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 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.

heart-rocks

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.

Music for My Heart

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Music is definitely a support to me. From my teen years, to low times in university, and now as a mom to young kids, music gets me through the witching hour and times when i just need to scream.

This summer, at our annual trip to Hillside Music Festival on Guelph Lake, i discovered Old Man Luedecke. Particularly this song: The Early Days. It’s a perfect anthem to my life right now. Yesterday, after the kids tore away from the breakfast table and we yet again had to remind ourselves that they are grateful to us, this song came on our Spotify mix. Perfect timing – because it wasn’t deliberate it really made me stop and listen and be mindful how i was feeling. I love that my kids have an appreciation of music too, and can really hear the words and recognize the melody. Dance hour is a special and purposeful time for us at our home – it gets the sillys out and also helps us re-focus our energy into a more positive direction.

Here are the lyrics – it really speaks to me and i suspect it will for you as well.

The Early DaysOld Man Luedecke

I was standin’ out at Stanfield, had to go away
Saw a brand new baby and the mother’s face
I knew that it was over, all those early days
Our babies are not babies, we’ll never be the same

Shopping cart full of toddlers at the Superstore
They were eatin’ Goldfish, askin’ for more
An old man lined up behind us, and he shook his head
The kids were strangely quiet
I heard him when he said

You’ve got to hold on, it goes so fast (Chorus)
These early days, well, they don’t last
Got to enjoy them, they go so fast
The baby days, well, they don’t last

Look forward to the evenin’ when the monkeys go to bed
Then we talk all night about ’em, we feel half dead
We used to be too tired to eat in but it’s a total crap shoot to eat out

(Chorus)

Oh you’re gettin’ rid of diapers that you washed every night
And we’re saving up for date night so we can have our fight
If its quiet for a moment, oh you better run upstairs!
‘Cause the toothpaste in the bathroom is redefining everywhere

(Chorus)

Oh, I like the way you talk now, you talk like me
All the funny things you’re saying, you’re real good company
Oh, the odds are strong and crazy, and our love profound
you make our messy house feel like holy ground

Pretty awesome right? It puts things in perspective when my 4 year old is being especially challenging. What are some songs you gravitate to? Does music carry the same tune for you heart?

Everything is Better Outside

fire
We went camping recently with our little ones. We like to do it once annually and haven’t yet gone this summer. I’m a fan of camping and being outdoors, but I’m not a very experienced camper. I am amazed by friends who can go camping for a week – I’m more of a two-night camper. And there has to be a large lake nearby to seal the deal.

On the morning of our planned trip, my daughter was having an especially strong bout of strong will and disagreement. She started Junior Kindergarten this month, and Saturdays have been especially tiresome as she is adjusting to this new routine. And, I think her quota for being nice nice to everyone and cooperative was done.

So, she argued with her big brother, she argued with me, she argued with her dad. If she could have, I think she would have argued with our turtle and cat. That said, the empathic and wise side of me knew that it’s about her feeling tired, excited and full – but in the moment, all I want to do is get the car packed asap, eat breakfast, and get her dressed. In any order.

My partner looked at me after yet another difficult moment and declared, ‘that’s it, we’re not going camping’ and I promptly stated ‘oh yeah we are, we can’t stay here all day like THIS. Remember our mantra: Everything is better outside.’

Let me explain: a few years ago, after a hard few months being indoors with the winter blahs, I was looking for support from a friend. I was sharing our feeling of cabin fever and she, a wise friend, told me that ‘everything is better outside.’ She shared that it’s almost instant, the change our body and mind feels after getting outdoors – be it your backyard, porch, sidewalk, a park.

Being the therapist that I am, I looked up more info about this theory. And sure enough, studies show that being outdoors improves mental health and well-being, fights off feelings of depression, and it also helps heal physical health issues like colds and more. Win-win, right? Here’s a good article that explains this more.

And now, I can confirm that this theory is true. On days that the kids are at each other, or are bored, or I’m feeling low or drained, I suggest going to our neighbourhood park (or even our backyard if I’m too unmotivated). My kids usually are quick to get ready and burst out the door – and if they aren’t, we pack toys and the best. snacks. ever and go.

This past weekend was the icing on the cake to prove this theory to be true. We were camping for just over 24 hours, and in that time, there was not 1 fight, we all were jovial and excited, the kids slept well and through the night, we swam our last swim of the season in a lake, and I remained calm. We all relished the outdoors and were even content with the flies and fire smoke.

So the next time you have a day that is just too much to bear, take it outside. You don’t have to do it with the kids even. Why not go outside to read a book (or who’s kidding, your social media news), enjoy a tea? You will also see that everything is better outside.

Vacations

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As today begins a new school year, summer break is officially over. This is a time for a big shift in routine, rhythm, and real life. While most of us as adults don’t have a break from ‘real life’ like our children do, summer still brings a slowness to life and a happier approach to daily living.

I like to think of September as an opportunity for change and renewal. It seems like a more realistic opportunity to make space for New Year’s resolutions and the pledges we make for change. Maybe I’m just being optimistic though: I like to think September as the new January.

One pledge i am working on is to hold on to the summer slowness as long as possible. Here’s why:

I was listening to a story on the news last week that shared new research about the vacations we take. It really sat with me. As I was able to go on a vacation with the family this summer, I truly relished the gift of being away from home and everyday life. It was a wonderful trip, though it came with stressors of heat waves, stitches (we’re all okay now), sibling arguments and spending over budget. What this new research shows is that it takes just about a week (or two if we are lucky) to get back to this so-called real life after we go away, or at least take a break from it. It also shows that it’s best to spread out our vacation time over the course of the year, so that we don’t use up all those great relaxed and happy feelings that come being on a break. The article further shares that people who do (and can and are privileged to) take vacation, are healthier both physically and mentally.

Of course, as a mama to 2 young children, my vacation time is not truly a break for me but rather a trip to a new place where i still have to cook, clean, pick up, tidy, and coordinate my kids daily lives. Sometimes a trip is actually more work than being at home as we don’t have the luxuries of our usual appliances, etc. So, it’s important to be mindful and intentional with what you need too. Maybe we can’t take a trip without our children – or you don’t want to – but in that time away, make a point to take time for yourself. Be it a long shower, reading in bed after the kids go to bed, morning walks, a quick get away in the canoe, and even turning the work of cooking in a leisury act.

It also helps to do things to savor the good memories from you summer vacation. This helps us reflect and stay mindful of the moments we hold dear. In our family, we keep a weekly Highlight Jar where we share things that happened in the week that made us happy. We do this each Sunday at dinner. We also make a communal art work that depicts something we cherish. This year, we are making a painting together where each of us share 1 thing from our trip that we loved. Other families I know make photo books just as summer is ending so that they can look at the books in the Fall and Winter, in order to stay connected to the good times of summer. And look at this sweet crafty idea, a new message in a bottle of sorts!

What will you do to help you stay mindful to the things you loved about this summer?