Photo courtesy of Tom Simposon https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/15740129339
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Photo courtesy of Tom Simposon https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/15740129339
Photo courtesy of Tom Simposon https://www.flickr.com/photos/randar/15740129339

I have recently been appointed to a new, more senior role. This role both terrifies and inspires me, and it appears to terrify others as well. When I talk about what I do and what I plan to do, colleagues and mentors invariably respond with “That. Is. ENORMOUS”. What they often don’t know is that I also work one day a week in general practice, and am raising two young children on the side. I think if they knew, their collective heads might explode. So I have stopped mentioning it.

This heightened level of juggling sometimes makes me feel like overcompensating for my multiple roles. I can be the perfect, overworked academic. I can be the perfect mum as well. I can do it all, and do it effortlessly. It’s a strange, masochistic way of coping with everything that is on my plate – by piling more on, it will all appear balanced! Ha!

Fortunately, I have, to my credit, figured out a few ways to avoid being that superwoman. I thought I would share them with you in case you could apply them to your life too. This is not just for working mums. It’s for dads, it’s for every mum, it’s for every adult who sometimes wakes up and thinks “I can’t adult today. Please don’t make me adult”.

1. Don’t be a superhero.

Don’t attempt superhuman feats. At least, not without a really, really, really good reason.

I was offered another role, a part time role, attached to a certain level of prestige, where I could help make strategic decisions, and generally feel important. It was in an area that I feel passionate about, and somewhat connected to my current role, but not exactly. It would involve a bit of extra income, look very impressive on my CV, and I would get to work with people that I liked. It involved travelling to Melbourne two days a month, plus a lot of extra work outside of meetings (I must admit, a part of me really liked the idea of having one night a month in a hotel, on my own). It was the kind of role that would be perfect for me – in ten years time.

I thought about this for a long time. I could work extra hours on the weekend, on the plane, on weeknights, to make up for the hours, I thought. I could see that two days a month as my “me time” and sacrifice all my other time to work and family in between. I could hire a nanny to help out, with the extra income. And yet, something in me hesitated, because it seemed like the only things to benefit would be my ego, my bank balance ( a little – not a lot), my CV, and that woman who wanted to sleep in a king size bed on her own without little elbows in her face. Everything else would no doubt suffer – time, energy, family.

Eventually I fought that superwoman in my head who told me “Go on. You can do it! You can do anything!!!” and wrote an email saying that I’d love to rethink the position, in three years time.

Don’t be a superhero. 

2. Don’t be afraid to outsource.

When my daughter started school, we put her in two days a week of after school care. “She’s too precious to spend all her time there” we thought. “We must save her from this terrible fate”. After a while, the pressure on two working parents became clearer, and we put her in for an extra day. Towards the end of the year, it was getting so hard to juggle the 3pm pickups between us. This year, she’s in for four days and our stress levels have dropped dramatically. Now it’s only one day a week between us to juggle the early pickup. She is literally there for less than two hours, and she gets fed afternoon tea, does arts and craft with her friends, and reads books. She meets lots of friends from other classes. Invariably she doesn’t want to leave when I pick her up.

Don’t be afraid to outsource. Especially if it’s because of ill-conceived notions of something not being good enough for your precious ones. It usually is just fine.

3. Online canteen ordering. Enough said.

When my daughter started school, I had a Pinterest board of beautiful bento-style lunches. I was going to pack her edamame and cream cheese sandwiches one day, bliss balls and cute cheese stars the next. The reality was that she got a cheese sandwich cut in half, and some carrot sticks. Then I discovered Flexischools. If you don’t have something like Flexischools, I send my commiserations. With a few swipes, I can order my precious one a cooked lunch (pasta bolognaise, sushi, nachos…) plus they cut up the carrot sticks for me, and I can make this a recurring order. What?! My daughter loves the canteen so much, I now have recurring orders for every single day of the week. I no longer spend bleary mornings chopping up cucumber, only to find it hasn’t been eaten at the end of the day.

Get thee to an online canteen ordering system. And yes, please “make this a weekly order”.

