How to Soothe Yourself During Times of Crisis

I know I’m not alone with having a lot of mixed feelings during this global health crisis. It’s times like this that I am grateful that my work choice gives me access to many tools for emotion regulation.

This week was supposed to be a gentle staycation with my kids, as it’s the start of March Break. Instead, we are home and needing ways to co-regulate.

I’m reminded of the importance of routine in our daily life, as it helps us foster the resilience that is in all of us. As I’ve written about before, children need 3 things to have the best chance of resilience – play, rest and access to feelings. I’d say that adults also need these.

There are many great exercises to help regulate ourselves during a crisis or in everyday stressful situations. Here I’ve collected some of the ones I know work because I do them for myself and my family.

Resource #1 Find time to Rest Play Feel
When was the last time you got to stay home and rest your body? Especially in this day and age where productivity is most valued, being told by those in power to stay home feels confusing, to say the least. Seize this opportunity to do less. Do not pressure yourself to do all the things every day this week. We need a relaxed and healthy nervous system so that we don’t stress our bodies. A body in stress is more susceptible to illness.

Instead of working and cleaning, running a home school and doing chores, play. Laugh, do a messy craft. Go to bed earlier. Talk to people about what worries you (make sure to ask them for permission to be slimed by your fears first). Dance to a good playlist. Eat good food (not just healthy but the good comfort food too). Write in a journal and process these thoughts. Find some free yoga or meditation classes online to help your body get to rest. And yes, do get outside! Nature is healing in so many ways, and the Spring that is sneaking up in my garden is a good reminder of resilience.

Resource #2 Connection
While we have been advised to social distance ourselves to keep us all as safe and healthy as possible, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with others. Reach out to friends and families. I am so glad that I have a couple of chat groups that are keeping me connected – my peer consultation group that holds space for each other, and my friend group where we talk about what worries us, what angers us, and what confuses us. And it’s not always about the Virus. We compared favourite TV shows and how to keep our white laundry still white.

My children and I made cards for family, and will Skype call them this week and next. We cuddle with each other, read in the family bed, and we go outdoors where some trusted neighbour-friends also venture out.

When we know we are in community, we also then see that we are not alone in this fear of situation. When I worry about how to pay my expenses next month, I remind myself that everyone else is worried too. When I am struggling with my children squabbling, I can share this feeling with others and know that so many of us are in this together. That Shared Humanity is a crucial part of self-compassion work – we are stronger together!

Resource #3 Titrate Your Attention
We are getting all sorts of information and news about Covid19. That doesn’t mean we need to read them all. Choose the places that you trust the most, and pace yourself with getting access to the news. Then, intentionally go to a better place in our mind. That may be your Happy Place. Notice the sights, smell, sounds, body sensation, and flavours that linger in your mouth in that place. This process helps your body access this place more easily and linger in our body. It literally then helps your nervous system regulate.

Pendulation is a helpful way for your body to slow down the impact of stress. It intentionally works by pendulating back and forth between something good and something hard. This article shares more about it. This intention helps you lessen the impact of a negative or scary thought. You balance it intentionally with positive or more soothing thoughts. You can do it but thinking of something that is hard for you, noticing how it sits in our body and where it is, then go to a more gentle thought. Embody this new positive thought and then go back to the first one. It’s a way to slow down by envisioning a volume control button, dimmer light switch, or remote control as you do this.

There are some great resources online that walk you through some of these exercises and meditations. Here is just one source. It shares a bit more about Somatic Experiencing and how it is so helpful during times of crisis like now.

Titration is literally a way to notice just one part at a time, like a puzzle piece instead of the whole puzzle. It’s a way to separate out and work on only a small bit of the emotions or sensations and leave the rest for later, when you are more resourced. Speaking of puzzles I’m working on an epic one with my family this week and it is a great tool for distraction and focus!

