New Moon Series of Self-Care

I can’t believe it’s been over two months since my last post. Clearly life has gotten in the way of blog writing. Now that the Fall season is in full swing, I was able to look back at my last couple of months and notice what’s important to me, what’s missing in my life, what are some things I want to focus on.

So with that in mind, I wanted to bring some intention around my blog writing here – ways that I can both share a bit of me and what i find helpful. Since i focus on how to build a wellness toolkit for trauma survivors and people who are in the throes of new parenthood, I thought I could bring a focus to that.

So I give you the New Moon Self-Care Series. Each month during this Fall season, on the new moon, I’m going to share some ideas and thoughts for that moon cycle as well as an expressive arts-based prompt that can help you bring more self-care practice in your daily life. Expressive Arts Therapy is a great way for our bodies to feel the shift in relationship to what our mind is thinking. Because we are actually doing the work of making something with our hands and bodies, it can help feel like you’re integrating those parts of us that can feel so separate. We do not have to be artists in order to do these activities, nor do we need to spend a lot of money on any of the supplies. You can do this from the comfort from your own home, whether it’s in your bed, on your couch or at a table.

As the inaugural month falls on the month of All Hallows Eve, as well as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Month, I thought we could do a simple activity that can help us when we need some self-compassion. Take a moment this week to hold space for yourselves in your grief. Sometimes it can be hard to escape that inner voice, so a visual reminder can help. As this new moon falls on a Monday that also happens to be Thanksgiving here in Ontario, it’s a fitting time to take notice of both what we were thankful for as well as what we might need forgiveness for. As we notice the leaves changing just like the cycle of the moon, this starting point of our month can be a great guide to help us take stock in what is changing for us – what do we can change as well as what is evolving around us.

One thing we can control is the messages we keep in our mind about ourselves. I know that sounds easy to do and yet the reality can be so hard. This activity provides you with a simple watercolour practice as well as an opportunity to put down a mantra that could help you heal and find comfort. By making it yourself, your body and mind both can hold its message longer than if you were to buy a set of coasters.

Self-Compassion Coaster
Supplies:
Coaster or thick paper cut to size
Watercolour paints and brushes, bowl of water
Decoupage glue and brush
Magazine and scissors (optional)

Steps:
1) Before you start it can be helpful to help you set your mind and stage at ease. Listen to a guided visualization or meditation to help centre yourself and feel more connected to the activity.
2) Once you’ve done that, now spend a moment thinking about an affirmation, a quote, or a lyric that really speaks to you. It can be simple, a word, or something you’ve heard said again and again.
3) Once you’ve thought of the saying, now get your watercolours out and think about what feels like the right colour and motion you’d like to put down on the coaster. It could be swirls or an actual image – whatever speaks to you. Feel free to combine and colours or just stick to one.
4) Leave it to dry for a few minutes and have a cup of tea. Once the coaster is dry, you can now add the saying. I like to use permanent marker with a fine point instead of paint as I find that’s neater for me, but you can use whatever you like. Feel free to get creative – you could also use magazine cut-outs as a collage or use letters as a way to put your saying down.
5) Leave the coaster to dry completely. Once dry, add some decoupage glue to help seal your work and this also can help make it waterproof. And you’re done! Find a good place to keep this coaster is a nice reminder to you for those moments you need some extra love and self-compassion.

How to Catch a Rainbow

May is a busy month, with various key dates of celebration and recognition. Over the course of the month, i am going to share with you some tools and suggestions. First up, in honour of Maternal Mental Health Week, here is a tool that i put together. After studying both Dialectical Behaviour Therapy as well as more body-based self-compassion modalities, i find this tool can be helpful to help you take control of your emotions. I love acronyms as it makes it so much easy to remember the suggestions. Plus it’s a helpful reminder that we can be in control of our feelings.

It can be hard to take time for yourself, especially when we are told to take care of others and that it’s selfish to do kind things for ourselves. This tool can be a great way for you to steal some moments to yourself, in an intentional way. It also can manifest some good feelings that linger. Rainbows are incredible symbols of everyday magic or woo woo, and taking time to notice the joy and beauty in the everyday helps us with our emotional well-being. We deserve to notice these moments, and deserve to take time to pause.

