We are living increasingly busy and stressful lives these days. For most of us there is so much to juggle from day to day. Whether it be work, study, family, social commitments or otherwise, we can often be left feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. We also generally have less of a community and family support network around us than previous generations so can sometimes be left feeling as though we are facing a lot of it alone. The stress of trying to be “perfect” can leave us feeling anxious and unwell. It doesn’t help that we have the added anxiety of “lifestyle envy” that social media has created. Browsing through friends and celebrities Twitter and Instagram feeds can leave us feeling distinctly under par and as though we are underachieving ourselves. Keeping control of your own life whilst at the same time keeping up with the Jones’ is an exhausting task and eventually something has to give. Often the first sign that we are taking on too much comes from our bodies and if we are not listening to their subtle messages and cries for help eventually they may shut down in order to force us to take a break. This exact thing happened to me about a year and a half after my daughter was born. I had a pretty good, short labour with no complications but immediately after the birth I continued to lose quite a lot of blood to the degree that doctors considered giving me a blood transfusion. Luckily in the end they decided it wouldn’t be necessary. We took Aurélia home the next day and I set about breastfeeding and looking after our tiny newborn as best I could. Hubby returned to work two weeks later and although I had a lot of help from my mum, the adjustment to parenting was a big one. Apart from the hugely demanding physical challenge that comes with lack of sleep and breastfeeding there is also an enormous emotional one that comes with adjusting to your new life as a parent. I’ve heard that in Ayurvedic medicine they consider that it takes a whole year for a woman’s body to fully recover from pregnancy, birth and caring for a young child. After a wonderful but exhausting year of coping with a new baby and a very busy husband who was often away I finally admitted to myself that I probably needed extra help so we took on a nanny to help out one day a week. This definitely lightened my load although initially I wasn’t great at handing over the reigns!
Then in August the following year, with Aurélia now at 20 months old and hubby just starting back at work, I stated feeling a little dizzy and light-headed. I went to the doctor who diagnosed Labrinthitis, an infection of the inner ear. Two days later I woke up feeling so ill that within an hour Brendan had decided to phone for an ambulance. At this point I genuinely thought I was going to die (I promise I’m not a drama queen)! I was rushed to A&E and spent the day on a drip before being discharged the next day. I continued to be very ill at home for the next couple of weeks and had to take some pretty serious drugs. I still can’t go on the roundabout in the park with Aurélia! It turned out I’d had a pretty nasty viral infection but now I look back it was clear that I hadn’t been looking after myself properly. A few months after having Aurélia I weighed less than my pre-baby weight, not through trying but through being exhausted and not making time to eat or drink properly (thankfully I’m back to normal now). My body had literally had to shut down to force me to rest and look after myself. Being this ill had given me a big wake-up call. I have since spoken to many other people who have suffered from Labrinthitis and all say it came at a time when they were particularly busy, stressed and run-down. During my recuperation I made a pact to regularly make time for me. After all if I didn’t look after myself I wasn’t going to be able to look after my family!
I do appreciate that not everyone is in a position or even wishes to employ someone to take on some of the load so that they can have time out for themselves but there are other things you may be able to do. Perhaps ask a family member to take the kids for an hour a week or arrange for another parent to take them to an after-school club. Could that hour on Facebook in the evenings be time better spent? Can you walk to school/work and have time for your thoughts instead of chatting on the phone on the bus/train? When you realise the importance of “me time” for your health and sanity you often realise there are other, less important things that can probably wait.
Now my daughter is at nursery a few days a week I always try to set aside a morning or afternoon to dedicate entirely to wellbeing and pampering. Basically this is time spent solely on doing anything that makes one feel good! Below are some of the things that I like to do to make me feel healthy, happy and rested and ready to face the world! These can be done on their own or combined to make a whole morning/day of delicious pampering. On the other hand some of these things can take as little as 10 minutes. The important thing is to be fully present in the moment and in each task. This is what’s known as mindfulness.
Exercise – Before I had Aurelia I used to be a real fan of the gym but nowadays I find I can’t get there often enough to justify the price of membership. Instead I like to attend yoga and Pilates classes nearby or if I’m really short on time I will practice at home for half an hour even taking my practice outside if the weather is nice. Sometimes it seems hard to work up the energy or motivation but I tell myself I’ll just start and see how it goes. I almost always get into it pretty much as soon as I begin and feel much better afterwards. Even just 10 minutes of stretching has health benefits for your body and mind. I also love to get outside for a run or a power walk. I’m lucky enough to live in beautiful countryside which I love but if the area you live or work in isn’t inspiring you, perhaps you can get in the car or on a train and find somewhere nearby that does! Apart from the benefits of exercise there are also health benefits to being outdoors. In the summer vitamin D from sunlight is one but being outside amongst nature at any time and whatever the weather will lift your spirits and can leave you feeling more positive. It’s great to be able to switch off from everyday stresses and fully take in the beauty of your surroundings but if you really can’t afford the time I find that stepping away from the computer and mentally taking a project outside for a walk with you can give you better perspective and increase productivity.
Juicing – I bought a juicer a couple of years ago in order to get more nutrients into my diet. It’s a fairly quick process but I love the act of chopping and juicing all the yummy vegetables knowing that they are going to fill me with goodness and increase my energy. I like to make this a part of a half or full day pampering routine and combine it with some exercise and then a lovely long relaxing bath. I like to alternate juices depending on what I feel my body needs but one of my favourite all rounders is a simple and delicious Apple, Carrot, Beetroot and Ginger. While fruit undeniably has health benefits in the form of vitamins and nutrients it can also be very high in Fructose (fruit sugars) without containing fibre to slow their absorption. It’s much better to stick mainly to veggies which have less sugar and more nutrients, and just add the odd fruit in here and there.
Meditation and Mindfulness – I’ve covered this one briefly before in a previous post (My top 10 tips for healthy living). Meditation has proven health benefits including reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and improving attention span and creativity. I first became aware of meditation whilst at high school. We had a religious studies teacher, Dr.Thompson who used to begin each class with a short meditation session. As you can imagine this didn’t go down so well with a bunch of fourteen year olds! The thing is, meditation works if you give in to it. Practice can be hard at first but this is why it is called practice. Very few people get into a deep meditative state on their own the first time. You can find some great meditations online or why not try a class? Lots of Yoga centres have classes solely dedicated to meditation.
Pamper time – Ok everybody can manage this one! This is about pure relaxation and fulfilment. What are the things that you love to do but feel are luxuries that you don’t really have time for? Here’s the thing… If they make you feel great they are important! Schedule it in as you would a piece of work and give it the same importance. I love to light some candles, run a bath filled with my fave aromatherapy oils and play relaxing music but it could be as simple as taking 10 minutes to yourself to read a great book or apply a face mask. Whatever you choose, enjoy it and don’t you dare feel guilty. You’re worth it! The people who rely on you need you at your tip-top, sparkly best!