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.

cropped-073a93232.jpg

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

Advertisements
Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

Mindfulness for pregnancy, birth… and motherhood

Mindfulness is definitely a buzzword, like many a new fad in the wellness industry we may have reached peak saturation in terms of hearing about this as a skill/method/technique. Which is a shame as I think it makes people roll their eyes when they hear the word, rather than prick up their ears. How do you feel about mindfulness? For me, it has been transformational in terms of my day to day length of tether. Sleep deprivation and the associated other demands on your body and mind through pregnancy and motherhood can leave you feeling scattered, tetchy, angry, Hulk Mum. Mindfulness offers a bit of a pause, a life buoy for those moments when you feel like you’ve fallen into a choppy sea of anxiety or anger.

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a mental discipline that enables us to respond differently to challenging circumstances, sensations, emotions and thoughts rather than follow our habitual reactions. Mindfulness is now widely considered to be an inherent quality of human consciousness  – what makes us human is our capacity to turn our attention and awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness can be cultivated through meditation practice and increases engagement with what our habits and behaviours are, allowing for a clearer understanding of how your thoughts and emotions can impact on our health and how much we enjoy our life.

Mindfulness-based approaches in healthcare began in the late 1970s the USA with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme at the University of Massachusetts. In the 1990s Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) was developed; drawing from CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and MBSR, by Mark Williams at Oxford University, John Teasdale at Cambridge and Zindel Segal in Canada. MBCT is now a recognised and recommended way of reducing the risk of recurrence in depression and anxiety disorders (NICE 2009).

The definition of Mindfulness

‘The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non- judgmentally’
Kabat-Zinn (2005)

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems during pregnancy, with around 12% of women experiencing depression and 13% experiencing anxiety at some point – many women will experience both. Depression and anxiety also affect 15–20% of women in the first year after childbirth.

Information from NICE 2014 Female health: The Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), Using information supplied in 2013 by members of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ perinatal faculty

How can Mindfulness help in pregnancy and motherhood?

  • MBCT is already established and recommended by NICE as an effective treatment for the prevention of recurrent depression
  • Research into the prevention of depression in pregnancy and the postnatal period has not yet identified an effective treatment (Dennis et al 2005)
  • Early research suggests mindfulness could be beneficial in the perinatal period

‘Participants showed increased childbirth self-efficacy and a trend towards lower pain catastrophizing and significantly lower depression symptoms post-course than controls; the difference grew in magnitude postpartum’

 Duncan, L et al (2014). Mind in Labor: Effects of mind/body training on childbirth appraisals and pain medication use during labor

‘A mindfulness-based course that combines mindfulness training with information and coping methods regarding pregnancy, childbirth and parenting concerns is more likely to optimise maternal well-being during this unique and important reproductive interval’

CM Guardino et al (2013) Randomised controlled pilot trial of mindfulness training for stress reduction during pregnancy

  • Practising mindfulness allows you to cultivate skills to enhance pain management, release stress, anxiety and other scrunchy emotions during the often turbulent transition to parenthood and, well,  everyday life with small people
  • You learn to truly pay attention to present moment experiences (sensations, thoughts, feelings), what you’re feeling right here, right now, deliberately and non-judgementally
  • Mindfulness help participants to see more clearly the patterns of the mind, helping to avoid an escalation of swirly negative thinking and the tendency to be functioning on autopilot
  • Mindfulness for childbirth and parenting has the potential to reduce the risk of postnatal depression and increase your ‘availability’ of attention for the baby. Offers you a buffer for those days when everything is a bit pharghhhnnngggg!  Literally offers you a bit of breathing space to process and respond rather than constantly react.
  • All the skills you learn through focusing on mindfulness are relevant throughout  pregnancy, through your childbirth experience and day to day parenting … and are transferrable life skills – for the whole of motherhood life.

What I love about mindfulness approaches

The thing that I personally find so effective about the mindful approach is that it works with YOU, with your body, your senses, your thoughts, it’s simply a way of tuning into your internal radio which is constantly playing. It works beautifully with movement such as Pilates, so for me it’s a natural link to what I already teach mums for working with their body – looking to have a similar focus on the mechanics of the mind as well. It’s simply offering you a kind of map to understanding your mind and being able to navigate without feeling so lost. Steering yourself as opposed to being blown by the winds of your mind without realising.