4. Mums are like ice cream.

Last year my daughter begged me to come in for parent reading help. Twice a week, the lovely parents (usually mums…) came in to help the school kids with some one on one reading. For a while, I even considered changing my schedule so I could be there 10am – 10:45am on a Wednesday. Then I slapped myself out of my senses.

I just can’t be that mum. I work full time. I try to make it for assemblies, Easter hat parades, and the special occasions. But I can’t be that mum at reading help every week. I’ve had to realise that mums are like ice cream. Some are chocolate chip, some are strawberry, some are lemon gelato (or is it gelati)? Chocolate chip is not better than strawberry nor better than lemon gelato/i. We’re all just ice cream. Our kids might prefer one flavour over the other, but at the end of the day we’re still ice cream. All of us.

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Fridays is generally a good day for me. It’s a day where I don’t have to get out of bed at the crack of dawn. It’s a day when I generally schedule the exciting, inspiring meetings that happen in the CBD in the middle of the day. Last Friday I walked my daughter to school and we chatted along the way. It was a sweet moment of intimacy. I kissed her goodbye and caught the bus to the city. I had energising meetings with inspiring people. Afterwards I told my boss I was going to get a haircut. He told me to enjoy myself. I sat in a food court and ate a nasi goreng, a terrible nutritional choice but my treat for the week. For a moment, I felt balanced, and strangely invincible.

Perhaps by refusing to be superwoman, I can actually be the superwoman that I am meant to be. Less is more.

To all the superwomen out there, I salute you. May we always make the right choices so that our capes fit comfortably on our shoulders.

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Coffee. Coffee is the answer.

 

“I wanted to ask you how you manage to balance it so beautifully” she asked shyly. “Work, family…”

 

I felt like a fraud when the young PhD student said this to me. (Yes, I suffer from Impostor Syndrome at home too.) I don’t feel like I am balancing anything. Let alone beautifully.

 

It’s the end of a very long year and school is not out yet. I’m barely hanging on by a thread in these final weeks of the year. I am just so tired of the struggle.

 

I struggle every day with my career. There is a real desperation, the way a starving person looks at food he simply cannot afford. The loneliness of being a postdoc, the crushing rejections that seem to happen on a weekly basis, have worn me down. I feel like I am trying to claw my way out of a deep well, with those at the top quite non-plussed at my inability to get out to where they are.

 

I struggle at home too – the daily battle to get socks and shoes on (their feet, not mine), to get food into little tummies, to get small people in and out of the bath and into bed. The PhD student doesn’t see me snap at my children. She doesn’t see how I spend too much time on Facebook at night  because I am too tired to do anything else. She hasn’t seen me cry all the way through a chapter on “Mistakes” in my “Mindful discipline” audiobook (a brilliant book, by the way) – tears streaming down my cheeks all the way on my commute home, thinking of the countless ways I have failed my children.

 

So, balance? I’m not that good at it. Work and life consume me and I am wrung out at this time of the year, with almost nothing left to give.

 

And yet, I can see that she sees something different. Perhaps she sees a part of me I am blind to. Perhaps I see the same thing in my role models – the hugely successful academic women who have raised children and do this well. Perhaps they, too, feel like balance is a load of bollocks. (Excuse the language).

 

Perhaps what she sees is someone who wakes up every day and shows up, who fights for the things she loves, who is determined to make it work despite it all. She sees the part of me that is organised, resilient, resourceful, and able to laugh at myself. She sees, somehow, that I seek ways to keep myself going during the week – a beachside run, some meditation practice, blogging on my smartphone in the car before picking my son up from daycare. She sees the gratitude that drives me, literally in my darkest moments – the way I linger in bed breathing in my sleeping children during those cold mornings when I face a pre-dawn commute. And she must see the times I am in flow at work, and when I say a silent prayer for being paid to do something that I love. Perhaps this is the true balancing act. The fierce determination to create a meaningful life, even if it’s no walk in the park; the ability to see the Yin and Yang of our full catastrophe.

 

Perhaps balance is all about resilience, the “bouncing back”. It’s about digging deep, but also knowing how to fill the cup again after it has run empty.

 

I am looking forward to bouncing back after the Christmas holidays. I have not had a proper break for more than 12 months. I have had sneaky little breaks here and there but they have been much too short for any lasting rejuvenation. I have both career and mummy burnout. But the end of the year is almost within reach.

