It’s half term this week in the UK, which means I’ve got both boys with me full time, plus a load of admin to keep an eye on, and various other things I’ve no doubt forgotten… I have always felt that my stress levels peak uncomfortably when I have a collision of work/life/mothering with no respite. So…it’s taken me a few years, but I now have a pretty much failsafe toolkit which I always try to remember to implement in even the slightest smallest way that I can, to keep me on an even keel. Don’t get me wrong, I still have the FFS! moments, but they don’t floor me in the same way that they used to. I manage to regain a bit of peace and equilibrium a bit sooner, now that I know what my triggers are and how I can negotiate them.
Here is my toolkit:
Breathe. Sounds almost too simple to be useful doesn’t it. I love the quote ‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes everyday – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.’ Dr. Sukhraj Dhillon. That is absolutely the case for me. The more stressed and frazzled I get, the less likely I am to offer myself any space through a few deep breaths, and so the frazzled cycle perpetuates itself. So: when I don’t have time, I actually need to build in the time even more. For me that’s when I can feel the tornado of Hulk Mum rising up like Godzilla through the ocean surface, I know that it’s time to take a breath check. Deep breathing has a direct impact on mental calmness: ‘Breathing deeply,’ Katie Brindle writes in her book Yang Sheng: The Art of Chinese Self-Healing, ‘immediately relaxes the body because it stimulates the vagus nerve, which runs from the neck to the abdomen and is in charge of turning off the ‘fight or flight’ response.’ Stimulating the vagus nerve, according to a recent Harvard Health blog post, ‘activates your relaxation response, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.’ Deep breathing stimulates the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response, by triggering the opposite nervous system, the rest, digest parasympathetic nervous system. You physically cannot be stressed when you are in this side of your nervous system: it’s the essential counterpose to burnout. You feel calmer, your heart rate slows, the dust begins to settle. Isn’t it empowering to know that we all have a secret switch which we can consciously activate to calm us down. The vagus nerve – vagus means ‘wandering’ in Latin: it wanders among the organs – is a branching nerve connecting most of the major organs between the brain and colon, like a cable network. It’s the longest nerve in the body, and has been described as ‘largely responsible for the mind-body connection‘, for its role as a ‘mediator between thinking and feeling’. I love this: like accessing a really important messenger pigeon to tell your body and mind that IT’S OK. Sometimes, when there’s jam on the ceiling, you’re late for work and no one seems to be able to put their own shoes on, it’s the most easy tool that is forgotten. For these moments, take 5…slow…deeep….breaths, signing the breath out through the lips softly, elongating the exhalation if you can. Even if you don’t catch it before Hulk Mum explodes, taking these breaths after the event will help you calm down and find some space and peace, make amends and make the most of resting and digesting with big hugs all round.
Drink enough water. I mean, it doesn’t get more simple than that. But basically we are all just slightly neurotic pot plants. When I forget to breathe, I absolutely forget to hydrate myself, which further depletes my brain and body and sends me into a negative spiral. Negative thoughts find easy access to my brain when starved of vital hydration to make good decisions and feel positive. So, take a water break now.
Green space. Whether that’s taking 3 moments to stare at a pot plant (yes, I did actually just write that), or 15 minutes to walk in green space, the calming effects of forest bathing are not to be underestimated and never fail to make me feel better and more grounded.
Move. Move move move, nourish your connective tissue, hydrate your muscles, stimulate your brain with movement. Not necessarily ‘exercise’: movement can mean rolling your shoulders, gently twisting your spine, simply taking a wide full breath. Movement can also mean a mindful meditation to move your thoughts, allow space for your whirring brain. Being a mum lends itself to being party to huge joy but also to the mum forward hunch that feeding, pushing buggies, playing on the floor with your baby/toddler invites. This forward hunching is a signal to our nervous system that we are in danger, we’re guarding our internal organs. So even if we’re not consciously feeling stressed our body is receiving that signal, so we need to overturn it. We need to recalibrate by opening our heart centre, reaching tall, creating space. And, looping back round to point 1, it all comes back to the breath, open, wide, slow, conscious breathing will enable you to occupy your space with confidence and clarity.
Yoga and Mindfulness Retreat in Andalucía
What’s in your toolkit? I’d love to know. I’m resurrecting the What’s In Your Toolkit series from next week, let me know if there’s anyone you’d love to hear from!
x x x