Take a Mental Minibreak

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not into sport, I exercise to try and lose weight, but if I woke up a size 10 tomorrow, I reckon I wouldn’t bother so much with all that sweating and unpleasant bending. I do enjoy walking though, and last week on a trip to the Lake District I had a bit of a lightbulb moment

 

As I trudged and puffed up a mountain, I realised that for a while I hadn’t thought about anything much except putting one foot in front of the other. My mind was blank. Now, this is rare for me. Unusually, I was completely focused on the task in hand, and because I was working so hard, I wasn’t able to think about anything.

 

Thinking = bad

Thinking is something that gets us into trouble. We think ourselves into a right state, instead of being in the right state. How many times have you made something worse by thinking about it? How much time do you spend inside your head, either living in the past or in the future?

 

If you have been to any of Suffolk Babies’ antenatal classes you will recognise the importance of not thinking during labour – disengaging your conscious brain is really useful in reducing stress. From studying the effects of meditation on the brain, it has been proven that people who spend more time in a meditative state (i.e. not thinking) are calmer, more resilient, and respond better to difficult times than those who don’t spend time switching off their thoughts. Having a mind that is frequently in a state of worry and over thinking is tiring!

 

I have a suspicion that this is one reason why many of us find parenting so exhausting. We’re knackered from a constant low-level worry. We are on high alert much of the time, day and night, and it’s relentless. We are thinking constantly about our child, or work, or jobs that need doing around the house. Bring thoughts about friends and family into the mix and that’s pretty full-on thinking!

Thinking about Meditation

Meditating is great. You just sit there, do nothing and think nothing for a while. There’s no great secret to it, though there are different techniques. I do practice meditation (not as often as I’d like), and it’s wonderful, but the ability to take the time to just sit and focus on my breathing is not something I seem to be able to find the time to do. As a person who doesn’t get to sit and meditate on a regular basis, when can I get that sense of “switching off”?

 

Let’s just accept that there are never going to be any more hours in the day. Your only downtime might be watching Love Island and I’m certainly not going to come between you and that!  Let’s be realistic. Finding that time to switch off has got to be something you can do within your normal routine.

 

Finding other ways to “be”

As you are probably already aware, the practise of Mindfulness is often described as being “in the moment” – in noticing what is happening, but not making judgement or internal comment upon it. I’m sure you already know that it’s a good thing to be more mindful, to live in the moment. But this is a tricky thing to just do. As someone who spends an awful lot of time thinking, it’s unnatural to me to turn those thoughts off. A way I have found to switch them off, as I mentioned above, is to do some decent exercise. I believe this has to be fitted into my normal life, so for me that might be a brisk walk into town – if you have a small person in tow, maybe you could do a brisk walk with the buggy or sling sometime during the day. Focus on your “form”: how are you breathing and how are your feet hitting the ground? What does the surface feel like that you are walking on? Take your attention away from your inner monologue and notice your body and the world around you.

 

Or how about mindful eating? If you have a minute, really study the thing you are about to eat, how does it look, how does it smell? How does it feel in your hand? When you put it in your mouth, allow it to rest on your tongue, before really noticing the texture and flavour as you chew. Eat slowly, with no distractions. This could be a single square of chocolate, or a whole meal.

 

Breathe

Are you breathing?

 

Are you though? Where are you breathing from? Take a good big breath through your nose and fill your whole lungs to the sides, the back and the bottom. Pause. Then breathe out allllllll the way. Listen to the sound the air makes going in and out. Feel the temperature of the air in your nose. If you make the out-breath longer than the in-breath, it becomes really calming.

Flow

Do you have a hobby? Something you do and the time just goes? This is called being in a state of flow, which is something we can achieve in a number of ways. If you have anything at all you enjoy doing and you don’t notice the time go as you do it, you are in this state. You’re not worrying about other stuff, you’re not mentally writing your to-do list, or checking your watch. This could definitely be watching Love Island, if you can sit down undistracted for the whole programme. If you’re providing a running commentary on a Whatsapp group at the same time, it’s not flow. You’re not fully absorbed in it. I like doing jigsaw puzzles, sad I know, but I can get totally focussed on the puzzle for ages, given half a chance.