Resource #4 Eyes Smile Nod
Gordon Neufeld talks about this tool to help parents ensure they have their children’s full attention. This is a great tool for anyone in contact with others – when we can make eye contact and smile, we are literally accessing the Ventral Vagus Nerve, that is used to help us get to a more relaxed and rested Parasympathetic Nervous System. The vagus nerve lives in your body right behind your eyes, cheeks and mouth and continues down to your perineum. The nod also accesses that part of the brain that bilateral stimulation is engaged. EMDR also does this, as does tapping your feet in alternate steps, or swaying side to side. This is so soothing for your nervous system.

Want to learn more about this theory? Stephen Porges has given us the gift of Polyvagal Theory. Irene Lyon is a great source of info too, and she combines polyvagal theory with Somatic Experiencing tools. Check out her video here for more info. And, you can definitely incorporate ways to access the vagus nerve with how you model co-regulation with children. This article shares some ideas.

So, even if you are not in direct contact with people the next few weeks, when you are on a video call with them, or across the room or street, make a point to give them your eyes, smile and nod. Your nervous system will thank you.

Resource #5 Hold on to a Good Moment
Our brain has a natural tendency to focus on the negative. It’s our brain’s way to protect us from that tiger in the bushes. Our sympathetic nervous system is built to keep us safe and go into Flight Fight Freeze Fawn response when it needs to. That doesn’t mean we need it all the time. When you notice that you are activated or triggered by upsetting news right now, you can instead make a point to balance this fear by telling your brain that you are safe. One way to do that is to go to that good moment in your memory bank. This moment is stored in your body as well as your brain. A somatic tool helps you access it by getting to it from the bottom up, meaning from your body. Up. To your brain last. I can share a memory from my childhood with my beloved gazebo as an example. It has many good memories attached to it, and the image of a treehouse is a perfect analogy for your brain to get to the upstairs part versus where the amygdala lives in the downstairs part of the primitive brain.

Here are the steps:
After recalling the memory, notice first what the body sensation is connected to this moment. For me, it’s a warm glow in my heart when i can picture myself in the upstairs room of the gazebo. The glow is warm and yellow like a sunflower in my heart.

Go through the 5 senses to bring out the image more – the white gazebo fence, the sounds of many birds singing, the smell of flowers in my mom’s garden, the feel of wood on the chair I’m sitting on, and the taste of chocolate (i imagine a lot of Mr. Christie’s chocolate chip cookies in this playhouse)

Now notice the body movement with this memory – as you recall it, what does your body want to do? For instance, i can picture running up and down the staircase and feeling the breeze. So I feel the movement in my thighs moving up and down

Now, think of what is the emotion attached to this moment? I was happy here; this place felt cozy, safe, fun, playful, and content, even if my world didn’t always feel that way.

Finally, what is the thought that comes with this memory – the house symbolizes a felt sense of happy child and imagination for me.

Resource #6 Say Hi to your Hero
This is a good time to seek out your support circle. I don’t mean the people in your actual life, but the superheros or characters that have had your back over the years. It could be you cat, Captain Marvel, or June from Handmaid’s Tale. It can be people in your life but in the past. Who are the Recalled Resources that have held you in scary times? I have some goddesses I look up to and some are online like Gottess or therapists with fabulous instagram pages. When I seek out their words, my whole mind body and spirit are hugged. When the world is sharing this collective fear, call upon those you trust and look up to for their strength, wisdom and fierceness. Spend time reading their work, or watch their movies, read books about them. You get the idea. Make a plan for a personal development project with their expertise in mind. Channel their wisdom and strength. For me, that means taking cat naps like my cat, strengthening my body with home yoga/walk/dance sessions, emerging myself in more moon studies. And yes I’m watching Marvel superhero movies and staying season 3 of Handmaids Tale.

#7 Have a Room of Your Own
When we are all self-isolating to some degree, that may not be from our own direct family. Some of us may find this time especially hard or unsafe. It’s important to plan a safety plan that incorporates how to ask for hep when the person who is hurting you is home with you. Think of code words for friends to listen for, hide your browser history, connect with people regularly to check in and confirm you are safe.

