Anxiety in motherhood – why you’re feeling anxious, and how to make friends with it

Anxiety in motherhood – why you’re feeling anxious, and how to make friends with it

What is anxiety? What is its purpose?

Anxiety organises our responses to threats to our life, health and wellbeing. Focuses on our escape from danger. It encompasses feelings of unease, worry and fear – and this includes both the emotions and the physical sensationswe might experience when we are worried or nervous about something. This is related to the ‘fight or flight’ response – our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened. So, for example: pre-historic man used to have to go out and hunt for his dinner, and he may well have come across a sabre-toothed tiger on the lookout for its own, human-shaped, meal. Being alert and able to flee at any given moment was what enabled pre-historic man to survive. We still have this exact same fight-or-flight hormonal and physical response to perceived threats and danger. But the vast lucky majority of us are not under any physical threat, and our perception of ‘danger’ can escalate out of all proportion, leaving us feeling like crap, or gradually becoming scared of and avoiding the activities that we used to be carefree about, because everything is veiled with cloak of fear.  

Anya Hayes author and speaker
Challenge your thoughts. Don’t believe every thought you think, know that you have the power to either welcome thoughts in, or ask them to leave. Anxiety makes us view the world as very threatening. It’s important to aim for a healthy balance, between what’s real and what’s your anxiety simply making shit up. Imagine you’re in a maze with your child, having fun on a day out: then anxiety pushes us into believing its cul de sacs are safe and convinces us to stay there whimpering, waiting to be rescued.

Recent figures (2016) from the NHS show that anxiety is on the rise, particularly among young women.  As a mum, you’re more likely to suffer from anxiety if you have suffered miscarriages, or had a traumatic birth, or if you had problems with fertility. Or it may simply have come out of the blue, possibly a symptom of postnatal depression, or a result of being physically and emotionally depleted by your birthing and mothering experience and losing some of your resilience. Let’s have a look at some strategies for dealing with the physical effects of anxiety. Anxiety is a normal healthy reaction. It happens to everyone in times of danger or in worrying situations. When you are anxious, your body system speeds up. In certain circumstances this can be an advantage (e.g. if you are in danger). It means you are ready for action and enables you to respond quickly if necessary.

Anxiety and your body. When we feel anxious a chain of automatic responses happen in our bodies, which prepare us for action. This is called the ‘fight or flight’ response and can be traced back to our evolutionary past. Imagine the primitive caveman threatened by a wild animal. He needs to be prepared for vigorous action: either to fight or run away from the threat. We still possess this survival reaction although nowadays it is often triggered by situations that are not actually life threatening.

The physical symptoms of anxiety include: difficulty relaxing, butterflies in the stomach, shakiness, palpitations (heart beating quickly), difficulty breathing, feeling faint, tense muscles, excess sweating or blushing, needing to go to the toilet more often.

When a person anticipates or encounters a dangerous situation, a hormone called adrenaline is automatically released into the bloodstream. This causes a number of changes in our body which are designed to prepare us to respond to the danger (i.e. by fighting or running away). Our breathing rate increases because we need more oxygen in the body in preparation for increased physical activity. Our heart rate increases to pump the additional oxygen and adrenaline round the body quickly. With all this increased activity, our bodies heat up so we sweat more, which is how the body cools itself down when it is overheating. We need to go to the toilet more frequently and the function of this is to eliminate excess weight so that we can be ready for action. In other words, these changes are anxiety symptoms.

Anxiety symptoms are the body’s automatic response to being in a threatening situation, and are designed to prepare us to fight the perceived danger or run away from it. The problem is that sometimes the fight flight response switches on in situations that are not actually physically dangerous. When the fight flight response switches on in a normal situation, such as in the supermarket, or in a meeting with someone, it can become problematic.

