Harvesting a Good Feeling

Raise your hand if you have been having some big feelings these last few months! Don’t worry if you are reading this alone, because chances are, all of us are raising our hand in a big YES to this question.

And guess what?! We can slow down the overwhelm of big and hard feelings. Magic happens when you practice alchemy by adding more time noticing the good and gentle feelings. The magic is when we can control the cognitive realm of our Self by adding positive cognitions and more present awareness.

Does that sound hard or give you a headache? One amazing aspect of our body is the energy it exudes, so we become more intentional or in control of our thoughts. Our body has an energy field called Torus, which is the external expression of our nervous system. Our heart is known to have a donut-shaped (torus) energy. This is that feeling you have when you ‘just have a feeling’ or a gut instinct. I love how this aura permeates from our centre, as it can also symbolize that feeling when we are close to someone meaningful and special to us. It shows up in those butterflies in the stomach or blush on our face. These are some ways we can start to notice the impact of our thoughts and choices, and how they might linger in our body. A beautiful outcome of this energy is the glow we can feel when we are accessing something positive or happy even.

Our body gets impacted by intergenerational trauma and well as more direct experiences of trauma. A traumatic memory starts to linger in the body and becomes so blended that it makes it hard for the person to step outside of the traumatized part. This is when the torus field gets compromised and then impacts our general physical health with continued ailments, health challenges, and continued incidents of trauma. During MRIs, our brain lights up as the colour blue when we feel rested and at peace, and red when it’s in fight or flight, or anxious. We need to find ways to get the brain to be blue, to rest and get to the glow.

When we start to balance or titrate these harder experiences with more pleasant, positive or optimistic ones, we give our body a chance to rest. We then start to heal that part that is still struggling. Our toric field and nervous system starts to heal and notice signs of distress earlier. Taking time to take stock of our energetic somatic level is a great way to start intentionally building an emotional wellness toolkit, especially as the Winter months are coming.

The wonderful work on Polyvagal Theory has brought so much rich goodness to healing and living more embodied, especially during this pandemic. In Deb Dana’s latest book, Polyvagal Exercises for Rest and Connection, she speaks about Glow and Glimmers. Glimmers are the opposite of a trigger; they are the sensations in our body that help us get to a safe and connected zone. Glows are the more sustaining feeling when our Ventral Vagus Nerve is activated. They are the deepened state of feeling calm and connected.

Another beautiful concept of this body of work is the ‘Soul Nerve’, from Resmaa Menakem (the author of the important and pivotal book My Grandmother’s Hands). In his book, he shares that this is where we experience a felt sense of love, compassion, and the full range of emotions as well, like sadness, hope anxiety, disgust, fear, grief. The felt sense lives in our body, in our lizard brain and also is easiest to access near our solar plexus and gut (known sometimes as our second brain). The amygdala aka lizard brain is where our body feels the 4 F’s (flight fight freeze fawn) and respond. We need to intentionally activate the mammalian brain of connection and rest, where we feel vibrant, and relaxed as well.

So, what do we do with all this knowledge of our body and brain? One simple way is to start to have a pleasure practice. Pleasure does not have to have an overtly sexual connotation but rather a more embodied sense of feeling ease and pleasure in a here-and-now moment. For instance, you can meditation, stroke your body in a self-massage, slowly add lotion after a bath or shower, masturbate, do a yoga yin practise, connect with the 5 senses to anchor a good moment in your body, be present, watch a candle burn for a few moments and follow it with your breath.

I recently heard a helpful strategy called the “5 percent Pleasure Rule by Ann Nguyen; find ways to ask yourself how to make an event or activity 5 % more pleasurable than it is right now. Maybe you are eating dinner – can you make it a bit more pleasurable by lighting candles, having a cloth napkin or tablecloth, or maybe it is adding lemon slices to your glass of water. How can you build capacity to ENJOY your day more – this increases pleasure which then tells your body and mind that you are resting and not always activated in flight or fight.

Think about in the bedroom, where you enjoy more sexual and intimate pleasure. Can you surrender a few percent to build up the pleasure muscle? How might that look for you?

The Vagus nerve (as I’ve written about before) is active throughout your body. As it’s known as the second brain in the gut as well as easily accessible in the solar plexus, there are ways to help access it intentionally when you’re feeling activated or under distress. Think of ways to access it now that you know where it lives in your body – as you are reading this now, see what happens when you hum a bit, sigh out OM, buzz like a bee, give yourself a vagus throat stroke, sing, chant, rub your belly, do belly breathing, rock or sway. Did you notice an exhalation or softening?