 

Most of all I am looking forward to a few weeks of not having to explain to my children that they have to put their shoes and socks on every morning and hurry up because Mummy is late.

Wishing all my loyal followers a safe, happy, relaxing end of year break. Merry Christmas if that is what you celebrate. And a very happy and healthy New Year. x

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It’s RU OK day, a day to remind us of the importance of good mental health, a day to think about the people we love who might not be ok, who might be struggling with untold depression or even suicidal.

This post is written not for the people who have severe depression or significant mental health problems. If you are experiencing poor mental health to the point of not being able to cope with your daily routine (work, family, can’t even get out of bed to face the day…), are relying on substances to numb your pain, and/or are having thoughts of suicide, this post is not for you. What you need is to have a diagnosis by a trained health professional followed by the help that you need (for depression, this is intensive psychological therapies, antidepressants, sometimes hospitalisation). You must pick up the phone now and call someone. Get a friend or family member to come over, and stay with you until you can see a doctor or mental health nurse. Or call Lifeline on 131114.

This post is for people like me – we’re struggling to be adults. We get overwhelmed. We’re human. We get anxious from time to time. Some days, showing up is difficult, but we always do it. We’re tired.

Here are some things that can help us thrive instead of simply survive, and be the resilient, compassionate, calm versions of ourselves that we so very much want to be. Like many things on this blog, these have also been tried and tested by yours truly.

E-mental health

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There are a number of excellent, evidence-based, electronic resources designed to improve mental health. Here are some of the recommended e-mental health resources that you might find helpful. You can find a comprehensive list on the mindhealthconnect website.

Smiling Mind

Smiling Mind is a wonderful app that teaches you mindfulness meditation. The app take you through an introduction to mindfulness, with short guided meditations (some only a minute long!) followed by a number of modules. There are also programs for children, adolescents, schools and workplaces. The app builds on the growing body of research pointing to the many benefits of mindfulness including increased resilience and reduced stress. I’m listening to Smiling Mind daily at the moment and love it. A related app created by Smiling Mind is Mind the Bump, aimed at pregnant or new parents, with a range of superb guided meditations. I find that the guided meditations are just as useful for non-parents!

Reach Out Worry Time and Reach Out Breathe are two very practical little apps developed by the Reach Out program/website. Worry Time lets you set a reminder every day to write down all of your worries. This allows you to get on with the rest of your day because you know you have a set “worry time”! the Breathe app teaches you to slow down your breathing.

MoodGym was one of the earliest e-mental health websites developed in Australia and is still regarded as one of the best. MoodGym delivers online cognitive behavioural therapy, the kind that would usually be delivered by a psychologist face-to-face. Ideal if you cannot afford the time or money to visit a therapist on a regular basis.

MyCompass is a website developed by the Black Dog Institute that helps you track your moods, lifestyle habits, and stress levels, and provides you with a toolkit to deal with stress, anxiety and depression. The only downside is that you cannot access the toolkit when using a device – you must be using a computer.

Keeping a gratitude journal

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Like mindfulness, gratitude can seem like a buzzword when it comes to mental health, but there is increasing research that demonstrates the benefits of practising gratitude. The thing is, just thinking grateful thoughts or having an “attitude of gratitude” may not be enough to realise the benefits. Keeping a gratitude journal can be a more powerful way of practising gratitude. This does not need to be done every day – as little as two or three times as week seems to suffice. I have come to look forward to my pre-bedtime gratitude journal writing. Another tip I have read was to focus on being grateful for the people and relationships in your life rather than objects.

Banish fight-or-flight: get moving

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If you’re struggling with flat moods, low motivation, and low grade anxiety, try increasing the frequency and intensity of your exercise (or, try doing some altogether!!) This is a sure-fire way of getting a good dose of wellbeing and improving stress levels. Our bodies need to move, and our minds need our bodies to move. My worst days are when I spend too much time at the desk or computer, followed by slumping in bed at night. I know now from experience that I just need to move – my solution is to go for a run or if I can’t, a 25 minute kettle bell workout at home. Five days a week works much better than three, as the effects from exercise seem to abate after 24-28 hours.

