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Self Care
12 Minutes

One micro moment at a time: coping with stress/guilt and anxiety through the journey

Whether you are ttc, are pregnant or in charge of a small person, the chances are you have faced a whole new set of challenges when it comes to your emotional wellbeing. From lows, to highs, to exhaustion and even despair. This stage is often when we really need a bit of extra help. We speak to psychologist, author and self care guru Suzy Reading on practical ways to deal with all of these things. We also talk how from the very earliest days we can help equip and empower our kids to cope with modern day challenges. Guess what, the solutions are not big, they are not time consuming nor are they expensive!

Below are some key highlights from our discussion. However, for the full conversation (plus som extra pointers from Suzy) click here for the podcast. Over to Suzy:

I have really learnt the inseparable connection between mental and physical health: 

I think the overarching theme I’ve learnt during my fabulously varied career with lost of different twists and turns is the true importance of wellbeing. I have also realised there are a lot of different strings to this. I am actually a chartered psychologist but when I finished my degree I moved to the UK on what I thought was a temporary basis. So I quickly fell back on something I had been doing during my studies: personal training. In the end I ended up staying in London a lot longer than I expected and during that time I trained in yoga and became a qualified health coach. Through all of this experience I really learnt the inseparable connection between mental and physical health. 

We move not just for our bodies, but also for our minds: 

Through all these experiences and my own life experience, specifically going through what I call ‘energetic bankruptcy’ has informed the way I now approach things. In my own healing and recovery I have learnt the true transformative power of self care. 

Life is inherently stressful: it’s about learning how to cope with this…. 

My focus is very much on empowering people with the power of self care. Helping them cope, heal and prepare for what is next. Life is inherently stressful! The crucial part is doing this in a practical and accessible way. 

The key message throughout all of my books: getting practical about it: 

The first book I wrote is the Self Care Revolution (click here to check it out). I wrote this when I had my little boy. In that, I wanted to put together a framework for self care. In my experience, when we need it the most, it is the hardest time to put your finger on something accessible. We present that framework, define self care and why we need it and most importantly how we can do it. 

Stand Tall like a Mountain: self care for parents… 

I wanted to take a look at how we make self care more accessible to parents. Who needs self care more than parents?! But, at the same time, it can be really challenging to make it a priority. 

We are time poor, energy squeezed and feel guilty for taking time for ourselves: 

We need a whole new toolkit because often the things we had previously done in terms of self care/to nourish ourselves become inaccessible. This is empowering parents but also how we can teach our children the same skills and broadening out how we can support our children deal with big emotions and challenging life experiences. 

Practical tools for anxiety around fertility/miscarriage etc: 

For me learning and looking at specific coping tools and focusing on the skill of relaxation leaps out first. We are all aware of mindfulness. It is the mother of all coping skills. It gives us the ability to step back and to be less pushed about by thoughts and feelings. Mindfulness can enable us to be less swept away by it. 

However, mindfulness is not enough on it’s open during tough times/times of grief and loss: 

It needs to be tethered with the skill of compassion. There needs to be a kind inner voice: ‘yes, I’m experiencing this and of course I feel like this, but it won’t be like this forever.’ We need a huge amount of tenderness and kindness to ourselves as a priority during tough times. Being conscious of your inner voice is the first step. 

Keep your mind focused on what lies within your control: 

So often we get absorbed by things we simply and realistically have no control over. If it is beyond your sphere of influence. No worry, no effort, no action or thought will make any difference. In terms of mindful use of energy, time and effort: direct it to what you can do something about. We cannot entirely control what our bodies do in terms of conception, pregnancy and giving birth and what happens next. However… 

What we can do is to pave the way for whatever it is that we would like to see happen: 

That’s the stuff we do have control over. Specifically things like how you’re talking to yourself, how you are feeding yourself, hydration, how you are prioritising sleep and restorative practises. 