When we notice what is happening in our body and have resources to take care of ourself, it helps us hold agency and choice. We can then follow the pull for rest versus feeling compelled to push through.

We have been taught that we need to be productive even during a pandemic. We’ve also been taught that self-care is selfish and rest is both a sign of weakness as well as a luxury. One big step is to reclaim this process and see you rest as worthy and actually sustainable. These breaks can help productivity AND also increase your access to the nerve that helps your body rest and digest.

Here is a list of ways to relax and access the ventral vagus nerve. What might you add to your own personalized list?

* Take a break – re-centre yourself, pause, take in the surroundings, do it during a busy day
* Cook or bake something new
* Be off social media, devices
* Read for hours
* Journal
* Laugh
* Hammock or swing – sway back and forth
* Between moments of busyness take in your senses – 5 senses game
* Get bored to unwind after feeling overloaded – jog, podcast, one thing at a time
* Meditate
* Draw or paint
* Play with clay or dough
* Dance
* Change your meal plan
* Play catch
* Skip rope
* Sing
* Play music while cooking and sing
* Eat a fresh veg and fruit meal – find ways to savour them and pick your own fresh produce
* Treat yourself to a bouquet of flowers
* Watch adorable videos – cute animals
* Clean a spot in your home and relish that order
* Water bath – swim, look at photos, bliss out in the water
* Enjoy a view – mountain, forest or beach – in real life or photos
* Hug someone even yourself
* Talk to someone you love
* Tea break with a ritual process
* Do nothing but watch a kettle boil
* Eat chocolate
* Write a real letter to a loved one and mail it
* Watch a favourite happy movie scene or show
* Re-read a favourite book and recall where you read it before
* Cuddle a pet or someone else’s
* Play a fun game like Animal Crossing, or a game that takes you to your youth like Go Fish or Connect Four and recall how it made you feel back then
* Be barefoot outdoors
* Nap
* Cuddle with someone
* Sit in a rocking chair
* Plant something in soil get your hands dirty
* Wake with the dawn – watch a sunrise or sunset and look closely at how the horizon change
* Cold bath plunge
* Bird watch – or watch a butterfly in flight, a snail at a slow pace…
* Self-massage
* Happy place mediation

It might be overwhelming to think of things to do so why not split them up by season? With the Fall Equinox happening this week, it’s a great time to intentionally notice what things might help you glow. Fall is a perfect time to get back in rhythm as it shows us how cycles can be re-invigorating and helps us bring this awareness into our own life. Think of the 5 senses to help you start a list. Notice how you can navigate a new mindset shift and bring a sense of peace and warmth to your everyday. When we can anticipate a GOOD feeling and something we are looking for instead of dreading, that is a healing way to reset and get back to a rhythm. Have you heard of the concept of Hygge? This is the perfect time to add cozy and rest-encouraged activities and rituals in your everyday life. Let’s harvest some.

What are some things you look forward to this Fall?
* Drink chai or a spicy tea
* Puzzle play, crosswords, stock up on board games and new books
* Knit (or learn to)another new craft like weaving or macrame
* Get a new journal to write in and capture moments of gratitude
* Light a candle or oils
* Put lotion on your hands and feet at bedtime
* Put together a calming playlist and listen – do nothing else but catch your breathe
* Make Fire Cider
* Have a bath
* Can some fresh food for winter
* Apple picking
* Get a cozy blanket and keep it ready
* Stock up on indoor plants
* Witness a sunrise or sunset
* Get comfy clothes
* Hot apple cider
* Bake – bread, cookies, warm up store-bought cinnamon rolls
* Hug a tree and stare at its branches – fractals are repetitive patterns that help your brain meditate, or effortless looking
* Forest bath – mindful walk in a forest. Lie in it. Be still and focus. Hike. Notice the leaves and their change in colours
* Sitting by a crackling fire

In the next few days, why don’t you sit down with a cup of warm nourishing tea and a piece of paper and pen. Then, jot down some ways that you can add these activities of rest for yourself. What you come up with will be part of your Wellness Toolkit as we prepare for the Winter ahead, one that may be harder than years past. See what you can harvest. Find what makes you glow.

How to Live a Balanced Life

It’s butterfly season right now, and this summer brings a happy supply of them where i live. As they are an anchor for me, I’ve been working on creating a tool with the butterfly as the inspiration. I love the quote from Rupi Kaur that reminds us that ‘growth is a process that takes time’ – indeed strength is necessary for a caterpillar to become a chrysalis and then to transform and push out of cocoon. The metamorphosis of the butterfly is the perfect display of the rite of passage we all go through.