I hope these suggestions help you! I’d love to hear what self-help techniques you find useful for managing stress and preventing anxiety and depression x

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hands-578917_1280I have a dark secret. Perhaps not a secret, as I do pour out my heart and soul in this blog. But here it is.

I’m not perfect.

I’m imperfect. Like those knobbly apples and pears that sell for $3 a kilo less because they have bumps, blemishes, and look funny. I’m not one of those smooth, symmetrical fruit that shine on the more expensive pile.

I have flaws. I know these very well, and for most of my life I either hidden them or “hustled for perfection” as though I can overcompensate somehow for not being flawless.

Inasmuch as I eschew a healthy lifestyle and do my hardest to practise what I preach, there are weeks when I struggle to get out for a run, when the rain, the cold, the school lunches, the deadlines, the commuting, and just life get on top of me.

As much as I try to practise being mindful and grateful, I am not always Deepak Chopra at home. I could very well me called a Momster at times. And I struggle with containing my moods, managing my anxiety, keeping depression at bay.

When I started on a journey to find the answers to health and happiness, I realised this wasn’t a straightforward journey. It meandered aimlessly and was full of obstacles. It’s thorny. But I’m making an authentic attempt to get to my destination. And I know I am not alone.

This is one of the “gifts of imperfection” that Brene Brown talks about in her amazing book. Connection. You’re not alone. The other gifts are courage and compassion, and these too have been unexpected and humbling gifts for me. But connection is the most profound, and it has helped me enormously as a person and also as a GP. The gift of being imperfect has been a deeper sense of connection, and compassion, in my relationships with my patients.

So to my patients who also struggle with anxiety and depression, I want to say, you are not alone.

To those who feel overwhelmed by the exhaustion of life, you are not alone.

To the new mum I saw walking down the street, tiny baby strapped to her chest, holding on to a takeaway coffee cup with a mix of tenacity and desperation, you are not alone.

Even if I do not live your struggle (and thank heaven I have relatively few struggles) this experience of owning my imperfections tells me that whatever happens to us, we can be assured that we are not alone. Although each experience, each tragedy, each challenge is unique to the individual, the struggle to make sense of it, and to build resilience, makes us one human race.

One of the true gifts of this connection borne of shared suffering is that support groups can offer great comfort and strength. Here are some support groups that can help people with mental health issues.

There is always help, always someone willing to listen to your story. Your GP, a counsellor, a phone line, a friend. There is always somebody to talk to.

Because when you realise you’re not alone, you somehow have the courage to face what it is that you are facing, with someone at your side, battling it out too. You just have to reach out. There is always someone next to you, willing to hold your hand, even if only for a moment’s connection.

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Freshwater Beach. Gotta love a multi-beach run.
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Leaving Melbourne for Sydney may seem like a small move, a mere 963km, but it was a enormous upheaval for me. I felt like a tree that had dug very deep and comfortable roots that were suddenly and painfully ripped out.

We are now putting down new roots, waiting for them to get deeper, take hold, and keep us stable when the storms hit, as they do from time to time.

The first few weeks were particularly difficult. One of my priorities, apart from settling everyone into their new routines, was to find a new running route to replace my beloved and well-worn track, the iconic “‘Tan” in Melbourne. Three or four times a week I escaped to this haven, to hear the crunch of gravel under my trainers, breathe the crisp fresh air, pass fellow runners and mums walking their prams, and just disappear into my spiritual home, the place where I felt strong, safe, relaxed, confident, renewed.

My last run around the Tan, or Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, day before we moved out
My last run around the Tan, or Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, day before we moved out

When we got to Sydney I explored different running routes. I was completely underwhelmed with running around my suburb, pleasant as it is, but pounding pavement next to family homes is not my thing. The Spit to Manly trail was interesting, but too isolated to warrant solo running as a vulnerable female. I ran to the surrounding suburbs and while I found the hills challenging enough, I just didn’t feel it in my heart. My heart and soul needed to soar, and I needed to return a stronger, happier woman, especially when it sometimes felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I returned sweaty, but something wasn’t right. Until I found this place.