Are you interested in finding out more about how mindfulness can help you in pregnancy and birth, and can help you in your mothering day? Have a look in The Supermum Myth, there are plenty of mindfulness-based activities within, which will start to foster a deeper connection and awareness of your mental landscape. And in Pilates for Pregnancy I offer lots of mindfulness-based approaches for your BODY-MIND, including some hypnobirthing techniques for your birth experience.

I offer one-to-one coaching packages and workshops for pregnancy and early motherhood, helping you to be the calmer, confident mum you always knew you could be. Get in touch if you’d like to work with me.

How are you today?

Anya Hayes mindfulness for motherhood

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.

woman in grey pants holding black and purple stroller
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.

Yoga and Mindfulness
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
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.

IMG_2316

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.

IMG_2399

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.

IMG_2461

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

Make Birth Better

Make Birth Better

Two years ago I birthed my my book Pregnancy: The Naked Truth. A doula in your pocket. Non-judgmental preparation for pregnancy and birth. Also features my Freddie elective caesarean birth story and the lovely Nicola @toomuchmotheringinformation’s second-time natural birth story with her beautiful Zach.

IMG_2634

All birth is legitimate birth. I felt after my first – crash caesarean where my baby had to be resuscitated and I ended up feeling slightly battered – that I “hadn’t really given birth”. Sad and bonkers, right? Somehow we judge some births as more respectable than others. Gold standard super birth vs birthing failure. We judge ourselves very harshly – I feel probably still deep down that I “didn’t do as well” as friends of mine who’ve had home births – but then, is there a general societal judgement too?

All birth is a huge powerful event, and there is no failure in birth. Traumatic birth shouldn’t be dismissed because “at least you have a healthy baby”.

073A9323
The Supermum Myth

I listened to Scummy Mummies podcast yesterday with Rebecca Schiller about birth rights, and how giving birth can be so disempowering. But also how objectively “horrific” births may not actually be traumatic if you feel listened to, supported and respected during your experience. That’s why taking on anyone else’s anxieties and fears of birth is never useful – we all process events differently. Learning about birth, about processes and procedures, what might happen, knowing your options, who you can ask for what when, is so important in allowing you a bit more confidence going into your experience. A positive birth isn’t necessarily a natural birth with lavender oil and scented candles. A positive birth could also be an emergency caesarean which is well managed in its compassion and humanity. It’s all about your mindset and resilience – which you have the power to change and influence.

IMG_0610

That’s why I’m thrilled to be part of the Make Birth Better network. Set up by Emma Svanberg (above), whose words of calming lovely wisdom you can read more of in the What’s in Your Toolkit series. Emma is a perinatal clinical psychologist working in private practice in North London, having worked previously in the NHS in primary care perinatal services. Emma is a huge advocate and campaigner for positive birth and parenting, and uses social media to raise awareness of common perinatal mental health concerns. She is also a hypnobirthing teacher and the Perinatal Mental Health Advisor for the Positive Birth Movement. Make Birth Better is set to become an amazing resource for women and their partners going into pregnancy and motherhood. Knowledge is power. Birth is amazing, in all its raw powerful forms.

What has been your experience of birth, pregnancy, motherhood – were there aspects you felt you weren’t prepared for which came as a shock? Did you have a traumatic birth which you still feel the effects of? I’d love to know – get in touch or comment below xxx

img_0435

You’ve just had a baby! What now?!

You’ve just had a baby! What now?!

It’s a rollercoaster time, the newborn phase. It’s a watershed of all of the anticipation of the past nearly-year, finally holding your baby in your arms (and even more if you’ve been trying for a while). You will probably feel exhilarated and ecstatic. But you also might feel pummelled by your experience, a bit shocked and really, really tired. Be honest with those close to you, and try to be gentle with yourself. Be careful about allowing hundreds of visitors in to see the baby if you really don’t feel up to it. It is an immensely joyful and lovely time taking your baby home, but it is also unprecedentedly stressful, and if you’re trying to establish breastfeeding it can have a detrimental effect to have visitors vying for your baby’s cuddles.