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Disturbing thoughts

Very often when we have bouts of anxiety they experience disturbing thoughts. For example, we may think something terrible and catastrophic is going to happen, and can’t see beyond that reality. Many people are unaware that they are even having these thoughts until they have been consumed by them, which makes you feel more anxious or frightened. These thoughts are not useful or even true. So once you begin to recognise this type of thoughts you can learn to challenge them. THOUGHTS ARE NOT FACTS. Concentrating on what is actually happening right here, right now, rather than what you think might happen, will help break the charge of anxiety.

Top tips for making friends with anxiety

  1. Remember anxiety is a normal emotion, a purposeful emotion which ultimately aims to look after you and keep you/your child from harm. Look at your anxious thoughts, physical sensations and behaviour habits. Write them down. Understanding what anxiety looks like for you will help you tackle it.
  2. Breathe. Deep breathing is the number one way to switch off your anxiety. Is your anxiety a cat with bristled fur, ready to pounce? See how you can get your cat to curl up and purr blissfully instead. Practise calm, breathing and soften your body.
  3. Feel your fear, and do it anyway. Work out what kind of situations you tend to avoid or cause you fear. And try to actually go towards these situations. I’m not saying actually put yourself in danger obviously, but gently expose yourself to situations that normally you would allow yourself to run from without question. The idea is that you try to remain in the situation until your anxiety gives up and goes home. It’s not the easiest road, but it does work in the long term for reducing symptoms of anxiety by ultimately making you realise that ‘it’s not that bad actually’.

You can also find plenty of other ways to soften your anxiety in The Supermum Myth. How is your anxiety today? xxx

Pilates for Pregnancy

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Mindfulness for mums – meditation for perinatal wellness

Mindfulness for mums – meditation for perinatal wellness

I’m so delighted and proud to say that I have passed my first level of Teaching Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy with the British Mindfulness Institute. My own mental health as a mum has been so powerfully enhanced by MBCT techniques in the writing of The Supermum Myth (such a huge learning curve for me and one that definitely has changed my life!), and I can’t wait to bring this knowledge and insight into my pre- and postnatal workshops and classes. I’m also launching my MIND-BODY for Mums toolkit next year, so watch this space.

Here’s a mini meditation which you can do daily (multiple times a day if you need to!), to check in with your body, your mind, your tension, your heart. Even just building in awareness day to day can help ease any pressure and allow you a bit of insight about how you’re doing, which can keep the pot from boiling over. A mini mediation is perfect for feeling like it’s not something ‘extra’ to add to your To Do list but something that you can slot into the gaps. 2 minutes here, 3 minutes there. Can be done anytime, anyplace – at softplay, in the playground, wherever you are.

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Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

Mind, Body, Heart Mini Meditation

Sit up a bit taller. Softly close your eyes, or gaze down at the floor. Take 3 deep, slow, conscious breaths. As you breathe:

Mind: Take a moment to notice what thoughts are here. Stories, images, planning, memories, critique…what is the narrative that is most loud today? Notice your thoughts, and imagine each as a butterfly. Are there thousands of butterflies jostling for space? Can you notice them, and allow them to release? Are there some that just stick around refusing to budge? Try not to get caught up in your thoughts, simply let them be noticed. See them as separate mental events, not as part of you. Try not to judge or label: they aren’t good, or bad, they just are. 

Heart: What emotions are you feeling? Can you identify what is the ‘loudest’ emotion present? Anger? Sadness? Happiness? A mixture? How strong is the energy from your emotion? Do you feel any physical sensations related to it, once you’ve noticed it?

Body: check in with your body. Notice what’s happening – what’s the weather like? How do you feel? Tension? Aches, pains? How’s your energy level? Don’t try to change anything or judge what you notice, just be open to it, listen to what your body is saying.

Now, continue to breathe and expand your awareness to your whole self – what are you feeling right now in mind, heart, body, breath. Breathe, deeply, fully, here for as long as you have available – be that 1 minute or 20.

Allow this spacious awareness to continue to take in sensations, thoughts, emotions as they arrive and as they leave, like waves onto the shore.

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Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat in Andalucía

Pregnancy workshop this week

Join me for a pregnancy workshop in Peckham this Thursday introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life.

