. But life, particularly in the time of a pandemic, is hard.
“In the past few months, I’ve seen an increase in staff requests for help with compassion fatigue,” he said. “We all need to ask ourselves if we’re enjoying life or feeling sad or overwhelmed…and be real about it.
“It’s not about asking, ‘Am I crazy?’ The question to ask is ‘Where are the areas that I need to focus on and should I ask for help?’ We need to remember that the self is important and needs care, just like the body.”
For more information or to make an appointment with Chris, please call 330-489-1Doc (1362).