IMG_2250

Give yourself a break if you don’t feel 100 per cent happy every moment. Emotions run high and ‘baby blues’ are to be expected a few days after birth, usually coinciding with your milk fully coming in (whether you breastfeed or not) and the exhaustion of 24-hour days taking its toll. If you are feeling very on edge, anxious, or detached and depressed by the time your six-week check comes around, please reach out to your health visitor or GP and ask what support there is available. There should be no stigma to mental health issues postnatally, so please don’t succumb to ‘I’m fine’ syndrome if you’re anything but.

Keep a close eye on your mental health for the first year of your baby’s life – and beyond. Each phase of motherhood brings different challenges; things get easier but something else always gets harder. Your sleep deprivation might accumulate and have an effect on your resilience. So be kind to yourself. Always come back to your breathing tools, and your awareness of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety.

 

IMG_1116

Now is NOT the time to be thinking about ‘getting your body back’. You have your body now and it’s incredible. Look what it created!

Clients often say to me that in the postnatal period they feel like their body isn’t their own. You might have loved your baby bump, and now your belly wobbles like a deflating water balloon. It’s hard to come to terms with, and you must be patient with yourself. Internally it feels like everything’s been swapped around, as if all the furniture in your house has been surreptitiously rearranged, and maybe a supporting wall has been knocked down. I will not hear of you wanting to get a at tummy or be back in your skinny jeans. This is about connecting to your body, re- establishing your breathing, your pelvic floor, your awesome abdominals that have housed your baby for the past nearly-year.

You might feel low or even despairing about your postnatal body. But please, this time of recovery is so crucial that you will reap the most rewards if you don’t rush it. Try to go against the societal grain and cultivate some compassion for your body, which has done so much miraculous work over the past year. IT TAKES TIME to recover your strength. And, like it or not, HIIT, ‘body shreds’ and Power Pramming are not the way forward initially, which can be a bitter pill to swallow if you were a gym bunny pre-children.

img_6857

Be patient with yourself. Be the tortoise not the hare. It is really important to take the time to recover well and fully from childbirth, to help prevent problems with future pregnancies and in your pelvic floor for life.

My new book Pilates for Pregnancy is out in August – preorder it here!

Perfect Night’s Sleep

Perfect Night’s Sleep

Sleep. The number one thing that most mums yearn for more of. What if you could bottle it, hey?

Well…I think that NEOM Organics are pretty much there with their Sleep range including new gorgeous skincare which has launched this year.

I’ve been a fan of NEOM for years – it’s my husband’s failsafe for birthday and anniversary presents. When I escaped for a 4-day yoga retreat in Ibiza with my best friend for our 40th birthdays, I took with me the Sleep set including pillow spray and hand cream and, I swear… I still fantasise about that 4-night sleep, it was bloody amazing. Every night I spritzed my pillow, put in earplugs, and BOOM (or…something that sounds more restful than boom…), a whole night of restful rejuvenating proper actual sleep awaited me. It was honestly the best few days of sleep I can ever recall in my life (although, ok, I hadn’t slept for longer than 2 hours for 15 months by this point so my benchmark might have been fairly low, lolz) . I still find the Neom Sleep scent so powerful for conjuring up immediately that memory of calm and peace in an instant. Aaaaahhhhhh. Ibiza, here I come…

So, I’m completely delighted to be able to announce that I’m going to be part of the NEOM wellbeing expert panel as their Mums Wellness & Pilates expert.

I’ve been using the Sleep range fairly religiously for the past month to counterbalance the relentlessness of being mum of two wonderful and bonkers boys… who appear not to need as much sleep as I feel is just and right for my life (deep sigh).

When I had my first baby my skincare routine went out the window…and that was part of my real loss of identity because up until this point I had been bordering on obsessed about my skincare…and suddenly no time (let alone sleep) was devoted to beauty. I became really craggy and there was certainly no radiance to speak of – no glow from within as if a light had been switch off. This really affected my self esteem and became a bit of a negative cycle of loss of identity and self love: loss of self care strategies led me to feel I wasn’t worth self care strategies as there was no point as I had so far to go to get “back to normal”.

I’ve since learnt that I really need to access this part of myself, looking after my skin and the face that faces the world, in order to feel “like me”. So when Freddie my littlest was born I chose to make time every night to cleanse properly and give myself a facial massage.