It is also important for all of us to find ways to regulate ourselves so that we can keep community with each other. That means, in order to regulate back into our Window of Tolerance, we need to adopt Virginia Woolf’s idea of the room of our own. Even if that means for 15 minutes a day, you lock yourself in the bathroom and have a long soothing shower, pleasure yourself (remember I how i mentioned above that the fabulous Ventral Vagus Nerve goes right down to your perineum!) when everyone else is in bed.

Make an agreement with anyone you may live with that it benefits all of you to get planned time alone. You don’t have to be an introvert to need this. It will help even more to find time for self-reflection, practice gratitude, and also have time to yourself so that you can repeat this all again tomorrow. Write in your journal and answer questions like this 1) what is something I’m grateful today 2) what is something I can let go of 3) I forgive myself for … 4) I’m looking forward to ….

There is always room for hope and looking forward. It helps if you spend time with it intentionally, so your body can feel it too.

Take care of you these coming days.

An Eternal Flame – How to Say Hello to Mom Burn-Out

I’m a mom. I’m a feminist. I’m a therapist for women. I am a feminist mom wholeheartedly. And yet i am faced with that beautiful vulnerability of being flawed like anyone else: I am burning out.
My little flame is wavering a bit.

It is not lost on me that i am a therapist who supports new parents, especially mothers, with the transition into parenthood. And i can’t help but feel the grasp of imposter syndrome that I too am immersed in the impact of Impossible Parenting. I do all the things i suggest to others. That’s not the point – in fact, it’s much bigger than me and what i can do for myself. As i grapple with parenting my children in real life, and in public, i feel a self-imposed burn of pressure to be Mary Poppins perfect – what kind of model am i to others if i too am struggling to keep my kids’ (and my) shit together at the Grocery store? Ugh – the pressure can be too much, and then i seek out my self-compassionate voice and breathe a bit better. I love the lists of ways to heal from mom burn-out, but those are band-aid solutions and not touching on the root of the problem.

I chose to be a parent, i wanted kids and i love the idea of the matrescence rite of passage. And yet, part of me wonders if this is all it is?

I love my life. I really do. This isn’t a passive aggressive way to try to get a message to my partner. (though this open letter to dads is great!). I also recognize my vast privilege as a white cis gendered woman who is able-bodied and partnered to a cis man who i love and have a healthy relationship with, where both of us have permanent work.

And yet…

I’m so tired. And irritable. And cranky. For a while, I thought it was work overload then I wondering if I’m not practicing what i preach with work/life balance. So i read some books, slowed down some evenings, met up with friends here and there, did less work after-work hours. And still…i was crabby.

I love the work of Esther Perel that reminds us how we put on our good work pants for work, only to take them off when we get home. Then proceed to show our own family our more authentic and messy side. Like I should still be wearing my nice pants all day, or at least notice how i present my good side only at work.

At first, i thought ‘oh oh’ I’m not being so kind to my family and felt self-critical of my own internalized want to have it all at the same time. I was sad with myself for putting work first, and being tired by the end of the day, when my kids needed me. And then i realized, “huh, what is playing a role in me feeling this way.’ Surely it’s not just my own doing.

I think I’m more right about that side of the coin.

A few weeks ago, i had to point out to my beloved dependents that people come to see me on purpose to help them when they are sad or stuck with a hard feeling and decision. And yet, my kids will yell over me to keep arguing with each other. For a while, i would be ashamed that I could not be able to help them de-escalate or regulate their feelings – that’s what i do ALL DAY long at work after all. I realized then and there that maybe i am better at helping others who want to be supported, and that my kids need me in a different way.

Sure, i know they need me to model self-soothing behaviour and emotion regulation. Sure I have the tools – i even make a real toolbox for them.

I’ve begun to resent weekends. Sure, i practice what i preach – i take time for myself in the evening and don’t always do the dishes, unpack lunch bags, put stuff away. Sometimes i watch a show by myself or write articles like this one… And feel guilty about it. The idea of a mini mom vacation sounds decadent and yet i know it’s just a band-aid solution.