I am my own wellness or resilience coach – I work hard to create my own version of a balanced life by making a point to bring joy in, taking care of myself, as well as keeping myself connected to others. With this in mind, i created this worksheet as a guide to help you.

I love the various Wheel of Life tools that highlight the various parts of us – this is similar and a bit unique as it breaks down the parts into the holistic trifecta of Mind, Body and Spirit.

Think of these butterfly parts as a way to create more balance in your own life. Each part is integral to living well. So, the Antenna symbolizes the Spirit; the Head is the mind and mental health realm, and of course the Body represents the physical self-care we need to stay well. The 4 wings around it are for family, friends, work, and community. Now, add what you do that nourishes this part, and what you wish to add in order to create more balance. See what comes up, what’s missing, and what you’d like to add moving forward. We are our own experts, so get to navigate the way we live our life – what do you chose? Use the butterflies you see in nature as a guide – take time to slow down and linger in one place.

what the caterpillar saw as the end, the rest of the world saw as the beginning. lao tzu

I’ve created a free 2-page PDF that you can print and work on yourself, Get a cup of tea, a nice pen and take some time to sit with this. Click here to get a copy.

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 somatic/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. I also find the analogy of getting through to the other side of a storm, or getting to back home (over the rainbow) as reference. If you’d like your own worksheet version, go to my Toolkit Handouts here page and make a copy – you can put it up on your fridge as a reminder.

R – What is an activity of REST that you can take a break with
What are some ways you can rest and relax? 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. 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. Or maybe you would rather 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.

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. This podcast that talks more about everyday magic and woo woo is a great listen!

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 Take some deep BREATHS
Slowing down in the here-and-now moment is a great way for you to catch your breath, and align your body with what your mind is focused on. It’s important to slow down and catch your breath. If it’s hard to do some breathes or meditation on your own, that’s okay – look up some great guided visualization apps or programs. Or, 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.

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.

A New Year, A New Word

Happy New Year! I’m not one for resolutions as i worry about the pressure and unrealistic goals. But i do like traditions and ways to stay motivated. I benefit from having goals that guide me and keep me accountable to myself.

Each year, we chronicle our days and weeks. I usually write in a journal – it can be a quick note of gratitude or an exercise aligned with the moon cycle. As a family, we mark each week with a Memory Jar. I know there are a lot of traditions and rituals. So it helps to find ones that work for you.

If you have been thinking of something to do to chronicle your year, it’s not too late! I compiled a list of my favourites. Most of them are free apps or worksheets you can print and do to you heart’s content.

Here are some of them:

Practice You
This is my current journal and i am Loving it. It is beautiful, special and a great guide. I am using it daily, as a way to close my day. The writer also created a free Mapping workplan for 2018, that is based on this journal.

Many Moons
Another great journal and moon book. It comes in 6-month books and documents the major moon cycles of each month. The author did a wonderful job putting together some journal prompts and guides. The book covers things in your personal life, things from your past, goals for the future as well as things that are bigger than you – and connects us together.

The Desire Map and Core Desired Feelings
This is a great tool that helps you unpack some dreams and wishes you have, to make your life the way you would really like. I do the annual Core Desired Feelings/Word. Last year it was Breathe and i worked hard on it. It came in handy when my kids were testing my patience, and when i knew i needed time to myself to catch my breath. It’s still a work in progress, so it was a great intention to set for myself.

This year, my word is LOVE for myself, for my children (especially when they are testing my patience), quality time with my love, giving love to my village, and doing things i love. I am working on choosing love when my kids are getting me frustrated, and being more intentional with giving myself the love i give to others.

Unravel Your Year
I have down this workbook for 4 years now. It’s great, and time consuming. So commit to some time to yourself – a long bath, at a coffee shop, after kids’ bedtime for instance. It’s a nice lesson in giving ourselves the time we give others, and to slow down and reflect, pause and be mindful.

Permission Slip
We of course need to work on giving ourselves the same permission we give others – to be less then perfect and to be human. I love how Brene Brown speaks about this. You can actually write a permission slip as we got in school, and put it in your pocket as a reminder.

Mothering Arts has a great list of ideas to help your family reflect on the year that just finished. You can download the template and discuss your highlights some day this week. There are others online for sure, but i really appreciate the gentle approach of this one.

And here is a further great list of 11 things you can do as a family. It’s never too late to start a new tradition and to be intentional with your plans each year. It’s a mindful way of living your life as close to how you want to. Nothing is perfect, and we can still aim to have the life we want.

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?