Do you use face oils? What’s your skincare regime – do you have one? Lots of people are a bit nervous of putting oil onto their face, worried that it will make their skin feel greasy, but it really doesn’t. It feels gorgeous and indulgent… Oils can actually help to stabilise and regulate the overproduction of sebum.

The Perfect Night’s Sleep facial oil contains a beautiful blend of skin-nurturing essential oils. Rosehip oil which is bursting with nourishing fatty acids to help with skin’s moisture levels, pigmentation. It’s an incredible antioxidant and one of the best ingredients to help dry skin emerge blinking with a glow after this long winter. Almond oil softens, calms and helps retain moisture.

The oil is super relaxing, smells sublime and a dream to massage into skin. I love it – It’s the perfect blend for a mini facial.  I use it after my nightly cleansing routine, just before bed. It’s my evening ritual to pamper myself and “reset” my skin (or my nerves after a frazzled day!).

Depending on how dry my skin is, or how dull or tired it looks (hmm, let’s not discuss that too deeply right now…), I put anything from two to six drops in the palm of my hand, take a few lungfuls of calming deep breaths, fully inhaling the sleep-inducing fragrance of the oils. Then I rub the oil between my hands to warm it up, and give my face a really good massage. I like to work it deeply into the skin with enough pressure to stimulate circulation which is really nourishing for glowing skin. A good facial massage increases the blood supply to the face, giving it a healthy glow. It also helps relieve tension from your facial muscles which we hold onto without even realising (bitchy resting face, anyone?). Massage can even help increase muscle tone and strength. Daily facial massage can work wonders for your skin, plus it’s immensely calming as a ritual before bed – win win.

I have a bedtime routine, what’s yours? I mean, we do for our children so why not for ourselves, right? Do you have a bedtime night time routine which helps you release the pressures of the day, switch off – and sleep better?

Modern life (and technology) makes it so hard to fully switch off, plus I work from home, so often the work/life balance falls well out of kilter. So I’m now much more conscious of making sure I have a non-negotiable routine in place that helps me unwind before bed. Last year I stopped taking my phone into the bedroom – this means I don’t look at Instagram or emails right before falling asleep – scrolling is never conducive to a good night’s rest with no anxiety! My phone lives in the kitchen, and quite frankly who needs an alarm clock when your children are always up by 6am?!

Soothing and calming scents (lavender, chamomile, jasmine) transport my mind and body instantly towards sleep mode, so I love NEOM body oils and lighting a candle in the bedroom in the hour before bed. Before laying my head on the pillow I use the pillow spray and have a few minutes of deeeeeeeep breathing, calming the mind. I don’t call it my “meditation practice” but clearing the mind by taking a broom to sweep out anxiety and clutter is meditation and definitely lays the foundations for a better night.

If I’ve got a bit more time to play with for my evening routine, I always use magnesium salts or Neom’s Perfect Night’s Sleep Bath & Shower Drops in a lovely hot bath.

For the past 15 years I’ve used hot cloth cleansing balms such as Eve Lom, Organic Pharmacy carrot butter cleanser, and Neals Yard Therapies Wild Rose Beauty Balm as a staple in my cleansing and evening self care routine. So it was pretty much a given that I was going love the new Neom Sleep cleansing balm.

This is my ritual every night. Every night – however much motherhood mayhem is going on. It prepares me mentally for bed and means I sleep better (even if that sleep is interrupted by renegade small people it can still be a restful overall experience if I gift myself this pre-bed time) and my skin definitely looks better. It makes me feel calmer and more ready to face the world, carving out just that non-negotiable 7 minutes of s p a c e. And it lays the foundation for realising that self care is the least selfish thing in the world – when I’m calmer I’m a much, MUCH nicer person to be around.

Tell me about your sleep rituals! What do you do to stay rested and sane?

I’d love to hear

Xxx

Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

Control freak? – Motherhood, identity, exhaustion, PND

I’ve never really thought of myself as a control freak, I’ve always thought I was relatively easy going and serene. But I guess, up until I had a baby I had never had to fully relinquish control about anything.