 

Someone else banging on about self-care yet again

Yeah, I know, but this is probably one of the most fantastically easy and effective things you can do for yourself, giving yourself these mental minibreaks. Please don’t ask me for a prescription of how long you should do this for, how many times a day, in what exact way – is that just you over-thinking again? The effects are cumulative, so the more you do, the more zen-like and calm you will become. Don’t spend even a single second fretting about how you should be doing this stuff, just do it.

 

Oh, and keep doing that breathing thing.

 

About Mindfulness and Meditation:

The term “Mindfulness” came from a translation of the Buddhist word for Meditation, so any form of meditation you like to practice is Mindful Meditation really. I don’t see the point in getting too hung up on terminology for everyday use. If I am going to sit and meditate I find it much easier with some audio. I like finding different meditations on YouTube, as I can choose the length to fit with the time I have available.

Building Resilience in Children

 
We’ve all experienced what happens when a toddler doesn’t get their way: the meltdown – crying, screaming, maybe even lying on the floor and banging their fists. Though it seems extreme, this is a perfectly normal and healthy response for an immature brain that cannot yet manage its emotions.

What about in adults though? What happens if you don’t get your way or if something goes wrong? Do you shout and yell? Do you get upset and stay upset for hours or even days afterwards, dwelling on the problem and unable to “snap out of it”? Does a small setback ruin your entire day?

“Resilience” is a topic that I keep seeing a lot these days – the ability to bounce back and cope with upsets. Even though many toddlers experience extreme emotions, they do bounce back quickly once they have calmed down. They don’t tend to dwell on the problem for long as they live so much in the moment*. As adults we could often do with a bit more of this resilience, and being able to manage our emotions will aid us in all areas of life.

 
As our children experience stressful times at school, navigate friendship groups, and deal with the ups and downs of life, we would like to think that we are raising them to be as resilient as possible. We know they are going to have negative emotions, so how can we ensure that they learn how to deal with them in a healthy way? Here are some tips:

A great place to start with young children and toddlers is helping them recognise, understand and accept their feelings. They will do this partly through us talking to them about feelings, and partly through copying us. We can help toddlers learn the names of their emotions when we spot that they are feeling something, e.g. “I can see that you might be feeling sad because Daddy had to go to work.” Be careful here not to attribute emotions to them that they aren’t actually feeling – it’s always best to ask them whether they are feeling something, or be a bit tentative about it. As they get older they will be better able to name their emotions. You can talk about how characters in books or TV programmes might be feeling, so that your child builds an awareness of the feelings of others.

It is really important not to negate their emotions or tell them they are being silly for feeling something. Having resilience doesn’t mean that you don’t feel sad or angry – bottling up feelings is not a good idea. What we want to achieve is the child being able to recognise that they are feeling something, and then have strategies in place to make themselves feel better. After all, sometimes it is appropriate to feel sad or angry – we have these feelings for a reason. By helping children recognise when they are feeling these things it will make it much easier for them to deal with the emotions, rather than feeling out of control.

On the one hand it is important to take our children’s emotions seriously, but on the other you don’t want to go overboard with the sympathy or overact when they get upset. I suppose the best advice here is to think how you would like to be treated yourself – you would like a different reaction from your partner if you are crying because you stubbed your toe really badly to when your beloved pet had to be put down.

I mentioned copying earlier. This is the classic thing you soon discover once your child learns to talk. They start spouting things you say word for word, with even the emphasis in the same places. It can be quite a shock to hear yourself as your child hears you! If we can show our children how to recover from setbacks by recovering from setbacks ourselves, this is how they will gain resilience. If you drop your dinner on the floor how do you deal with it? Do you say things like “Why does this always happen to me?” Don’t forget who is watching. What message do you want them to take away? That bad things always happen? This isn’t about pretending that everything is rosy and wonderful the whole time, it’s about showing your child how you cope when things go wrong. So show your child (age-appropriate) negative emotions. Let them see you be cross or sad, but let them also see how you recover and move on.

If your child sees you expressing emotions in appropriate ways they will follow.