Your Confident Mothermorphosis

This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.

I’m a pre- and postnatal Pilates and wellness coach specialising in pelvic floor and diastasis recti. I’m also a Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) teacher, weaving together body–mind work to help alleviate the mental health issues that motherhood and pregnancy can present, such as anxiety, self-doubt and overwhelm. My mission is to help mums feel stronger, happier and calmer.

My books include Pregnancy, The Naked Truth, The Supermum Myth: Overcome Anxiety, Ditch Guilt, Embrace Imperfection, and my latest book Pilates for Pregnancy.

Get in touch – are you pregnant, or a new mum? Do you suffer from anxiety or a constant feeling of not quite achieving enough? Are you feeling physical under par? I think I can help – you’re not alone x x

The Supermum Myth
Anya Hayes’s two books Pregnancy: The Naked Truth and The Supermum Myth
Pregnancy and Postnatal mindfulness and core strength workshops

Pregnancy and Postnatal mindfulness and core strength workshops

I’m excited to be adding two monthly workshops to the schedule in the new year. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you’re in south London, come along!

For mums to be

Your Confident Mothermorphosis

A workshop introducing a toolkit of tips to help you release anxiety and soothe your body as you enter the next phase of your life. This workshop uses techniques from Pilates and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to connect to your body and calm your mind and spirit, enhance your feelings of self-compassion and confidence in the journey ahead. Including a guided meditation and breathing techniques which will equip you well both for your birth experience and into early motherhood.

For mums

Pelvic floor and core restore

Pilates for postnatal rehabilitation. This workshop focuses on breathing, alignment and pelvic floor awareness, releasing tension and finding your deep inner strength – suitable if you’re suffering from diastasis recti. Find out how to connect to your centre in your day to day activities rather than make time for “pelvic floor exercise”. Rebuild your foundations to feel more energised in your mothering day. We’ll finish with a short (baby-friendly) guided meditation to leave you relaxed and uplifted.
How do you feel about your pregnancy and early motherhood experience? I’d love to hear. Get in touch and tell me your story xxx
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My book Pilates for Pregnancy is available now
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The Supermum Myth Anya Hayes
The Supermum Myth
Diastasis recti – how to strengthen your separated abdominals post-birth

Diastasis recti – how to strengthen your separated abdominals post-birth

Around the second trimester, depending on the size of your bump, you will have experienced some degree of abdominal separation: diastasis recti. The rectus abdominis muscle is your “six-pack” muscle. It runs down your front, from your breastbone to your pubic bone: two segments running vertically parallel and intersected by a fibrous band, the linea alba.

In a brilliant design feature of the human body’s adaptability, as your bump grew, the linea alba stretches to allow your baby more space. The two bands of muscle stretch away from the centre. This is most likely to begin at the navel as that is where your baby usually requires most room.

This is a normal structural adaptation, you can’t necessarily prevent it, and neither would you want to – it is a design specially created for your baby’s comfort and growing power. Around 30% of women experience this abdominal separation in the 2ndtrimester, with a further 66% separating in the third trimester. Some research says that 100% of women have some level of diastasis of the rectus abdominis by the third trimester (Gilliard and Brown 1996, Diane Lee 2013). Look at those stats again: 100% of women have this happen at some point to some degree during pregnancy.

The extent of your abdominal separation depends on a number of factors:

  • Your abdominal tone pre-pregnancy
  • If you carried more than one baby
  • If you’ve had more than one baby
  • If you gain a lot of weight, or if carried a big baby for your height, your baby will have had less space and needed to “pop further out”
  • Age plays a part: it can be worse if you’re over 35
  • Lack of regular exercise
  • Postural load – are you stooping/lifting constantly without care for your technique and form?