I do live from a family-centred place and attachment theory is my jam. I get hugs and love from my family, even a thank-you and I’m sorry sometimes. I don’t want to be worshipped per say, but to be more appreciated and noticed would be great. What i need is less work and chores and tasks and requests and and and..

I love all the articles on social media that remind us of the mental load of mother’s work (and yes it’s quite gendered still, and also still seen under the umbrella of women’s work). I’m glad we are acknowledging this burden and current iteration of sexist division of labour. Motherhood is still tasked by the same glass ceiling that we feminists fought for some many years ago. I wish i could turn off the brain thinking part of the mental load of mothering. Yes, it’s a verb now too.

For instance, here’s a run-down of some things that i carry in a given week:

* I once woke up in middle of night to pack a swimsuit for my kid’s class – i went to bed knowing i forgot something!
* I keep the health cards even though I now hate the sight of blood (and I learned that after my son fell off a tree into a river on a vacation and needed stitches – that i wanted to get him but my partner’s didn’t think were necessary)
* On that note, i wake up through the night whenever my kids move, or cough, or cry out
* i am a sous-chef that knows my son only likes raw veggies and tomato soup and my daughter hates the idea of sandwiches
* I have to get the rascals out of bed while he makes lunches – yes I’m grateful he makes lunches because it’s a yucky job, but what’s easier?
* I know exactly how to pour their juice in the morning so that one is not jealous that the other got more to juice (not to drink it mind you, but you know “fairness”)
* I coordinate playdates for the weekends that I work or it’s not my turn to take a day off for a PA Day
* I know what their favourite socks are and where to find them
* I know when they have homework, or class trips, or birthday parties and send in the forms and RSVPs
* I book childcare for the 4-times-a-year date nights
* I know when the birthdays are of their friends!
* I feel guilty when i am at work on a Saturday or can’t make it to them if the school calls mid-day
* I know when the tooth fairy is going to visit and save the coin for that night
* I have forgotten twice and felt so shitty

There is no such thing about a maternal instinct. You read that right – there is NOT one but rather we are taught and learn how to be moms. Who reading this has babysat at a young age, or was taught how to mend socks and buttons, or what is best for a sore tummy since you were a child yourself? Yes i do know that men of my generation may have learned this too, but are they doing all the other things too? Do they stay up thinking about all this too? When we list what we do and thing about, especially during that 3rd shift of labour in a day, do our partners say “i took out the trash, or changed the litter box.” Yes thank you sweet lover, but do you also wake up worrying about your kid’s strained friendships or start planning their birthday party 2 months ahead of time?

Just look at all the books dedicated to this – they all are geared to mommy blog readers, or mommy mojo sex fullfillment, or mama rage. And guess who reads these books and articles? Yup, moms and women. So, while I’m a glass half-full gal at the best of times, I’m not so sure this will change.

Don’t get me wrong, i read all those books and enjoy most of them. This photo is just some of the books i am reading right now, in fact. My partner has yet to finish one parenting book – but he chose a good one so I’m glad he has that under his belt. And i do love my self-identified label of mom. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies. And yes, i identify as a mother, not a parent. Go figure. I even loved it was the first word of both my babies.

And again, i will remind you that i love my partner dearly, our relationship is absolutely solid, and he is a very hands-on, active, and available dad to my our children. This is about him nor needing to change our roles, gendered or not. It is bigger than just us. I am so grateful for all my partner does. The homemade bookcases and winter tires and …

And yet…

(( written by a tired and grumpy Middle Aged perimenopausal woman ))

New Moon Self-Care Series – Inner Child Letter

This month brings darkness mixed with celebration. It then doesn’t come as a surprise that this feelings get internalized in us. It’s a perfect time to turn inward intentionally and take care of the shadows and darkness that lingers in you.