Another important aspect of resilience is building a positive outlook, and a growth mindset. There is an article here from Dr Hazel Harrison about growth mindsets and gratitude: https://www.heysigmund.com/5-simple-ways-build-resilience-well-children-dr-hazel-harrison/ Encouraging your child to be optimistic is a good way to increase that ability to bounce back. If you have a pessimistic outlook on life, and everything always goes wrong for you and never gets any better, how can you possibly expect to feel better? Again, this is another reason for modelling good behaviour I’m afraid!

Lastly, another excellent way to build resilience in children is to teach them how to become problem solvers. Learning how to find out answers for themselves, and how to break a problem down into manageable parts is a great life skill. Let them see you do this. Talk about problems that need solving with them – ask them for their ideas, you might be surprised what they come up with! Play games that promote problem solving, like puzzles, treasure hunts, or challenges. Don’t always jump in and solve everything for your child. If it hasn’t come to blows, let them work out with another child who gets to play with the toy that they both want. If children feel they have the ability to solve problems that life throws at them, not only does it give them a feeling of control over their life, it also will help them to see setbacks as challenges that can be overcome, rather than the end of the world.

 
It’s easy to feel worried about our children’s ability to be resilient, especially if they are going through a difficult time in their life. Don’t forget of course that young children are hugely emotional. Toddlers have no empathy, and aren’t really aware of others’ feelings, so don’t expect too much from them! As I said right at the beginning, toddlers are actually really good at bouncing back – so if this is an issue that concerns you, consider whether it’s more important right now to work on your own resilience rather than your child’s.

What’s Coaching All About Then?

I never understood what coaching was all about: performance coaching, life coaching, emotional coaching… what’s the point? I suppose like many things in life I dismissed it because I didn’t know what it was. But as a Management Team at Suffolk Babies we were looking at ways to enhance the support we offer to our clients that goes beyond baby classes and provide real and powerful change for people.

So I rocked up at the Coaching training still not really knowing what I was letting myself in for, but boy am I glad I went. It has changed my life for the better and I am really excited to be able to help you change your life too.

Coaching is about identifying where you are now, where you need to be and how to get there. This can be in any aspect of your life. Maybe you feel like there is something holding you back from achieving your goals, or maybe you don’t really know what your goals are yet.

Perhaps you have old fears that prevent you from doing the things you want to do in life, and you have got to the point where you really want to get over it and move on, but you need a bit of help to do so.

It could be that you are finding that negative emotions like anger, frustration, or anxiety are getting the better of you. This is particularly common in parenting and coping with the demands of parenthood. It’s very common to get into negative cycles of behaviour when dealing with your children, that leave you feeling even more frustrated and guilty afterwards when you berate yourself about how you could have handled the situation “better”.

 

But do you know what? You CAN feel better. You CAN change your behaviour and your thought patterns. Scientists used to think that once you’re an adult your brain is pretty much fixed and you are stuck with whatever negative emotions you are saddled with. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” However, research has conclusively shown that adults are able to change, grow, and learn new things. So if you are not happy with aspects of your life, it is perfectly possible to change them.

My Co-Director Jo and I have written quite a lot in the Suffolk Babies blog about being kind to yourself, facing your fears, parenting your toddler, celebrating your body, but how do you actually do all these things?

No doubt you know already that you want to be happier, healthier and more productive. It’s working out how to do that is the tricky part. It’s like when someone tells you “Don’t panic!” It’s easier said than done without the right tools. Through coaching we can work together to discover what is causing your difficulties. We can get rid of those negative emotions using some amazing techniques, fill you with positive feelings, and create a plan for the future that will lead you towards your goals.

If you are interested in finding out more, get in touch!

Katie
katie@suffolkbabies.co.uk

Children = Happiness?

Children = Happiness?

Having a baby is the best thing you have ever done, right? And the biggest source of happiness and joy in your life…right?

I was fascinated to discover this week that actually, on a day-to-day basis, children don’t bring us joy. In fact, you’re probably happier when chopping veg for dinner. Yes, really.