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Mind the gap

Until quite recently we’ve talked in fearful terms about THE GAP, and the need to “close the gap” postnatally. But actually we now know that it’s not the width of the gap that is the issue: it’s whether or not there is deep tone of the supporting muscles underneath that matters. You could have a 3-finger gap, but as long as your core muscles are firing properly and you can manage your intra-abdominal pressure – the pressure in the space between your respiratory system (your diaphragm) and your reproductive system, placing load out into your belly or down into your pelvic floor – this gap is considered to be “functional”, i.e. not a problem. You may never “close the gap” completely, but as long as you have tone supporting the linea alba, this is ok. So: a problematic diastasis recti is one where there is soft squishy tissue rather than tensile active tissue underneath the linea alba “gap”, therefore not truly supporting your core in movement and leaving you vulnerable to injury and pelvic floor issues.

Diastasis used to be considered a purely cosmetic issue, merely a cause of the “mum tum” or “postnatal pooch” – and dismissed roundly by GPs as a result “ah well you’ve had a baby what do you expect?”. But this is heartbreaking for me to hear of so many women fobbed off when they inquire about DR. There is a direct correlation between a diastasis lacking tone, and the impact and load placed on your pelvic floor and your spine. In essence: if you have a serious gap, you my also experience back pain and/or symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Diastasis has an effect on the strength and action of your oblique (waist) muscles, and mayhave an impact on the ability of your abdominals to control the pelvis and spine – this in turn could possibly be a cause of back and pelvic pain, if the integrity of your core support isn’t given some scaffolding with strength and conditioning exercises (such as Pilates).

You might have noticed when you were pregnant that when you got out of bed or even up from sitting, there was a strange doming in your stomach, a bit like an alien pushing out, or a Toblerone triangle. As a rule of thumb, you don’t want to see that doming any more. We don’t want to be in a position where you’re putting your muscles under pressure and encouraging it to happen. If you see it when you lift yourself out of bed or off the floor, try rolling over onto your side and pushing yourself up with your hands, rather than using your abdominals.

Continue to avoid ‘regular’ exercises – even if you get the “all clear to exercise” from the GP at your six week check up, unless they have actually palpated your abdominals to check for a DR, please don’t rush back into traditional ab exercises, oblique strengtheners (twisting curl ups and side planks), or any loaded rotation and definitely avoid getting back into running or any other high impact exercise just yet. Erring on the side of caution is always the best policy – despite what some celebrity trainers might suggest on their glossy Instagram feeds.

Excessive abdominal training when a diastasis is present, particularly with twisting movements such as oblique curl ups, can cause a downward pressure in the abdomen through the pelvic floor, which will pull the already weakened linea alba further out to the sides.

Diastasis recti doesn’t always resolve itself on its own, the first 8 weeks are where the main natural healing takes place, and if yours is still a problem gap after this point it needs conscious training and dedicated deep core healing work.

You can hear me chatting about diastasis recti on BBC Radio here. Any questions about postnatal healing – get in touch!

My new book Pilates for Pregnancy is available now

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Post birth healing tips

Post birth healing tips

In the first few days and weeks after giving birth you’ll probably feel bruised and sore, whatever birth experience you’ve had. We’re preoccupied with “snapping back into shape” straight after having a baby, and if we buy into this bounce back mentality, the days and weeks after baby can come as a huge shock when celebrities make it look so easy.

The first three months is a time of huge transition and change. It will take this whole time, at least, for your emotions and body to begin to settle into a sense of familiar vaguely confident “normality”. It is totally to be expected that you might feel discombobulated and chaotic. Think of it as starting a new job: you’d imagine that the first few months would be a steep learning curve and to feel way out of your comfort zone. It’s no different for your new job as a mother/mum of two/three.

Some women feel like a superhero, with such a sense of triumph and euphoria that anything seems possible – it can be hard to imagine that you have to take it easy on yourself and rest while you’re riding this high. But equally you may fall into the camp of women who feel like they are depleted and exhausted by the birth and the early days. That was certainly me first time round, and if this is you, please don’t push yourself to hold up a façade of “normal”. Rest. Cuddle your tiny newborn to get the oxytocin flowing and soothe both of your nervous systems, your breathing helps to regulate your baby’s breathing. Snuggle with lots of calming skin to skin in those early days. It takes time to complete your metamorphosis into motherhood, and “normal” takes on a different appearance from now on.