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth new mum
Anya with newborn Maurice

From the moment I was induced, any semblance of control that had been set in scribe in my “Birth Plan” was swept away in the rapids. My vision of motherhood had been one of calm contentedness, I thought having a baby was maybe a bit like having a cat – plenty of  loving attachment but you could still make toast and have a shower without always holding them. Such a shock to the system that the reality was an oft-screaming unputdownable barnacle.

I didn’t realise – or rather ever need to acknowledge – that my mental state was nurtured carefully by different controlling practices when I felt under par. Time alone – I am an introvert who is recharged by solace and time to breathe alone. Too much solitude nudges me into self-critical thoughts and reclusive behaviours, but just enough keeps me charged and content. Exercise: Pilates, yoga, swimming… Pampering luxuries such as facials. Sleep…. But now, in the newborn chaos I no longer had this control of anything – I couldn’t keep my environment in a way that eased my anxiety in any way.  I couldn’t control when I could do yoga, have any time alone, suddenly even having a shower seemed like a feat with an obstacle course in front of it.  The detritus of a messy flat and lack of being able even to cook myself some lunch would leave me agitated, with an overriding sense of failure, particularly when Ione of my NCT group used to entertain us with a spread of home-baked goods and sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and I felt like a shambles in comparison.

Anya Hayes The Supermum Myth
Anya with Maurice aged 10 weeks

Being alone all day with a baby that would only nap on my chest. A fretful baby who cried so much that I once called NHS Direct as he had been crying for over two hours with no respite. I simply couldn’t cope with being so useless at this mothering thing. He was so tiny as a newborn that he fed almost constantly in the first 10 weeks, and didn’t ever sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a time, day or night. There is no “sleep when your baby sleeps” under these circumstances.

Exhausted. Feelings of failure. Lack of control. These are all, without the baby in the mix, legitimate reasons for being low or needing support around you, but when you have a baby there is still less sympathy for the idea that you might be anything but 100% delighted that you are lucky enough to have a baby in your arms.  I remember texting a friend that I “now understand how women get postnatal depression”…and I didn’t hear back from her.

You give so much of yourself when you have a particularly fussy baby. With ALL babies of course, you give give give as a mum of this there is no doubt, but so much more so if your baby has a fussy temperament or issues with reflux or colic. Constantly pre-empting and meeting their needs; rocking, swaying, dancing, holding, feeding, walking, endless walking… Your needs or any semblance of “down time” or “me time” are a distant memory. Waking up feeling already so heavy about the prospects of the day ahead. what kind of meltdowns, how much crying the day held?  As if walking with a sack full of rocks. An overwhelming sense of incompetence?  It feels like everyone  else is coping better. But does everyone else simply have a mask on?

IMG_2248

Treasure every moment. Blessed. There IS overwhelming love. But there is unrelenting exhaustion in that moment too. And this chips away at your mental resilient and ability to see your own self-efficacy, the things that you ARE achieving brilliantly. I certainly didn’t feel like I was doing a good job with Maurice, I often felt utterly overwhelmed by his 24-hour needs, and this sleep deprivation seeped through all my experience and meant joy of motherhood was at times overshadowed by a sense of failure.

Being so physically connected and attached to your baby 24/7 – no long stretches of sleep from him for me to feel a physical space and boundary, to ring fence where I finished and Maurice began, you begin to lose your identity. All the pillars of self care that I used to adhere to without really thinking about it were kicked out from underneath me. Sleep, first and foremost. Exercise. Alone time. Space. Work – my career is important to me. Earning my own money, as a self-employed person my earnings have always relied on my scrappiness and determination, my constant feelers out for work. Suddenly work is fettered by your commitments elsewhere, and when you’re self-employed it can feel like you’ve been set adrift on a homemade raft into unchartered choppy seas.

Gradually, there was a mojo reboot with Maurice, sleep returned and so did my sense of identity – I could make sense of the Mum Me and the Pre-mum Me harmonising.

img_0824

Having a second child, though, has challenged this ownership of who I am even further. Recent studies have suggested that symptoms of postnatal depression can peak 4 years after the birth of your baby. At the moment, with my second, we have never enjoyed a reliable good night’s sleep. That’s 3 years of relentless sleep deprivation. And I have never even remotely recovered my earning potential since having my first child, and at times it can feel frustratingly like I’ve fallen into a career confidence trough out of which I’ll never clamber. I know in my heart that this has stemmed from a good place, that I have tried to crowbar my career around being there for my children, but at times that doesn’t provide much solace to soften the feelings of career failure.