Sometimes this isn’t always easy to do: 

It is so important to say out loud that this is hard. If you are coming to these skills when you’re feeling squeezed it is even tougher. These are skills best learnt when we are in times of minor irritation first. We build the muscles so to speak!

However, there are some good starting points no matter where we are: starting to rate the underrated! 

Specifically focusing on restorative/healing practises to develop self soothing. We live in a society we live in a society that vastly underrates rest and relaxation. There is FOMO/‘you snooze, you lose’ etc. We have got to understand the value of sleep, rest and relaxation. 

But what happens when sleep/rest is not possible? 

There may be times that you’re doing all you can to sleep and it just won’t come. In that case you simply need to prioritise rest. What happens when you can’t do that? You work with your breath. 

Sleep, rest, relaxation and deep breathing all stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system:

You are breathing anyway, it doesn’t take any extra time! But, the way that you breathe can have a profound effect on the way that you feel and on your nervous system. 

Different things work for different people… 

That being said there are a few broad things that always apply. When it comes to the breath we want it to be as relaxed and spacious as possible. When it gets short and tight that is when we are most likely to feel the stress response cascade. Smooth relaxed breath is what we are after. 

If you’re already in an anxious state this can make you feel more agitated, so here is another thing to think about: 

The simplest way in, and often the most effective way: instead of thinking about the breath, move with the breath. The Sun Salute in yoga is a great example. From standing tall, the first movement is to sweep your arms up above your head and breathe in. Look up to your hands as they touch and then breathe out as they come down. This gives you the opportunity just to focus on the movement rather than the breath. 

Research has shown that standing with a tall upright spin and open hearted chest taps into a feeling of personal power: 

It increases your subjective mood and energy levels. It helps you feel more present and capable. It helps you breathe better. When you breathe better you feel better. Just six of these is enough to create a shift. 

On being a parent: everything I have learnt, I’ve learnt the hard way. But that has led to some crucial learnings…. 

When my daughter was first born. I wanted to give every cell and fibre of my being to her. I found myself totally negating my needs. To a certain extent we have to do this when we become parents. However, we shouldn’t completely subjugate our needs. That can set a downwards spiral. Skipping dinner because I didn’t have time/wanted to sleep, plus poor sleep led to terrible food choices, which made me feel sluggish, no exercise. It can become a vicious circle. 

What struck me from seeing a postnatal depression counsellor: 

The first time I had a breakthrough was when she asked me: ‘what’s your self care like’? I thought errrrm, its not very good. However the things that I used to do to take care of myself I could no longer do and was not doing. 

How could I adjust and meet my new needs with my new constraints? 

At that point, I started a small shift. Even just five minutes a day. I rolled out my yoga nap. I either slept when my baby slept and started to do even a few minutes of yoga each day. 

One micro moment at a time: 

Just as one poor choice can lead to a downward spiral, one good choice can set the upward spiral into motion. I call it a micro moment. For me this small change got me moving again which started a chain reaction. I started to feel a little better, to make slightly better nutritional choices which led to me sleeping better. This is how we start to heal and restore.

Restoration and self care is very individual: what’s good for you? 

There are so many different things we can do. It is not a one size fits all. Your needs as an individual will also change over time. This is why we need a broad tool kit. What one person may find nourishing may be a total turn off. 

This is why self care as a concept can be so confusing!

Because your needs and preferences are constantly changing – it is an art form not a science! It requires us to tune in and acknowledge how we feel and listen to what works. That is why this stuff is hard!

Take the pressure off: this is a skill we learn: 

For people that are feeling frazzled and exhausted – click here to listen into the podcast version of our chat with Suzy for a quick exercise as a starting point. (If you want to fast forward – check out Suzy’s exercise that she takes us through on the podcast here – a reboot for your nervous system!)

The guilt factor around self-care: 

Many of us as parents want to give it all. We then can have a tendency to feel guilty if we take time for ourselves. This is actually the exact reason I am doing what I’m doing. I learnt the hard way that if , but this is why I am doing what I am doing. I learnt if I don’t nourish myself, how can I be there for those in my care? If I cannot do it for me, then I need to do it for my little ones.