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Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

Your uterus contracts back to its original size in the days after giving birth, and these contractions feel quite similar to early labour contractions. They can be stimulated particularly by breastfeeding, and it’s more intense if it’s not your first baby. Establishing breastfeeding is hard, mentally and physically, and is painful initially even if your baby takes to it easily, despite what your health visitor might suggest. You are also very hormonal. So you will be feeling tender and emotional.

Breathing techniques are so valuable for getting you through these intense early days. If it’s your second or subsequent baby, you might be less hit by the enormity of the physical challenge as it’s familiar territory, but you have the added emotional challenge of introducing your new baby into your household of other children and changing the status quo, possibly dealing with demands from your firstborn of “taking the baby back where we got him now” (true story). All of this brings with it lots of joy but also upheaval and mixed emotions. So, revisit deep breathing exercises to soothe your nervous system, every day.

Breathing and pelvic floor awareness exercises are suitable from 24 hours after your birth, whenever you feel ready.

Tearing, and episiotomy care and recovery

It can take up to a month for tears or cuts to heal and for episiotomy stitches to dissolve (small tears with no stitches usually heal faster than this). In that time you’ll probably be in some pain. Having an episiotomy or suffering a tear carries the risk of scarring. Make sure you take painkillers if you need to, and at a time that feels right for you when the area is no longer tender, internal massage is a great way of stimulating the healing process and breaking down the scar tissue, making sure there is minimal effect on your pelvic floor sensation on the long term.

  • Bathing in warm water and/or using a cushion (a special inflatable cushion can make sitting down more comfortable) can help.
  • If you’re still uncomfortable after a few weeks, make sure you speak to your midwife, health visitor or GP.

Here are some tips for this early healing period:

  • Keep the cut/tear and surrounding area clean.
  • After going to the toilet pour a jug of warm water over your perineum to rinse it. It’s ok to add some drops of tea-tree/witch hazel and lavender to this as well.
  • Going for a wee can be painful: it might help if you pee in the bath (just before getting out), or in a warm shower.
  • You might be scared to poo because you’re worried about pressure on the stitches. This fear causes a lot of extra discomfort and emotional distress. You can ask your midwife, GP or health visitor about medication to help you poo more easily. But again, deep breathing should be employed first and foremost.
  • After having a poo, make sure you wipe front to back, away from your vagina, to keep the stitches clean.
  • Place an ice-pack or ice-cubes, soaked in tea tree/lavender/witch hazel wrapped in a towel or cloth, onto the affected area, to relieve the pain. Or you can now buy ready made sprays which contain soothing and healing ingredients, such as Spritz for Bitz – which can also be used for caesarean wound healing (and for your baby’s nappy rash).
  • Restart pelvic floor awareness exercises as soon as you can after birth.  They enhance blood circulation, and aid the healing process.

For more postnatal tips, see the Fourth Trimester chapter in my Pilates for Pregnancy book, which so far has 10 5-star reviews! Thank you so much if you’ve enjoyed and reviewed it, I really appreciate the feedback.

Do you have any questions about postnatal recovery? I’m currently writing Postnatal Pilates, which will publish with Bloomsbury next year. Please send me your questions I’d love to try and help xxx

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Welcome to Motherhood

Welcome to Motherhood

I did a lovely live chat last night with Lauren, an inspiring author and motivational speaker, on her Facebook page This Girl is Enough. We talked about self care and wellness for mums – about how mums are so keen to put ourselves at the bottom of the care-for list, somewhere far below the neighbour’s dog.