As this is the final Fall New Moon Self-Care Series month, i wanted to give you a gift to yourself that is all about connecting to this new moon and planting a seed of future wisdom and self-compassion. This is a time to set an intention of a new path and time to get closure from last month.

This New Moon falls in a busy week – December 6 is the Montreal Massacre, December 7 is National Letter Writing Day and the New Moon in December. In a few weeks, we celebrate the Winter Solstice which is the longest night of the year. With this in mind, I’m hoping you can spend a few minutes this week in a letter you write to yourself.

As this month seems to be catered to the young and young at heart, it brings up hard feelings for us as adults, especially for those of us that have childhood traumas or more recent traumatic experiences in our life. The holiday season definitely comes with some hard/mixed feelings for a lot of us. Mothers especially need to balance their own needs while nurturing all the wishes and hopes of their wee ones.

So, this month, I’m encouraging you to write a letter to that Inner Child – that version of you that you want to recall or create. Whether they exist only in a memory or a hope, write a letter to that young version of yourself and what you hope for them to receive this month. Think about ideas that allow space for joy, happiness, surprise, eager excitement. You may not have these memories stored as real ones, and that’S okay. This is a time to recreate the memory you wished you had as well.

Steps to Intentional Journal Writing

1) Get into a cozy spot that allows you to writing uninterrupted for a about 10-20 minutes. Light a candle or incense for some mindful soothing smells. It’s now time to slow down a bit. Sit comfortably and chose a writing medium that shakes to you – it can be a journal or piece of paper and good writing pen.

One thing that may help you get in the best writing zone is to listen to a guided meditation on Inner Child work. I like this one a lot – thought it is longer and not just on Inner Child, she calls upon our inner council.

2) Take some deep cleansing breaths and then visualize yourself at a door. The door has some festive greenery and smells like a Pine forest. Knock on the door and see a young child answer. This is the young you. She is excited to see you and grabs your hand, pulling you inside. Once on the other side, you notice the room is covered in silks, trees and the space feels more like an enchanted forest than a room. Everything about it feels right and that it is where you belong.

Your Inner Child gives you a tour and asks you to sit and join her. She is ready for play and to celebrate this time of year with you. What is it that you are doing? What is it that she is excited to show you? Listen without judgement, vulnerability and shyness. You are eager to participate. Finish the visualization by thanking your Inner Child when it is time to leave. Give her a hug and walk back through the threshold.

3) Immediately after this, write a letter to this version of you. Thank her for the visit and time together. Think of words that are an extension of what you just did with her. Recount what she told you, and how you felt as you played with her. What is it that brought you joy, happiness and a youthful spirit? Do not stop to question it rationally or with a logical brain. Stay in the flow of emotional free writing. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling mistakes. Feel free to sketch or draw what you saw. It may be a fun further challenge to write this letter with your non-dominant hand. There is something cathartic about doing the exercise this way.

4) Finish the letter by signing it, and enclosing it in an envelope. Place it somewhere it can be seen by you so that you can give yourself the first gift of Winter – a moment to play and be joyfully present.

I believe that journaling can be a very therapeutic tool and a lot of struggle with it. This exercise is just a suggestion – if you don’t feel safe or ready to meet your Inner Child, feel free to journal about what you hope to do this winter. It is a great tool to plant seeds like this on a New Moon – especially as Winter begins later this month.

New Moon Self-Care Series – Sea Change Salts

In November, the New Moon falls on November 7, a week after All Hallows Eve and a few days before Martinmas. This month, the New Moon is in Scorpio, which is a time for transformation – in with the new and out with the old – so there is no better time to cleanse and clear space for this new Energy and Magick of the Scorpio New Moon. Further still, as this month also symbolizes an even darker month (with Daylight Savings, All Saints Day), it is an especially crucial time to turn inwards and allow yourself some solitude and quiet.

As we are embarking on the darker season of Winter, it is also a perfect time to start bringing on our Hygge vibe. The season of Vata in Ayurveda medicine is one that is dedicated to coziness, warmth, and cocooning ourselves to prepare for the coming months of cold Winter. With this in mind, let’s spend some time for ourselves as we prepare for the darkness and cold of the coming months.