The start of my run - the gorgeous Shelly Beach.
The start of my run – the gorgeous Shelly Beach.

It’s not like I didn’t know about Shelly – but I decided to jump in the car and drive there to start my runs, and then I ran along this place.

Iconic Manly beach.
Iconic Manly beach.

And then, ending up in this place, which means going up and down and impressive hill, and then back again to Shelly, for a nice heart-pumping 7 or 8K with hill training in between.

Freshwater Beach. Gotta love a multi-beach run.
Freshwater Beach. Gotta love a multi-beach run.

And as I ran along the beach(es), with the waves pounding (or sometimes just lapping), the salty air in my face, the kids riding their scooters and surfers racing towards the water with their boards, the ocean swimmers in their swim caps, the tourists taking it all in, I felt something familiar. I felt a lifting of my heart, a singing in my ears, a smile on my face, and a sense of flow, of everything being perfect in that moment. I had found my new spiritual running home.

I wish I could say that I have been here religiously every week. Actually, I have for most weeks, but it’s harder to get here now because it’s a car ride away. But I do know that my soul longs to be there, to drink in the sea air, that my ears need to hear the sounds of the surf, that my feet need to pound that pavement. So I go, as often as I can, even if it’s only for twenty minutes, just so that I can keep on going.

Because sometimes putting down new roots means finding new routes.

Post Script. Recently, an extraordinary storm hit Manly and the walkway between Manly and Shelly Beach was destroyed. I wish all of those who experienced storm damage the very best in their rebuilding and look forward to seeing this very special walkway rebuilt soon. 

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Hello there. It’s been a long time. I wanted to say that I’m all right. It’s been a tough few months of transition but I’m doing okay.

I’ve been practising mindfulness. I wish I could say I am doing some actual meditation, like sitting on a cushion and breathing. I am not. But I read Jon Kabat-Zinn’s amazing book “Mindfulness for Beginners” and it was an eye-opener. And I’ve tried my best to transplant his wisdom straight into my daily life. I wanted to share with you some of the insights I’ve gained recently. It’s not like my life is suddenly, immediately, amazingly and 110% better. I have my ups and downs. But slowly, I feel like I’m making inroads.

Let me share with you the reason I picked up that book. I’m a full time working mother. Despite my best efforts, I was spending the most part of the day:

(1) Stressing about the million things I had to get done (grant application, commute to work, meetings, job applications, writing papers, prove myself to the world, exercise, make lunches, connect with my children, make nutritious food, remember the note for the excursion, do my Business Activity Statement, groceries… you get the picture),  and

( 2) Spending every evening wishing my children were in bed already. This second part made me stop suddenly and think, this is not a way to be living. To wish my children away, because I am so overwhelmed I just need some space on my own. And Number 1 made me feel like a “human doing” as JKZ says, not a “human being“.

Yes I can outsource, I can delegate, I can take shortcuts, I can reduce my expectations, I can do all those things that working mothers are blithely advised to do. It wouldn’t solve my problems. My problems are all in my head.

Here is the first part of my journey. I’ll share more as I go along. I hope these will help you too. It’s not unique to working mothers – I think everyone can relate. But I struggle daily with the demands of work and home, so my aim is to thrive and experience every moment without any regrets and without having wished these years away.

1. I learned that thoughts are not real. They’re things I have made up.

That’s right – thoughts are not reality. When I realised that I don’t actually have to think quite so much, it was such a relief I almost cried. Even now when I remind myself of this, I feel my brain suddenly relax and give out a huge sigh. What? I don’t need to obsess and think all the time? It’s not real? Life will go on if I stop going around in circles in my head with my endless to do list? Wow.

2. You cannot get rid of your thoughts. But you don’t have to get carried away by them.

This was another revelation. I always thought I had clear my mind and not have thoughts. Once I accepted that they would always be there, bubbling up from the surface like a simmering stew, I could accept them and let them go. They are just my brain cells firing after all – if I didn’t have thoughts I may very well be in a coma! But I don’t have to grab on to the endless thoughts that pop up in my head and end up in hopeless rumination. It’s like sitting next to rapids and watching sticks bob around and flow down the river. As long as you stay on the banks, and don’t jump in, nothing will happen to you. (The sticks are like thoughts, obviously). But the moment you dive in and grab on to a stick… good luck to you. In the words of Queen Elsa – Let It GO!