The thing about looking after your mojo and wellbeing is that ultimately it benefits everyone around you. I know, quite simply, that I am a better person if I am calmer, if I’ve had some headspace, if I’ve done yoga or had a walk, gone for a swim. I feel triumphant when I prioritise my own wellbeing even if just for a morning stroll and don’t agonise over the things I “should” be doing instead. One of the things that Lauren quizzed me on when I talked about my meditation practice is “how do you manage to take 15 minutes to do that and not feel guilty?”…well, the honest answer is that the gain of that 15 minutes of breathing is way more powerful than the 15 minutes which might have been spent going through emails or checking something off on my to do list only to frantically remember that I have to put another 7 things onto it. And a refreshed spring in my step is nicer for my family to be around. I’m more patient… I have more empathy for my children’s huge emotions rather than feeling explosive and fractious in response. I’m more productive. I’m more energised. I’m … nicer.

Anya Hayes at a yoga and mindfulness retreat

This morning I taught my lovely group of Welcome to Motherhood mums, with their fourth trimester babies. We talked about Dr Oscar Serrallach’s brilliant The Postnatal Depletion Cure, and about just how much challenge physically being a new mum is. Yes, the rewards are high – you only have to hear that tinkle of a new baby’s laughter to struggle to feel like there is anything wrong in that moment – but the demands are huge.

I will be launching my new Motherhood Mojo Toolkit soon – drawing from my Pilates postnatal healing programme which I will be revealing in book form next year, I am creating a holistic mind–body programme which combines life coaching activities from The Supermum Myth plus elements from Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), to help you feel like the calmer, more balanced less frazzled mum that you would really like to be. She’s in there. I’m going to help you find her.

Anya Hayes with her two children

Watch this space. How are you feeling today?

xxx

You can buy The Supermum Myth here

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The art of breathing

The art of breathing

It all begins with the breath.

Did you realise that, although breathing is a natural reflex that all living animals perform, newborn babies have to learn to breathe? At first, nestled in your arms, you may notice how the breath comes in fits and starts, how unrhythmic it is, like an avant garde jazz session. The riff isn’t predictable. One slow, two quick, two slow… Sometimes anxiety-inducing long silent gaps between the breaths.

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Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

The natural fluid motion of the breath has to be established, the metronome to breathing has to be learnt. You actually teach your baby how to breathe, by modelling that rhythm. By taking deep, conscious, long breaths in their presence. By being close, and breathing alongside them. Creating that harmony of the breath for them, with them.

You breathe 22,000 a day. Are you conscious of…any of those breaths? It is something so ordinary and yet so miraculous.

Take a deep breath now. Deep and low, into your lower belly. Deep down into your pelvis. Send the breath far into your torso. And as you breathe out, feel the tension soften in your jaw, cheeks, shoulders.

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Photo by Bryan Schneider on Pexels.com

A gently rising and falling breath pattern stimulates your rest and digest, parasympathetic nervous system. The counterbalance for your stress response. This can calm your body and mind. You begin to soften and relax. Your body is soothed by restful hormones. Your thoughts, feelings, emotions can also be tamed and calmed by this physiological response. Slow, deep, long, soft.

Treat yourself like the newest of newborns. Learn how to breathe.

Do you consciously breathe at any point during the day? What are your thoughts on breathing as a calming tool? I’d love to know.

I’m at the beginning of my training to teach Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy – and coming back to the breath is one of the fundamental skills that we have to learn, to reduce our stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression in the longer term. Have you felt a positive effect of conscious breathing? Comment or DM me! xxx

The Supermum Myth
Anya Hayes’s two books Pregnancy: The Naked Truth and The Supermum Myth
World Mental Health Day – how are you?

World Mental Health Day – how are you?

It’s World Mental Health Day today. You wouldn’t feel ashamed to tell anyone you had sprained your ankle or had a sore throat. Yet we still layer our mental health with taboo and cultural patterns of secrecy and stiff upper lip.

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❇️According to figures from the World Health Organization – depression and anxiety are set to become the world’s 2nd biggest health burden by 2020. That’s basically now. A crisis matching heart disease for its effects on society. And yet, if we are allowed to begin to SEE our mental health in the way we’re encouraged to see our physical, perhaps we can help ourselves move away from this crisis by empowering ourselves and – crucially – noticing in others and coming from a place of support and understanding.