This week is. case in point and crystallises how I’ve been feeling over the past 3 years at times where I feel like I’m gathering a favourable wind in my sails, something comes to stop it dead. I was supposed to have a full day of childcare today: to plan, to research, to have some calm, solace, introverts recharge kind of time. And last night Freddie was sick and so couldn’t go to nursery and all my plans had to be sacrificed. Making plans and having to inevitably sacrifice them can be the real splinter in a Mum’s bottom.

cropped-img_5639.jpg

So, I just wanted to extend a hand of friendship to any mum out there doing the mum juggle and feeling like some days you’re really not winning. You’re not alone. It is so hard to keep plates spinning, keep your children alive, thriving, happy, while also tending to your self-care and career and all the various facets which make up your identity. We’re in it together. Sending you love. And tea. And a child-free loo visit.

img_0905

New Year Wellness toolkit

New Year Wellness toolkit

New year, new you, all the headlines shout enthusiastically. We might write energetic resolutions in our new 2018 journals, or we might shrink further back into the sofa clutching our Merlot and saying bah humbug. Whatever your approach to the new year, you can guarantee that there’s an element of transition about the passing of December into January, an anxiety or a sense of hope, whichever way you frame it.

IMG_2286

My approach to resolutions this year is to call them Daily Resolutions rather than New Year’s Resolutions. I always feel that setting a daily intention is far more effective than creating a huge stone block etched with long-term goals, which seem unattainable and unrealistic once you hit the first inevitable pothole in the road towards it – the first runny cold day that;s a barrier to your Run Every Day, or the first toddler sickness meaning that you don’t get to the gym. And once we’re tripped up at that hurdle it becomes easier to slink back into “old ways” and then the inner critic takes the microphone berating your lack of achievement.

This week I spoke to the lovely Zoe Blaskey who has founded Motherkind.co, to offer mums a way to “reconnect to you in the mayhem of motherhood”. I love Zoe’s ethos – closely aligned to mine – about how we need to be gentle with ourselves and simply learn how to see the positive in what we’re doing rather than settling on the relentlessness and the feelings of failure that can characterise our daily mum lives. I had the honour of recording a podcast with Zoe, so watch this space for when you can listen to it. We talked about self care and how mothers can sometimes fall so down their own lists that it doesn’t even occur to us to take stock of how balanced our emotions are, what our internal dialogue is, how our body is feeling. That niggly back and neck might be crying out for you to rest, to take some time to breathe, to lengthen and meditate, to clear out the clutter of your mind and offer yourself some space. Zoe asked me what my go-to selfcare tools were in the moment, when things get all sweary and overwhelming. So here they are:

IMG_2121

  1. Breathe…so obvious, so boring…so underused as a soothing tool. We often live permanently in a state of fight or flight, permanently attached to our phones and the stress inducing white noise that is coming from them. We never think to stop and offer ourselves a moment of peace and pause. So for me, breathing is my immediate soother. Take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of 5. Long, wide, full breath feeling it releasing back into the ribcage and sides. And then sigh the breath out through your mouth, as if you’re fogging a window in front of you. The longer exhalation is a trigger for the parasympathetic nervous system to step in and take over: to take your hand, stroke your brow, make you some chicken noodle soup. This is your rest and digest system. And an essential counterbalance to your fight or flight. Humans were created to be alert for danger, for that sabre toothed tiger in the bushes. We need to look for danger as otherwise we would be eaten. But now, that seeking danger manifests itself in anxiety attacks in Tesco, or panicking about your parenting decisions. No longer life or death, but with the same physiological stress responses. So breathing lifts you out of that spiral, coaxes you back to peace.
  2. Move. Moving my body is an essential. Imagine a pond. If there is no fresh water introduced to the pond over time, it becomes stagnant. The same goes for your body if you don’t encourage circulation, blood flow, fresh oxygen, a bit of a massage for your internal organs. Think about a cat, when it gets up from a nap it wouldn’t dream of not stretching. Humans have forgotten this instinctive movement need. Release mental stress by moving your physical body. Whatever that means for you: star jumps, squats – I always squat wile the kettle is boiling – roll downs, some yoga. Squeeze it into your day, little and often. Think about movement not “exercise” and you will reframe how you see your body, It might encourage lightbulb moments for things that are troubling you as you shift your mental energy as well. Move move move.
  3. Verbalise. I always vocalise when I feel I’m at meltdown point. If I’m in the swirly whirl of a tornado induced by toddler craziness, no sleep, lost keys. I catch myself in the moment and say “it’s ok. It’s ok to feel stressed. You’re exhausted and overwhelmed”…say whatever you’re feeling, and say it to yourself calmly and out loud. Apart from anything else, it might make you feel silly and immediately release the charge of the moment. But it also validates what is happening and allows you a mindful pause. It’s ok to have those moments of anger, stress, chaos. Verbalising it makes it easier to pass.
  4. Drink a glass of water. So simple. So easy to forget. Go and have one now.
  5. Green space. If you’re feeling stressed, go outside and find yourself a tree to gaze at. Or a cloud passing by. Something not man made. Something that will lift you out of your moment and into the universe. Forest bathe.
  6. Gratitude: a longer term tool, not necessarily for the moment, although looking for silver linings is a skill to be developed on the go if you can. Every day I write a gratitude list. The smallest things that were highlights: a cuddle from Freddie, a hot cup of tea. Or bigger things, a work offer, something unexpected in the post. intangible things: long term friends and their support and love; or tangible: the roof over your head. Gratitude enables you to foster a more optimistic outlook every day, which will inform your daily actions, decisions, choices every day. Which will create a positive cycle in your life, and crucially, enable you to develop a clock of resilience for those times in life which are more challenging and stressful.
  7. Meditation: this one is a bit Woo woo, and lots of people roll their eyes and switch off. “I can’t meditate, I think too much”…well, that IS meditation. Mediation is shaking out the dust in your carpet. Think about your mind as gathering years of dust from your daily thoughts, actions, events, heartbreak, triumph. If you never shake it out, it will just layer and layer and stay there and fester and become vague and unhelpful. Meditation allows space for it to bubble up and be assimilated. Released. Digested. Forgiven. It doesn’t have to be a seated Buddha incense type meditation, although I that works for you then great. It can simply be SPACE. 2 minutes, 30 seconds of space and intent focus on your mind. Focus rather than inattention and distraction (phone, anyone?). Mindful rather than mindless. Sometimes uncomfortable, rather than numbing and avoiding. You will find clarity and peace. Go on, try it. Breathe.

img_0426

I’m speaking at the Lucky Things event this Saturday, I was so excited to be invited by Sunita to talk about all things wellbeing in body and mind. I’m really looking forward to it, can’t wait to see you all there, so if you’re coming, come and say hi!

What are your selfcare tools? Do you have a toolkit at your disposal? You may have one without actually noticing it: gathering together consciously what seems to help you in those FFS moments into a selfcare toolkit list will make it easier to access it when you need it.

Why not make 2018 the year that you set an intention every day, to look to the positive, to break down your huge goals into smaller daily intentions, measurable and realistic.

Here’s to a healthy and happy 2018.

img_0905

 

Wellbeing hacks for busy mamas

Wellbeing hacks for busy mamas

We all have those days where the rhythm is just “off” and from start to finish things seem to be on the wrong trajectory.
IMG_6013
I’m on Day 6 of my 66-days to positive habits – it takes an average of 66 repeated acts for humans to create habits (and sadly, much fewer to break them) and as part of creating a positive atmosphere around my daily decision making and mindset I’ve been immersing myself in positive wellbeing podcasts such as MoxieCast and the Supermum Podcast.
It’s making me much more conscious of how i can get a positive mindset back on track quickly so as not to be derailed for the entire day. It’s so easy to “write off” a day that’s started diabolically (zero sleep, lost keys, children refusing to put shoes on, more insanely awful news on the radio GAAAAAAHHH) and allow the frazzled state of mind to just gather momentum as the day progresses.
This frazzled mindset can lead to bad decision making in terms of thinking “sod it” to that packet of crisps that you don’t really even fancy, or ploughing through an entire bottle of wine and a bar of chocolate on a Tuesday evening, or staying up until way past midnight scrolling your social media or working when you could be connecting with your partner, or nourishing your soul by sleeping.
What we need for those FFS! mothering moments are:
5 easy hacks to get back on track 
1. SCENT 
I’m a big fan of squirting, swooshing, rolling and spritzing scent to uplift and energise. Thats because scent can transport you to another world in an instant. A happier, nicer smelling world. So when I’m feeling low of energy I have a few wonderful scents in my toolkit:
  • Anything by NEOM is always gratefully received by my senses.
  • Scentered roll on balms are simply amazing. I first discovered them at a Jody Shield event, and I’ve been hooked ever since. My favourite is the Sleep Balm at night, and during those testing moments during the day, Escape: a mixture of Oud, Frankincense and Sandalwood which instantly creates a tranquil atmosphere of a Balinese spa.