3. Mindfulness allows you to see things as they really are.

It’s not that I don’t have thoughts, but I can challenge negative ones a bit better. And then I have really useful thoughts, you know, the ones like “Maybe I should ask so and so to be on my team at work, that would be really helpful!” And mindfulness helps me refocus, to get out of my head so to speak. It’s a bit like zooming out of a shot and seeing the entire ocean or forest or beautiful landscape in front of you instead of focussing on one tiny leaf that has been magnified hundreds of times. I honestly feel as though my head, which sometimes feels enormous from so much over-thinking, suddenly shrinks to a normal size, and I become a normal person again. I suddenly remember my place in the world, and that there are billions of people with problems, and that mine aren’t particularly special, or difficult, and that the sky is blue right now, the leaves are moving gently with the breeze, sounds of the outside world suddenly reach my ears, and I notice people, cars, trees, flowers, clouds again when before I was just existing in a maelstrom in my head.

There are more insights from the book which I’ll save for another post. The link is an affiliate link which means Amazon pays me a dollar if you buy the book after clicking on my link. But that’s not the reason I wrote this post at all. I just wanted to share what it’s brought to my life, and I’ve been sharing it with many of my patients. I hope it helps you x

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sunset-1207326_960_720I made a New Year’s Resolution to practise mindfulness and gratitude this year.

As with many things, life has made this good intention rather challenging to put into place.

Our New Year was marked with a goodbye to our old home and resettling into a new city, with new jobs, new childcare centres, and new schools to navigate. In the upheaval, I lost a number of my usual coping mechanisms, and became understandably sad (from the grief of letting go) and anxious (from worries about the future. How will I perform in my new role? How will we cope with school? How will I not fall apart?)

All the while, I tried very hard to practise mindfulness. I paid attention to sounds, sights, tastes, smells. I tried to live every moment. And I found out one thing. It’s very hard to be mindful when you are sad and anxious, because you become so aware of how very sad and how very anxious you are. You become aware of the heaviness in your heart, the constriction in your throat, the tears pricking at your eyelids. You become aware of the way you have been holding your breath for what seems like two weeks, of the tightness in your shoulders, the stabbing headaches. You become aware of just how overwhelmed you are right now, and even though you tell yourself “It’s ok to be sad“, “This is just a transition“, “Everything is going to be ok“, you still feel… sad. And very anxious.

Mindfulness has been hailed as the answer to so many ailments, and has been trialled for people with a history of depression. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy has been developed to help depressed patients. But I do not know if mindfulness is meant to help people who are just intensely sad after a loss or transition.

Perhaps, though, despite the weeks of feeling like I was a failure at practising mindfulness, I may have learned something from the practice after all. I am now no longer sitting with the feelings of sadness, or worry, but I am simply learning to be alive. That is all. When I return to the breath, it now reminds me that I am alive, and also that I am only alive in this very moment. Just focussing on being alive, rather than being sad, or worried, brings me some relief. Perhaps I am also a lot less sad and anxious as time goes on, as we start to grow tentative roots in our new community, as the unfamiliar becomes a little bit more familiar every day. Who knows.

Right now, I am grateful, that I am alive in this moment, just alive, nothing more. The knowledge that I am breathing, and being, and living, also reminds me that there is so much potential in this moment, and the next, and the next. And that helps me carry on.

Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “moment to moment awareness, without judgement”. I would re-define this as “moment to moment awareness of being alive, without judgement”. And that is how I think we could be mindful, even in the midst of emotional turmoil.

x

 

PS. Other ways to cope with sadness are talking to people, and exercise. If you are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, speak to a professional x

 

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http://www.guide2secret.com/2015/12/top-positive-new-year-quotes/

http://www.guide2secret.com/2015/12/top-positive-new-year-quotes/
http://www.guide2secret.com/2015/12/top-positive-new-year-quotes/

2015 was a sad year for me. Not that it wasn’t also exciting, full of new challenges, and jam-packed with happiness, but it was the last year for many milestones. In some ways, I’m glad it’s over, because I feel like I spent enough time grieving the many “lasts” of this year. It was our last year in Melbourne, a place which was not home until my early 20s, but, over a decade and a half, wove its way into my heart, and tugged hard when I tried to let go. It was our eldest child’s last year as a preschooler, and our youngest child’s last year as a toddler. And it was my last year indulging in that most luxurious of times for a researcher – my final year as a PhD student.