R – What is an activity of REST that you can take a break with
It’s important to slow down and catch your breath. We can only see rainbows when we are able to be aware of what’s in front of us. This is also a great way to notice what we need an a given moment. What can you do in this moment to rest and relax? Can you put your feet up and just take in the sights and sounds around you? Linger a bit longer in the shower, add some luxurious hand lotion to your sensory self-care. Have a cat-nap. Maybe treat yourself to a nice mala bracelet with your favourite crystal – this can be a calming tool and a way to practice some mindful meditation.

A – ACCEPT as you are – it is what it is
Radical Acceptance is a helpful tool to be able to acknowledge something for what it is. That doesn’t mean we have to truly agree with it, but the acceptance can be a first step to let things go. This stops the pain from turning into suffering, and it allows us to be more present with ourselves in the present. When we don’t accept something, it keeps us stuck. So, try working with this idea and practice saying “it is what it is.” See how that starts to feel in your body. Maybe some parts feel less stuck or tight.

I – What is an INTENTION that you can set for your day
Setting intentions for a day, a week, or a year can be a guide that sets you with following where your want your life to go. The intention can be a simple word that carries meaning for you, or a mantra/affirmation that holds significance for you. If you don’t already have one, take some time to journal and brainstorm the words and phrases that are meaningful for you. It is a good way of giving ourselves permission to focus on what we really want, and to take ownership of our moods and behaviour. Then work on ways to implement it into your everyday life. Maybe there is a symbol that speaks to you as a guide – be it a rainbow of hope and luck, a butterfly of resilience, or a lavender flower that helps you feel calm. When you have a symbol that acts as Recalled Anchor (i wrote about it more here) or resource, seeing it in your everyday life is a great way to boost your mood.

N – Be NICE to yourself – practice self-compassion
Self-Compassion is not the same as self-esteem and yet they work well together. To have self-compassion, it implies that we need to treat ourselves with the loving kindness we give others when they need our support. Think of some ways to give yourself self-compassion – it can be a permission slip to eat some chocolate after a hard day, and to enjoy it without judgement. It can be to not do the dishes and instead watch some marathon TV. It can be a yoga stretch or dance to your favourite music. The compassion comes from reminding yourself that your matter and deserve this break.

B – Take time for yourself and read a BOOK
Reading is a great way for your brain to take a break from the monkey mind or inner critic. It is especially helpful when we are able to distract ourselves from the everyday worries and thoughts. You can get your dog-eared favourite book, or a new book that you have never read; it can be a fiction novel, self-help book, or a how-to book for something you want to learn. Take time to write in your own journal, free writing or following a guide. If reading is not your thing, no worries. Listen to an audio book or a podcast. This podcast that talks more about everyday magic and woo woo is a great listen! Watch a movie that you have never seen before – the idea is to let your brain relax and absorb what it is taking in, instead of the constant chatter it typically takes you to.

O – Go OUTSIDE and get some fresh air in your body
Research has shown links to fresh air, being outdoors and mental health. Our brains are elastic and benefit from the change in scenery as well as air changes. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Polyvagal theory also show us that a quick walk outdoors can do a lot to change our mood. Everything is better outside. Think of some simple things you can do – a walk, sitting on your porch our balcony, a picnic snack during your lunch break for instance. Another benefit to getting outside is that there may be other people that you can connect with – it helps us feel less alone or isolated after being indoors when feeling down. You don’t need to have a long chat with someone, but a quick hello can be a great break your mind and body needs too.

W – Drink a glass of WATER to refresh yourself – take care of your body’s basic needs
In keeping with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it’s imperative to take care of your basic needs. Research shows that we need to nurture our physical body in order to heal our mental health. Do a quick checklist – when was the last time you drank some water, had a healthy snack, slept enough, did some exercise for your body? If it’s been 2 hours since your last water break, have a glass right now. And then find ways to allow time for the other ways to take care of your body.

Why Date Night is an Important Part of Postpartum Mental Health

(an earlier version of this article appears on the Date Night app blog). Lucky readers of my blog get 2 bonus tips shared below!

