Dr. Lindsey Elmore has a distinguished background in pharmacy practice. She has a degree in chemistry from the University of Alabama Birmingham and a Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of California San Francisco. She completed a PGY1 at Princeton Baptist Medical Center and a PGY2 in Ambulatory Care at New Hanover Regional Medical Center. Following residency, Dr. Elmore was an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, Director of the Community Pharmacy Residency Program at Samford University, and a Transitions of Care Clinical Pharmacist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.
Dr. Elmore is a speaker, author and owner of her own integrative wellness company. She shares her passion for natural wellness solutions on stages around the world, and online on her viral Facebook Lives. She is fascinated with natural products, food as treatment for chronic disease, and integrative therapies, and she has spoken on these topics on 5 continents. She is certified in Aroma Yoga and a certified 200-hour yoga teacher.
With the holiday season almost over, many people have been visiting and connecting with relatives. While family is important, some of them can be incredibly challenging. How would you define the difference between a difficult dynamic and one that’s unhealthy?
So many families have differences of opinions on everything from politics to sports to what to eat. Having differences of opinions are okay, as long as they are met with respect. You may not love your uncle’s political agenda, but that does not give you permission to ridicule, put down, or antagonize him. Your new vegan niece may choose what she wants to eat, but she doesn’t get to go on rants about animal rights at the dinner table while everyone else is enjoying turkey.
The fact is that tension may arise from differences of opinion, but if they are met with love and respect and a desire to reach a mutual conclusion, everyone wins. Tension veers toward unhealthy when there is a lack of respect that leads to passive aggressive or outright aggressive comments, put downs, or mean behavior. That is never okay, even from close family.
Families have a large part to play in our overall mental health. While some members may be champions for wellness, others may trip triggers. What advice would you give about engaging both types of relatives?
One of my strongest operating parameters in life is to meet people where they are. If your fitness enthusiast aunt gets into a fight with your bar fighting, cigarette smoking nephew — no one wins.
Instead of using family celebrations as a time to try and change people, simply ask questions and learn about their life.
Your aunt will probably be grateful to tell you all about her new favorite spin instructor and your nephew might be able to tell you all about the new microbrewery in your home town. Just listen and learn from others, and remember that their choices do not ever have to be yours. You can be a detached observer of the situation, and just accept your family for who they are.
If arguments among disagreeing relatives arise, look for the areas that they actually agree on. For example, my dad and I disagree on everything political. So instead of fighting about which political opinion is correct, we choose to focus on the fact that we both love America, we love freedom, we love safe roads, schools, police and fire departments, and the opportunity to pursue happiness. When we focus on what we agree on, it helps us both to stay calm and collected even when we are discussing things we disagree about. This helps to preserve our mental health.
We often hear about “toxic relationships.” Do you believe there is a difference between a toxic family and an unhealthy one? If so, how would you advise someone to handle a toxic family member?
Toxic relationships are destructive on a consistent basis despite attempts to rectify them. Unhealthy relationships may have bad dynamics, but both parties want to reconcile and have a meaningful relationship.
If you are dealing with someone who is toxic i.e. someone who isn’t able to address problems, can’t apologize, won’t talk through their feelings, constantly pushes your boundaries, plays childish mind games with you, or fights an unfair fight, there are a couple of recommendations: First, realize that their behavior does not have to impact you. While you can’t cut your mom or dad out of your life except in extraordinary circumstances, it is possible to keep your interactions with them within boundaries so their behavior doesn’t impact other areas of life. Limit the duration of visits, allow criticism that is not constructive to roll off your back, stay calm and fair, and take solace in knowing that the gathering will be over and you can go back to your life soon.
Can you share about a time where you helped someone overcome a challenging family member?
Someone in my family recently came out as gay, and it caused a lot of stress among family members who were not prepared for it. The stress caused one person, let’s call her Sally, to lash out at another, let’s call her Betty, even though there was nothing really to lash out about.
Betty came to me in tears. I reminded her that though she got screamed at, it literally had nothing to do with her. It was about Sally not being able to handle her emotions appropriately. Sally wasn’t actually mad at Betty, Betty had done nothing wrong, and even though her words hurt, they actually have nothing to do with Betty.
I advised her to let the situation cool down, and then explain to Sally that her words were very hurtful, and to encourage her to discuss her true feelings: the fact that a family member is gay instead of lashing out.
Managing mental health in high stress situations is challenging and although gatherings are only a few times a year, they can make a major impact on overall wellness. What 5 strategies do you suggest using to maintain mental health when faced with an unhealthy family dynamic?
- Mediation. Mediation on a daily basis has been shown to make us more resilient to stress. Meditating for as little as 4 minutes a day shrinks the size of the stress zone in the amygdala and expands the hypothalamus making you more likely to stay calm and collected. Meditate in advance so you don’t flip out at the wrong moment. Find a quick meditation online so you have a backup plan in super stressful moments.
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and improves mood. Since you are working up a sweat, it is less likely that you’ll be focused on the worries of the day. Plus, the benefits last well beyond the gym. You can work out anger and frustration and the increased endorphins help you to feel better.
- Laugh regularly. Laughing helps to lower blood pressure and stress hormones, and improves cardiac health and the immune system. Plus, it’s just fun! Especially in times of stress, remember that for every negative emotion, there is always a positive emotion.
- Remember that it is not about you. Mean words, confrontational opinions, or passive aggressive comments have nothing to do with you. It is about the other person. As best you can, don’t carry the words with you. Let them go. This helps prevent the whole year from being defined by that cruel thing your Aunt Mildred said about your new boyfriend.
- Be careful with food and drink. Tense family situations can be made worse by alcohol and drugs. At the event, they can make you act out in ways that you didn’t intend. Afterward, they can cause you to ruminate on the events unnecessarily. Be cautious with how much alcohol you consume. Even if holidays are stressful, it is not the time to eat all of your feelings. If you find yourself on your 6th cookie or another plate of cheese, ask yourself if you are truly hungry or if there is something else that you are feeling.
What advice would you give to family members who are allies of someone struggling with mental illness at these gatherings? How can they support strong mental health without causing friction with other members of the family?
Probably the best thing that we can do for friends and family is to listen with a genuine interest to the stories of the other person. If someone in the family has mental illness simply ask them how they are doing today, and listen without judgement. You don’t have to agree with them to be a good family member. If you notice that someone is getting attacked, pestered, or bullied by another family member, perhaps interject with a need for help in the kitchen, ask if anyone wants to play a board game, or watch a movie. You can always address the bad behavior at another time without creating tension in the moment.
What is your favorite mental health quote? Why do you find it so impactful?
“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.”
When it comes to mental health, so many people think that they are alone in the world.
And the shame of their story may be consuming. But when you get right down to it, we all deal with a lot that is in common. We all have known fear, anger, and sadness. Talking though our emotions not only helps us to process the emotions, but helps others to hear that we are not alone.
If you could inspire a movement or a change in mental wellness, what would it be? How can people support you in this mission?
If I could convince everyone in the world to meditate for just 4 minutes a day, I would do that in a heartbeat. Grab an app that rewards you with stickers and badges for meditating, join a meditation circle with friends, or listen to a guided meditation on YouTube. I also teach meditation online and in The Club (www.lindseyelmore.com/join) and on the Clean Slate Cleanse (www.lindseyelmore.com/cleanse), and would love to have you join in.
What is the best way for people to connect with you on social media?
Find me on Instagram and Facebook @lindseyelmore and on the web at www.lindseyelmore.com