I’m reading a lot of books about the brain at the moment, and what makes us happier, or more resilient. My latest is called Flourishing, by Maureen Gaffney. In it she says:

“[W]hile children provide a deep sense of purpose and meaning in our lives, they do not make us happy in a day-to-day way. Many studies have now confirmed that marital happiness declines dramatically after the birth of the first child, dipping to its lowest point when the children reach the teenage years…”*

She goes on to point out that this isn’t just a feeling of dissatisfaction with our spouse, but with our children too:

“Studies which tapped into mothers’ “real-time” feelings (which are much more accurate than retrospective accounts) as they carry out the ordinary routines of the day show that they experience fewer moments of happiness when looking after their children than while preparing meals or even doing the shopping.”*

I’m certainly not someone that finds every moment with my children pure unbridled joy, and it is a relief to discover that I’m not alone. Looking after children is often boring, or stressful, and I haven’t got anywhere near the delights of parenting teenagers yet. There are many times when I would rather be cooking dinner, or trundling around the supermarket (ALONE!)

I just wanted to share this with you all, in the hope that it brings you the feeling of relief that it did me. You’re not a bad parent if you don’t enjoy every moment of it – and if you do, that’s fantastic!

Some studies show that happiness levels with your spouse rise back to near honeymoon stage once the kids have left home. So there’s something to look forward to!

Start counting down the years people…

 

*Flourishing, by Maureen Gaffney, Penguin, 2012

Do your kids make you as happy as salad makes these women?

Check out Women Laughing Alone With Salad for more!

F**k New Year’s Resolutions – be kind to yourself instead!

This is Lionel. Lionel eats when he’s stressed. When we got him from the rescue centre in May, he would eat anything and everything you put in front of him and he weighed a ton. The people at the rescue centre would give him all the other cats’ leftovers and he would hoover them up. When he came to live with us, he would lie on my chest first thing in the morning and he was so heavy I could barely breathe – which was a very effective tactic to get me up so I could feed him!

He has been with us over 7 months now, and while I can’t exactly say he’s looking svelte, (his tummy still swings from side to side when he trots across the garden,) he has definitely slimmed down. He will leave food if he doesn’t like it, and I’m finding out, to my cost, that he only likes expensive cat food. He is now perfectly happy in his little routine of sleeping 20 hours a day, spending a couple of hours outside, and occasionally having a great big fight with a neighbour’s cat.

What’s Lionel got to do with anything? Well, I’ve decided not to make my annual New Year’s Resolution to Lose Weight. Every year I make the resolution, and I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded. What’s different this year? I still want to lose weight, but I’ve learned a couple of things.

1. Making a resolution about something you want to change about yourself is telling yourself that you are not good enough as you are. Granted, not all resolutions do this, but the losing weight one certainly does. I’m constantly telling myself I’m not good enough at my current size. All this does is make me focus on the negative, and feel guilty, sad and angry. Feeling negative emotions doesn’t actually motivate me very well to make positive changes. If you recognise this in yourself, ask yourself, might you be better motivated to make positive changes in your life if you felt good? If you stopped berating yourself and started acting from a more positive mindset? Even if you fail (again) at least you will feel good doing so!

2. Consider your environment. Like Lionel, my spirit animal, I don’t lose weight when I’m stressed. I also don’t lose weight when I haven’t had enough sleep. Or when I’m too sedentary. Or in the summer… I can go on with this list but I won’t. I’ve seen several Facebook posts from fitness people recently telling me that there are NO EXCUSES and I should just get on with working towards my goal. That’s all well and good, but we all go through periods in our lives when we do have genuine excuses, like having young children who wake us up all night, or going through a stressful patch at work or at home. What possible good can it do to beat yourself up about not being good enough in these situations? Surely it is much better to focus on what you can actually achieve during these times. If you have a non-sleeping baby, then getting you and your baby through the day in one piece is achievement enough in itself. Give yourself a genuine, heartfelt, pat on the back.

Also, who cares? Almost no-one in my life really cares what dress size I am, as long as I’m healthy. Quite a few people I know do care whether I am happy. And actually, eating healthily and taking exercise does make me happy if I’m doing it for its own sake, rather than as some sort of punishment for all that Christmas cake I ate or wine I drank over the last few weeks. So my plan for this year is to be kinder to myself, and do things I enjoy. And that’s NOT a new year’s resolution…

Happy New Year everyone!
Love
Katie x

Be like Lionel.
Be kind to yourself.
Do the things you enjoy. (Without the cat fights!)