❇️ Everyone has physical health. Everyone has mental health. You might experience blips in each of these, throughout your life. And for each, it’s about learning the tools to keep them optimum in your day to day. It’s ok – normal – not to be ok all the time. It’s how you handle it long term that affects your mental health. You can control what you take on board in your mental challenges just as you can your physical. And you can aim to work on your mind as on your body. If you have an injury, go to phsyio. If you have a mental health crisis, find some way of counselling your way through to heal.

❇️ Lengthen your spine through Pilates, stretch your brain through mindfulness. A star jump here, a gratitude list there. Medicate and/or meditate. There should be no shame.

Happy world mental health day. How are you today? What do you do to maintain your mental health?

My essential mental health toolkit is:

❤️ Green space

❤️ Movement

❤️Meditation

❤️ Gratitude

❤️Being OK with not feeling OK all the time

❤️ Connection – seeking support rather than hibernating in hermit land (which is often what my mental health gremlin tells me to to do when feeling low).

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Look at some wonderful sources of wisdom, Emma @thepsychologymum, Suzy @suzyreading, Zoe @motherkind.co. You’re not alone ❤️

 

A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

A gratitude attitude – mindfulness and #everydayjoy

I recently recorded a podcast with the gorgeous Tamu Thomas, founder of Three Sixty and one half of the founders of Motherhood Reconstructed. I love Tamu’s ethos about life: “It’s time to recognise that we are valuable and create lives where we take time to feel our value.  I believe that when we feel our value we evoke a grounding sense of contentment and can appreciate everyday joys that tell us we are living rather than existing.” I can so identify with this, too often are we rolling along through life waiting for affirmation from external sources about our success or happiness? Tamu and I chatted about my experience of going through a huge bereavement when my best friend died 14 years ago. From that point onwards, I’ve always tried to forage around for moments of pure happiness, small spots of sunlight to pick out of even the greyest day. I guess that has been my way of picking myself up out of deep sadness/depression.

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I hadn’t ever labelled this “mindfulness” until recently, but now studying Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction the idea of noticing and consciously counting the small nuggets of  joy is coming up a lot. In The Supermum Myth we talk a lot about gratitude and how this can do huge things in terms of turning up the contentment levels in your life, gently and gradually filling up your reserves and building resilience in life and fostering an ability to see the silver lining, work through problems to find a way forward without being buried in your emotional response or weighed down by negative habits.

The Science of Gratitude

Current research from the University of California, has been studying the effects of gratitude on over 1,000 people. The participants in this research ranged in age from eight to 80, and were split into two groups. One group was asked to keep a journal, and to write five ‘gifts’ that they were grateful for each day. The other group had to write down five ‘hassles’. Some examples of the ‘gifts’ people noted were generosity of friends, and watching a sunset through the clouds. Examples of ‘hassles’ were things like difficulty in finding a parking space, waiting in queues or train delays.

Researchers found was that those who had consciously focused on gratitude on a daily basis experienced significant psychological, physical and social benefits: a 25% improvement in overall health and wellbeing in comparison with the group focussing on what had gone wrong each day.

So, this is a very quick daily exercise which will have a very powerful effect on your day. It’s a good habit to get into doing first thing in the morning or last thing at night. In that way, the grateful thoughts are more easily imprinted into your unconscious.

Bring to mind 10 things which you appreciate in your life today. It’s important to get to 10 things, even if at first you struggle to find one! This is exactly what the exercise is about – consciously bringing into your awareness the previously unnoticed smallest and specific elements of good in your day and life. And because your mind can only think of one thing at once, while you are focusing on the good aspects of your life you literally are unable to focus on anything that may be bringing you down or annoying you.