Self care keeps us giving and going but it is something that you deserve as a human being: 

Self care keeps us giving and going – but as a human being you deserve to be nourished – self care is healthcare! Everyone deserves that.

It gives you a protective buffer about what happens next. Think about who you are when you are well nourished. It enables you to be your best self. As a parent we want to ensure our kids are healthy, compassionate and resilient. They need their own self care toolkit and the learn by what we do, what we model and the tools we share with them.

We are the first lesson our children get in how to do self care:  

It is important that parents understand you are already doing this stuff. You’re already teaching to brush teeth and cross the road. It is not new, you’re just broadening it. It is just looking at the ‘toolkit’ and empowering them with the means to help navigate big emotions and challenging life experiences. 

This is new – we are all learning together: so take the pressure off:

This has not been modelled for most of us growing up. This is new: we are all learning! It is such a great opportunity to be beginners together, take the pressure off. Learn and grow together. Teaching them a framework is a great start. This is why I have the Vitality Wheel in every book. Looking at a whole range of things: nutrition, movement, being in nature, mood boosters etc. It is broadening out how we take care of ourselves and how we navigate our day. Here it is: 

Self Care

You can’t protect your kids from everything – it’s about empowering them with coping and self care skills:

We want to keep our kids safe. But we don’t want to disempower them. We also cannot protect them from everything. It is a normal part of life. Eradicating them does them a disservice. So it is having an open, honest dialogue day to day. Speaking kindly and compassionately to ourselves and others. You set the example from the very start. 

Using the Vitality Wheel with kids:

I have a poster that I made with my kids of the Vitality Wheel where I have changed the language to make it a bit more accessible. The first poster I just had images and not words when my son was pre-literate. You can just adapt to whatever stage you’re at. So, every time my kids are low or bored I say: ‘go check out the wheel’ see what would make you feel better. It gives your kids choice and options. It is about empowering. 

As your children get a bit older: 

We actually look at what is happening with their day. We talk about it and write down how we think we can navigate the challenges: ie. “What to do when I feel sad”, “What can I do when I can’t sleep”. We build a resource library. Our kids can be incredibly innovative and imaginative. You can co-create your toolkit together. 

Small people tend to be automatically mindful!

Sometimes they are more adept than we are! If you watch a child playing, they are in deep mindfulness. Once again though different things work for different kids. Movement again can work well if your child isn’t feeling great. Even using yoga poses. For example: if my kids are feeling low/in need of more energy I use Warrior pose which I call ‘Surfer pose’. Different poses have different energy levels: standing poses are energetic (like warrior). Don’t do pre bedtime. For rest and relaxation: on the floor: cat and dog pose, downward dog and child’s pose. Kids will let you know what feels good. 

The ‘Mind Garden’ leading kids to cultivate happier thoughts:

This one is good for bedtime. The mind garden is a beautiful garden, something created entirely by your thoughts. Every thought is ok. Every thought is planting a seed in your garden. It is your job to nurture the seeds that you like. By directing the sun and pouring your water on the thoughts to the ones you want to grow. These create beautiful blooms. The thoughts you don’t like are weeds. Every garden has them, thats ok, but don’t give them lots of sun, water and attention. It is an easy thing to explain to your kids and to practise it with them. 

Ultimately I have learnt self care is the most precious thing. It doesn’t have to be expensive or take long periods of time to nourish you! 

For more from Suzy check her out on instagram: click here. 

Once again to listen to our conversation in full check out here.

She is also advisor to Nourish app which is a platform specifically for mental health for parents: click here for more.

Suzy’s own site plus links to her book is here: Check it out here. 

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This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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Each month we will be giving away a curated box of goodies to suit the individual stage of your Journey, worth £100. To enter the draw and join us, enter your details below. Winner announced at the end of the month.

 

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