In keeping with my own self-care traditions that connect the senses and simple DIY crafts to make at home, this month I’m sharing an activity that you can do at home with just a few simple ingredients: Sea Change Bath Salts. It’s a homemade salt bath mix that you can either put in a long, luxurious bath for yourself, or even have in a shower while your drain the water out.

Ingredients
1 cup sea salt – i like the bigger pink Himalayan salt
1 cup Epson salts
¼ cup dried lavender buds
¼ cup dried rose petals
10 drops each essential oils of your choice (i love lavender, ylang ylang, bergamot)
Vessel of your choosing – empty glass jar, small bag, fabric remnant to keep salts in
Optional – crystal to bathe with (just place in water and soak up its energy): i like citrine, pyrite or peridot during the New Moon

Steps
1) Combine salts in stainless steel bowl – mix well
2) Add dried flowers – can use others if preferred
3) When complete, add drops of oil and mix well. Let dry for a few minutes to absorb the oil
4) Add to a container. You can use muslin to keep the dried flowers in the net, or just give the flower petals room to swim in the water

Now the fun part: On the New Moon or just after, take some intentional time to yourself and have a bath. Add the Sea Change mix and let it melt into the water. Linger in the water as long as you can, making sure that the salt is since absorbed in your skin. Allow yourself this time as the salts are a great tool to help sore muscles to release. Find where in your body you need that extra release – breathe into it and send love to that part. This part that needs releasing can be a sore muscle or even negative self-talk – what would happen if you took a moment to release that?

Use your senses: Allow yourself time to notice the relaxing comfort of the water, the lovely smell of the oils, and notice when your thoughts wander away from the moment in the bath and gently come back to the space. Play some music that honours your need to s l o w down. Maybe take a skin brush or loofah over your body. Light a candle and otherwise have a quiet, subtlety lit space.

I love the concept of “sea change.” I got the children’s book Sea Change from the library and the title really resonated with me – it’s such a helpful reminder that we can be in charge of the change we need in our life – that the sea is powerful itself, and there is an equal force inside us too. It is a way to change our perspective: We can make a shift happen in ourselves, cleanse out the toxins and unwanted thoughts and get a break – even if for just a few moments.

We are all works in progress after all.

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.

The 3 R’s of Self-Care

Not to be confused with the 3 Rs of recycling, which are obviously so important too, but this rule is about how to reclaim (is that another R?) a self-care practice and find out how it can work for you.

I personally think self-care work is crucial to live the life you love and to get the balance we all need to be healthy. And yet, it gets a lot of bad press and eye rolling when people say they need to take care of themselves. I’m not sure why that is and i know it’s linked to mental health, so the taboo and stigma of mental health flows down to self-care. It feels frivolous and selfish to do things for ourselves too, especially for those of us that identify as women – we are told to be martyrs and to take care of others. But i truly believe that

We cannot give from an empty cup

So, if you are struggling with reclaiming self-care practices in your life, this list may help you feel more confident with your choice. If you need an extra help to remember why self-care is important think of these prompts – find ways to help heal your HEAD HANDS HEART & HEARTH and add more HAPPINESS HEALTH & HOPE to your life. Yes thats’ a lot of H’s – this post is brought to you by the letters R and H, and the number 1. I think this list calls for a worksheet – stay tuned for one soon.

True helpful acts of self-care are ones that allow you to do something without judgement, a way you can add joy and play into your life, and help you decrease possible burn-out or low feelings. You don’t have to practice daily but it is very helpful to set an intention each week to incorporate kind acts of love just for yourself into your life (notice what i did there – I said self-care without actually doing it!). These acts help you re-energize and re-group – and they get you back on your list of people to take care of!

Restorative Self-Care

This is the stuff that gives self-care a bad rap but they are so helpful as they can be implemented in the everyday. Some of them are even BORING self-care like a bath or putting away laundry. I love that too. It feels productive as it can be checked off a to-do list, plus i feel good about a room without piles of clothes everywhere. And, we do all need to bathe in some way, so why not add bubbles, a candle and crystal to the mix.