So, an example:

  1. I’m grateful for my children/parents/friends
  2. I’m grateful for my home, the roof over my head
  3. I’m grateful that it’s been a sunny day
  4. I’m grateful that I’ve got my health
  5. I’m grateful I’ve got eyes to see
  6. I’m grateful that my work provides a chance to interact with other people and socialise
  7. I’m grateful that I have food on the table when I want it
  8. I’m grateful that I had a nice cup of tea today
  9. I’m grateful for my favourite song coming on the radio
  10. I’m grateful that I had lots of compliments about my lovely shoes today

It may take time, drawing out 10 things that you are happy about. But once this becomes a habit you’ll actively be seeking and noticing in the moment things that you will later call upon in your gratitude list. Imagine doing this every day, that’s 70 things you appreciate a week. And what about a year?

If you think about it, it’s easy to see how this can have a very positive effect on your thought processes and the way your brain works, your mental habits. Imagine how that could have an immensely  positive effect on your life – and happiness levels?

Often we don’t even know how much we have. It’s a cliche but we take so much for granted in the modern world: clean running water, shops to buy things at our convenience, transport, household appliances…we become so blind to the things that make our lives easy and so our happiness levels simply don’t take them into account. It’s time to start noticing the small things again. #everydayjoy

Do you practise gratitude consciously? Could you? Does it appeal as an idea or does it sound like a lot of work for not much payback? I’d love to hear from you

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xxx

Yoga and Mindfulness – Retreats for the mind, body, soul

Yoga and Mindfulness – Retreats for the mind, body, soul

I have been on a few yoga retreats in my life…and looking back, they’ve always been at transitional  or turbulent moments of my life. My first experience of a yoga retreat was in December 2004 in Thailand….my best friend had died 6 weeks before, and I was in the deep visceral clutches of bereavement and waves of grief. I felt a real pull to a yoga retreat I had seen signs for on the beach in Koh Phangan (a beach where I had been a few times since 2001, always noticed the sign, never plucked up the courage to answer my curiosity and see where it take me), and doing yoga on a gazebo in the middle of a coconut jungle was exactly what my broken heart needed at that time. And also where I decided that life was too short to waste time, so had an epiphany to train as a Pilates teacher.

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Retreat number 2 was in France the following summer, 2005, and happened to be booked to coincide with the day after splitting up with my boyfriend of 8 years. The week of barefoot walking silent meditation, secluded corners to read books and ponder life, within a beautiful chateau’s garden, daily yoga, gorgeous food and wine was, looking back, definitely the right place to be going through the very early phases of surreal heartbreak. Yoga to heal the broken soul, once again.

Retreat number 3: Ibiza Retreats for my 40th birthday. Four nights of blissful peaceful sleep, after 15 months of having been woken every hour or two by a beautifully sleepless Freddie babe. Not so much broken in soul but definitely in spirit. Heart full but mojo AWOL, identity muddled, the new mum survival mode phase of motherhood where everything is like pieces of a puzzle scattered around the floor with no real time or focus to put them in the right place. This few days gave me a bit of puzzle-orientation.

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And now this retreat I’ve just had the pleasure of being on, in the rolling hills of Andalusia, Lunar Lemon Retreats. I can’t describe how nourishing and soothing this retreat was. Run by gorgeous Brighton-based yoga teacher Mel Melvin who weaves in her experience in dance, movement therapy, mindfulness, this retreat was a tonic for body, mind, spirit, soul. Two yoga sessions a day, the morning one was energising and strengthening, the evening was the purest of Yin yoga, nurturing, balancing, calming. The food at the villa was beautiful to look at and to eat. And my days were spent reading, swimming, enjoying the exquisite peace….I feel lighter and rejuvenated from 4 days of being cradled in the mountains around Malaga and I cannot recommend Mel’s retreats enough.

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Have you ever been on a retreat? What was your biggest take home memory/feeling? Mine has been to rediscover a love of that soft meandering summer holiday feeling of savouring a good book. And the wonderful feeling of waking up and honouring my body with yoga, breath, movement. Namaste…. xxx