IMG_1547

  • Earth Mama Angel Baby Happy Mama Spray saw me through both pregnancies and I still use it as a room spray for my Pregnancy Pilates classes. It’s a happy blend of energising and uplifting essential oils including lime and ginger
  • Absolute Aromas Equilibrium blend of essential oils which includes Rose, Frankincense, Bergamot: one sniff and it instantly soothes and balances.

2. BREATHE
Such a simple hack this one it shouldn’t even need saying, but, well, simplicity is key to a balanced life, no? Breathe.

In those moments where you’re having to go back into your house for the 5th time to retrieve something else you’ve forgotten, your toddler is having a meltdown and your 5 year old is cross with you for making him wear suncream, and you wonder what happened to your old life where things seemed peaceful and in control…? Those moments. Soften into the moment. Take a 5 second inhale, and allow an 8 second exhale. Ahh.

3. SMILE
You’re never fully dressed without a smile. OK, sometimes legitimately you really don’t feel like smiling you feel more like growling, and that is totally normal and to be expected from a healthily balanced life.

IMG_1462.JPG

But, just occasionally, notice if you’re wearing your woes on your face without even realising it and it’s causing your soul to feel sullen and woeful too. I suffer from Bitchy Resting Face syndrome – so does Kate Moss, I’m in good company – but sometimes I allow this to linger into my internal dialogue, and it can be shrugged off very easily simply by smiling. When you smile, you fool your brain into stimulating the happy hormone response, and so it gives you an instant boost, even if it’s just a placebo. Say, CHEESE! Being goofy might then trigger an actual smile because you feel like a wally doing it.

4. CHECK IN WITH YOUR POSTURE
Notice if you’re slumped forward, not breathing (see above…), tucking your bottom under, rolling your head down and squishing your heart and lungs. Open, unfurl, lengthen, look up. LOOK UP. Revitalise by imagining the effects of water on a wilting plant.

You can encourage yourself to unwilt, by opening your chest, lengthening your spine, breathing wide and full into that new space that has been created in your torso.

5. FACE PALM
There is a magic spot used in Traditional Chinese Medicine which is the point in between the brows, the third eye chakra. I once spoke to an Acupuncturist friend of mine who used to work with violent criminals on a rehabilitation programme in prison.
He said he favoured this pressure point when treating these men, which sent even the most aggressively fraught man into a blissed out space.
Karen Cannon, a blogger, wellbeing & self-love junkie, and “wisdom guru” (I love that title) interviewed psychologist Suzy Reading (who has featured here on What’s in Your Toolkit)  on her blog recently and her answer recalled my acupuncturist friend’s anecdote about this spot:
What is your go to thing for comfort when it all gets too much?
Think of Homer Simpson saying d’oh! He instantly brings his hand to his forehead. When we experience shock, this is the common place hard-wired response – to either bring the back of your hand to your brow, or if you are sitting, you rest your head in your hands. It is instantly soothing for your parasympathetic nervous system and helps mediate the stress response.
This is the first thing I turn to when I need comfort. It may be in the form of earthing my brow if I am seated at a table, if I’m on the go, I will make two gentle fists and press them into my forehead as if I were massaging imaginary horns or I surrender in a yoga childs pose. Try it!
Feel how it connects you with a feeling or peace and ease. Physically it softens your eyes and jaw and tension melts away.
So there you have it people. 5 easy hacks to get your mindset back on track.
Let me know how you get on!