Other ideas of restorative self-care are: laughing at a funny show, eating something soothing, curling up on the couch with your cat, a cuddle with a lover, or a quick nap. These are the acts we hear about most – but a mani/pedi or massage are also ways we are honouring what we need and that our body deserves.

Reflective Self-Care

Reflective self-care is like a mini therapy session that you give yourself at home. It can be a chat with a friend who helps you feel strong again, and validates you. It can be a journal entry or a good book that regains a perspective that works supports you. It means going to therapy to share what’s getting to you. It means alone time and doing something you love. Self-care is not just pampering stuff like the restorative practices above, but ones that allow you to feel and honour what you are needing in that moment. Reflective self-care reminds you that all feelings matter and need to be nurtured in their own way.

Radical Self-Care

No one can say it better than Audre. I love how this quote reminds us that self-care can be radical – it means we can say NO to that one more thing we are asked to do. It means we don’t need to hear or take on unsolicited advice, to respect our own time and have that nap cuz I’m Too Tired to go out to yet another after-work union meeting. It may be radical to put your own needs above others and yet it’s self-care to notice what you need. It also might feel so good to outsource work that you don’t need to be doing yourself – like cleaning your home (even once) or getting take-out.

So, when thinking about ways to add self-care practices to your daily/weekly/monthly rhythm, think of the following checklist: Does this activity help me rest, give me joy, nourish me, and help me reach my window of tolerance (balance of stress and happy place). If so, then you are doing the thing!

What are some ways your bring self-care into your life?

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!

Self-Care Rituals

As World Mental Health Day (October 10) is today, and Pregnancy and Infant Loss Day (October 15) is approaching later this week, i wanted to share with you a tool that can help you take intentional steps in take care of your emotional well-being.

I know that there is a lot of talk about self-care and it seems to be a trendy word. But being able to take time out for ourselves, to rest and recharge is so important to building post-traumatic resiliency as well as helping us put our needs down as a priority.

There are other similar tools that help us find a moment to do something for ourselves each day. I think that it helps to be able to find or steal a few moments for ourselves every day. Especially when we are busy with other things and are starting to feel overwhelmed.

I call this tool the Weekly Self-Care Routine. I put it together i noticed it is something i do in my own life and it helps me. It is a part of my Wellness Toolkit. Some activities can take a mere few minutes, and others are more indulgent. I put together this weekly routine as each day touches on key areas that can help boost our mood as well as distract us from what was causing us stress or anxiety. For instance, a few activities encourage you to connect with someone you love and trust (i.e. Motivate Me Monday). Having connection and belonging have been shown to help with our mental health – just ask Brene Brown and her great new book Braving the Wilderness.

Another activity i touch on is using the body to move and get feelings out (Tuesday Jam Session). Movement exercises like yoga and dance have been proven to help boost our moods. The brain geek in me is always telling people about how amazing and powerful the mind/body connection is.

As someone who uses expressive arts tools in my life, i also wanted to incorporate some here – the dance exercise above for example, as well as Woman in the Mirror Wednesday (who doesn’t *love* a good role play?!) and Thoughtful Thursday journal exercises. You can also do a fun art activity alone or with your family on Friday Family Fun Day or a class for yourself on Saturday Self-Care Day.

Feel free to download this worksheet as a starting point for yourself: you can tweak it to suit your needs and routine. Each week, i will share some suggestions on my Facebook page to help if you get stuck as well.

It may feel strange at first to do some of these exercises, and hard to convince ourselves to take this time out. But feel free to include family members in some of these activities, or do it when you have a moment alone after everyone is asleep. Remember, we can’t give from an empty cup so if we don’t take care of ourselves, who will?

