This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. I’ll be starting an exciting new series tomorrow on the blog: getting to know some of my favourite wellness and psychology experts, asking them how they keep their mojo topped up day to day while juggling life, work, kids, relationships.
What tools do you have in your daily toolkit to nurture your own health? It’s too easy to put ourselves down in the list of priorities and not even notice until it’s too late that you’re feeling somewhat depleted in body and mind.
Here are my tools for balance in body and soul:
Breathing. We all breathe, don’t we, we don’t have to think about it, surely? But how many of us breathe with full depth and awareness, taking advantage of our full lung capacity? Place your hand on your chest. Do you feel your chest rising underneath your hand? If you do, you’re breathing shallowly and allowing tension to congregate around your neck and shoulders like a flock of pigeons in a town square. Breathing properly, fully, deeply releases tension, calms your soul, soothes your mind, nourishes your blood. Begin a daily practice of noticing if you’re feeling tense and stuck. Take one minute to soften, take a deep breath in through the nose. Feel the breath releasing deeply down, down, into your abdomen and the sides of your ribcage. Release the breath slowly through the lips, sighing as if you’re trying to fog a window in front of you. Do this 5 times and you’ll stop any anxiety, anger and overwhelm in its tracks.
Be flexible: try to include flexibility into your life physically and mentally. View things through a different lens. Allow yourself greater room and different rules occasionally. Notice if you’re stifling yourself because you’re not allowed certain foods, pleasures, time. Try to let go of control and offer yourself the flexibility to drift with the tide occasionally. Try Pilates – I’m biased, perhaps. But Pilates is a game changer. Connecting with your body, with your breath, releasing tension in your muscles and mind. It’s the best tonic there is. If Pilates isn’t your bag: get in tune with your body through some other form of movement: swimming, running, yoga, dancing in the kitchen, softplay…
Find time to be creative: creativity sparks off magic. Whether that’s through painting or drawing, singing, or pottering in the garden. We tend to be labelled at school as we enter our adolescence: the sporty one, the arty one, the academic one. If you’re feeling stuck and dormant, notice, and try and shake off your inner labels. See whether there’s something you left behind, something you really love or have always wanted to do again but thought it wasn’t somehow allowed or appropriate: something that made your heart sing, but as you weren’t “especially talented” at it you left it by the wayside, like dropping a hitchhiker on a long journey. Pick them up again, take them along to the next destination, see what happens.
Balance: understand that, as good old Newton pointed out, for every force there is an equal and opposing force. That is the way of the universe, and always has been. There should always be an equilibrium of light, dark, yin, yang. There is no joy without sadness. Embracing this can allow you to feel more resilient and more optimistic in times of challenge. Everything is a cycle: this too shall pass. Create a support network for yourself for the trickier times, which will in turn provide support for others in their own testing times. Yoga, meditation, connection with your community, chats with beloved friends, walks in green spaces. See these as essential tools in your toolkit to keep your mojo levels topped up.
Slotting these ideas into your life doesn’t have to take up any time. Arguably, if you feel that you don’t have any time to prioritise yourself, that, my friend, is when you most need to find the time. To quote Rachel from Friends “I thought I’d hit rock bottom. Now there’s rock bottom, fifty feet of crap, and then me”. Make sure you don’t get to that point without having a set of tools to help you and others dig you out.
The Supermum Myth is out in September 2017.
You can buy a copy of my book Pregnancy: the Naked Truth here