My wish for 2016 is very simple. Two things. The first, Be mindful. Be mindful so I can practise moment to moment awareness, so I can be present, so I will not waste a single day. Be mindful so I can free myself of the sadness and guilt of the past and the worries and anxiety of the future. Be mindful so I can experience in complete fullness the miracle of being with my family.

The second, Be grateful. Be grateful so that I always know how incredibly lucky I am. Be grateful, so that I will not descend into rumination, worry and fear, or at least less often. Be grateful so that I can be happier. Be grateful, so that my children too will learn to look for the positives. Be grateful so that each new experience is joyful instead of anxious.

Be mindful. Live every moment. Be grateful. Make every moment good. My mantra for 2016.

Wishing you a fresh start, renewed energy and confidence, and a very safe New Year. I have another exciting year ahead, this time full of firsts instead of lasts. I look forward to telling you all about my journey.

What are your New Year’s wishes?

x

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hourglass-620397_960_720Last week I had what I refer to now as the “24 hours from hell”. It started from the moment a ceramic mug fell on my head while I was reading The Gruffalo to my children. One minute I was sharing some precious memories, the next I was assaulted by a rogue mug that toppled over when my son jumped onto the cupboard next to my head. (Long story). I screamed, the children cried, milk went everywhere, and milk was cleaned up and children sent to bed immediately while mummy nursed an egg on her head with some ice. That night both children wet the bed, which meant two changes of bedding in the middle of the night; the following morning my tram ride was cut short by a random strike in the city meaning I had to get off and walk three blocks to get another, and what followed was a frantic day trying to get both my thesis finished for the evening’s formatting session, and changes on a very important journal article finished by midday. It was on that day that I said to myself, “Clearly this is a sign that academia and motherhood do not mix”. The juggling, the lack of sleep, the competing priorities, the toddler-induced mug injury, the urgent article revisions with less than 48 hours notice. No, motherhood and academia do NOT mix, I thought to myself with gritted teeth.

Then I paused, because I realised that this was just one day, just one lot of 24 hours. To define my life and my status as academic working mother by these 24 hours is like making a conclusion based on an outlier. It’s simply not valid. I thought about all the mornings when things go (relatively) smoothly and I sail into the office and drink my tea while calmly writing an article, my favourite “Peaceful Piano” playlist filling my soul with serenity and sending my spirits soaring, as I think, “This is the life! I get paid to write and listen to music!” On those days, I do indeed feel wholeheartedly that academia and motherhood mix very well, thank you, and I wouldn’t give up the mix for anything.

I should apply this to all aspects of my life – I should choose to only remember the good moments, because there are so many good moments. It’s like the song goes, “Ac-centuate the positive…” In any given day, I experience an astoundingly wide range of emotions, from white hot irritation, contentment, tenderness, boredom and anxiety. My children are a bit of a barometer, with their behaviour ranging from adorable to expletive-inducing. I have made the decision to let go of the latter and hold on to the former. I try to let go of the cranky comments, the whingeing, the tantrums, and the inability to walk in a straight line. They are usually momentary (except the walking thing – when do they learn to do this?!?!) and shouldn’t define our day. I used to mentally write the day off the instant we had some bad behaviour or a tense moment – “Today is an awful day”. Now, I shrug it off, carry on, and try hard to hold on just a bit longer to the warm and fuzzy bits, which are never too far away as long as I keep my cool. My almost-three year old son grabbing my face and kissing it with gusto. Two small sleepy heads on my pillow in the morning. My daughter declaring that I’m the best and most perfect mummy in the world. The giggling and the patter of little feet in our house. The impromptu dancing. The naked toddler streaking through the house snorting with laughter. The pre-bed snuggles (minus the falling mugs).