Acts of Self-Love

It’s February already. The month of L O V E. I like to call it the month of self-love, so I appreciate the movement that is going around to acknowledge this. Here in Canada, February is a cold and dreary month. As today is February 2 (aka Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Imbolc), I like to set the intention to do some gentle and relaxing things for myself this month. It’s a good month to experiment with things that give you love and also times of rest and comfort.

I recently discovered a great site, and the writer has put together a pledge to do daily acts of self-love and blissful activities. Since that is in tune with my own intention, I’m following her plan. Here is a link to it so you can read more.
flowers at work
For instance, yesterday we were to find something beautiful and keep it within eyesight or our reach. That way, we can see and notice it more readily. For me, I was wearing my new favourite pink top and fun necklace. I was constantly looking down at this pop of fun colour, and it was such a nice treat for me. Like secret pick-me-ups. The photo above is a capture of the plant i have at my office. I just noticed today it has sweet pink buds forming. Of course, i moved the plant over to my desk to keep it closeby.

Today, she encouraged us to think of a teany tiny habit that makes me feel happier. For me, it’s making my bed. I love being able to dress and walk around my room with my bed all made up and inviting. It takes no time and I look forward to being enveloped by it later tonight. I can picture my bed throughout the day, and can’t wait to be there.

I don’t force my kids to make their beds, but they see my ritual in doing so each day. And so, when my son makes his own bed without prompting, my heart is full and I’m overjoyed that he made the step to do that for himself.

We are also doing this lovely activity as a family. Each night (or close enough to this, who am i kidding), I’m asking my family to share 1 thing they love about each of us. We had a fun time doing it last night. My daughter wanted a heart for herself – as she reminded us that it is important to love ourselves too. I couldn’t have said it better. I am keeping them answers on a sheet of paper and we have it on the ready, to read anytime.

What are some things you can do as acts of self-love? Simple, gentle, inexpensive prompts that remind you that are loved and important: you deserve moments of bliss and beauty. In this ugly time in our world, it’s a quiet act of rebellion to be a self-love warrior.

Dates to Remember

Timing means a lot to me. I know not everything happens for a reason, but i can appreciate when some things happen just when i’m ready to open more. Strange how that happens. I’m also good with remembering dates. I still remember my first boyfriends’ birthdays, you know the boys i dated in high school. And i’m in my 40s now…I also remember other more pressing dates and like to honour special dates throughout the year.

In reflecting back about my own loss, something i have learned about myself and the women i support is that we need to be intentional with how we take care of ourselves on dates that are hard – whether it is an anniversary of a loved one’s death, a larger community loss like December 6/Montreal Massacre, or Remembrance Day. We can feel the date slowly start to creep into our consciousness so it’s helpful to prepare for it mentally.

Someone recently shared a very powerful and heartfelt article about her miscarriage loss. It came into my feed on social media and i couldn’t believe the timing: just 2 days prior to the anniversary of what would have been my first baby’s expected due date.

So, when i noticed that November 19 was fast approaching, i started to prepare for it and take care of myself. This is not an easy task as a working mom of two energetic kids. And my kids don’t know that they could have had an older sibling, or that 9 years ago i would have had another first child.

I thought i was being more mindful and attuned to my feelings, but life still gets in the way. Friday was a PA day and the weather was glorious outside. Maybe because it was so lovely out, maybe because the kids felt my energy, maybe because i was just too introspective, but wow was it ever hard to be a parent that day. I take that back – it wasn’t hard to BE a parent, but rather have the presence and patience to parent my children when i was not feeling my best.

A good learning moment for sure. Luckily, after a stressful morning, we had a lovely play date (for all of us!) all afternoon at our local favourite park. I also scheduled in a luxurious facial for myself on The Day and told my partner i needed to take some time to myself. This helped – i didn’t want to assume he remembered the date or that he knew what i wanted. Telling him directly is something i’ve learned is the only way for me to get what i want and need.

For me, i have moved on with my life and don’t need a whole day of self-reflection, but i do need some time to honour my miscarriage and to take a moment to slow down and breathe out.

This made my day so much better and helped with my healing.