As the fog of new parenthood begins to lift, we are faced with the new reality of everyday life as parents. It may take longer than we expected (or want to admit) to get a good night’s sleep or a long bubble bath—let alone have a date night… without our babe in tow.

It may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important – imperative even – for our mental healthAs a parent of 2 young kids myself, I’ve noticed that my once sacred weekly night out with my partner has been sacrificed for nights in, Netflix, and the occasional cuddle. We may be missing out on all the new movie releases and restaurants, but at least we are relaxed and well-rested, and taking some intentional time together. And that’s what really matters.

As social creatures that thrive off of connection and belonging, experiencing some intimate connections with our partners and friends is key to our mental health and resiliency. Brene Brown, a therapist and social scientist, writes in her latest book, Braving the Wilderness, about the importance of feeling a sense of belonging—with ourselves and then with others that help us feel connected, attached and valued. With this in mind, it may give you some comfort to know that having a date night with your partner is actually important—imperative even—for your mental health.

October began with Mental Health Awareness Week, so let that be your excuse to be mindful of the connection that mental health has on our potential to experience postpartum mood and anxiety disorders (PMAD), like postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. While the symptoms for PMAD can range, one of the key things to look out for is a lack of motivation or energy to do things socially or intimately. The risk is that this can lead to further isolation, while intentionally seeking out connection with others can alleviate these negative feelings. Of course, it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional if you notice that your mood and energy are even lower than expected or linger on for several days.

If you’re looking to give your mental health a boost, here are some helpful strategies to give yourself a break from being a parent for a few hours, get you out that door, and have some adult-friendly fun.

The Wheel of Life
This helpful tool reminds us that we are more than just parents, but also individuals with interests, passions, and hobbies separate from the other roles we play. When I look at this tool, I see areas that have been lacking in my life—maybe it’s that I haven’t taken the time for a hobby, or regular exercise, or to meet up with friends. Whatever it happens to be, you can find worksheets on this ancient Buddhist tool that will help bring balance to your life.

2) Make a Date with Restorative Self-Care
I’m a big fan of self-care and wellness activities. I also know how hard it can be to actually practice self-care with small children around, and how guilty we can feel when we take time for ourselves. While having a decadent bath is amazing, and a fresh coat of paint on our nails is luxurious, making time to be playful and laugh with your partner is something that is so much more nurturing. Maybe go on a show together, or a couples massage. Too intense? What about a double date mini-putting with friends (where you make a deal to not (only) talk about the kids)? Our bodies shift when we are active, and the mind/body connection is a great way to help us stay on top of our mental health needs.

3) Stay Connected with your Partner
Being a new parent is a life-changing event. It can be stressful, surprise us, and throw us for a loop. While there are some precursors to being more vulnerable to PMAD, sometimes the reality of new parenthood is a stand-alone indicator. Another reality of new parenthood is that conflict between couples both related to parenting issues and not (e.g., financial stress, work-life balance, a shift in lifestyle and priorities) can also lead to new or increased tension in the relationship.

So, when you are discussing bills to pay or what food to order for dinner, also take a moment to pause and reflect with your partner about what you can both do to stay in tune with each other. Take time to align your priorities as a couple, find creative ways to stay connected, and make sure to go out and enjoy a date. It’s win-win after all—for you and your mental health!

4) Use Your Spidey Senses
This is a quick tool using your 5 senses that can help you come back to the present moment, and especially helpful for new parents who just started to venture out once babe is asleep. Don’t sacrifice your sacred time out by worrying about things at home. If you are going to a yummy restaurant, make a point to locate 5 things you see around you, 4 things you can hear, 3 things that you can touch with your hands, 2 things to taste, and 1 thing to smell. You can mix it up for sure. This can definitely help boost your self-esteem, positive feelings, and be mindful in the here-and-now moment.

5) Build a Village
You are not alone. Truly. It takes a village to be a parent and raise children. Know that it is hard being a parent to young kids, and we don’t need to sacrifice our own mental health and self-care in the process. Build a village of like-minded parents and friends with whom you can balance this whole parenting thing.

Whatever it is you do, remember that taking care of yourself in important. As the saying goes, we cannot give from an empty cup. Taking time off for ourselves makes us more attentive and active parents and happier in our lives as well. So what are you waiting for? Go book that date night!