It’s the same with my life – I am trying to remember the days that go right instead of the days when everything seems to go wrong, the days when I manage to fit most of it in – work, family, love, a nutritious meal (extra points if home-cooked), exercise, some me-time, some couple time. Not all, but most of it, and I fall into bed a very tired but happy woman. Life is made up of all of these moments, and I want mine to be mostly lovely moments with the very slightest sprinkling of the cranky, messy, sleep-deprived times just to keep me honest – and hopefully, very few falling mugs.

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My dear followers, I am really deep into some stressful times at the moment. I know life always seems stressful, but I have a PhD to complete, small children (including one that has just started toilet training…give me strength!!) and we are moving interstate shortly with no house to move to yet, and I am half without a job as my post-doc position is nowhere near finalised. At times, it gets overwhelming and I have become prone to rumination, catastrophising (“We will never get a house”, “I will never get a job”, “We are going to be so unhappy”) and obsessively checking my emails and the real estate websites.

Seeing as I am right in the middle of what is undeniably one of the biggest upheavals of my life, it is the perfect time to check in with myself and with all of you, and bring to you some well-trialled techniques to “stress less”. I was reminded of this with “Stress Less Day” which apparently was last week, and probably fell on a day when I stressed more than I should have.  I always believe in practising what I preach, so here goes my tips for any of you going through anxiety, worry, and uncertainty about the future.

Just because it feels bad doesn’t mean that it is. 

This was a wonderful quote I got from my new “What’s Up?” app. In fact, “What’s Up”, an online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy app, is possibly the best thing that could happen to a stressed-out person. Yes, I feel anxious, and I’m worried about all the uncertainties in my life. But that doesn’t mean things are bad. I am trying to accept that no-one goes through life without feeling anxiety at some point in time. It’s the expectation that life always has to feel good that gets us down.

Increasing my “Circle Of Influence”

At the moment it seems like there is a lot that is out of my control. In fact, it’s an illusion that we ever have control over anything. Not knowing if I have a job or a house to go to, or if I will like our new neighbourhood, certainly feels stressful. I’m the quintessential “control freak” who likes everything a certain way, and runs away from uncertainty. It helps to remember the things I do have control of – such as attending to self-care, changing my attitude, just showing up, practising gratitude, breathing.

Questioning my catastrophising

At times when I am ruminating and thinking about the worst case scenario, it helps me to stop and question it critically. What is the evidence that this will happen? What is the probability that this will happen? Then I start to realise how ridiculous I am being, and I can move on.

Exercise

It never fails to amaze me how much better I feel after a run. My head is clear, I feel confident, I have problem-solved, and I am free from anxious rumination even if it’s just for the rest of the evening.

Breathing

When I stop and take a deep breath, I suddenly realise how tense my shoulders are, how tense my whole body is really. With each breath, I can feel the tension slowly melt away – not completely, but it’s palpable.

Laughter

This may sound really banal, but I feel a lot better after laughing at something really silly – my favourite things are Youtube videos. “Babies Scared Of Farting Compilation” or “Funny Cat Videos 2014” have been my favourites.

My children

I wrote a post about How My Children Keep Me Sane. Yesterday we had a lovely day off, and they invited me to an indoor picnic. We sat around a blanket and my daughter poured me some “tea”. My son and I pretended to eat plastic muffins very noisily, with appreciative “Mmm mm” sounds. My daughter served me a random selection of unlikely picnic food like a wooden mushroom and a plastic eggplant. My son then decided to make a soup, and grabbed some plastic food, vigorously whisked it together in a bowl, and served it to me proudly saying he had made some “Baymax sugar”. I have no idea what “Baymax sugar” is but I was so grateful to them for letting me share a bit of their magical world, a world free of stress and worry.

Gratitude

When all else fails, practising gratitude and a positive attitude can work wonders. I’m practising looking out for the things that go right in my life (like my son doing a poop in the potty yesterday – imagine being childless and never knowing the joy of such an occasion!!) and my daughter and I regularly practise our “three things I am glad for” exercise.

With all of the above tricks, I am keeping afloat, and I know I’ll come out of this period in one piece. What about you? What helps you “stress less”?

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