What if it were possible to help ourselves thrive, rather than simply survive? That’s a question we covered at our in-store event in Thame earlier this month. With the expert guidance of our guest speakers, Chartered Psychologist Suzy Reading and the MAMA.DO founder, Lizzie Hughes, we covered how to beat that feeling of running on empty, develop smarter habits to boost our output, and self-care strategies to accomplish whatever challenges life throws at us.
Self-care is a real buzzword right now and there’s a lot of info out there. In your opinion, what are the most valuable benefits of it?
Suzy: Self-care is health care and without our health what do we have? Firstly, we need self-care to help us cope during times of trauma, stress, loss and change and no one is immune from these experiences. Secondly, we need it to help us heal and recover from these challenging times. Thirdly, we need to engage proactively in self-care to keep us energetically topped up, so that we are resilient and resourceful when curveballs hit. Remember, positive events can be seriously depleting too – planning a wedding, holiday, renovation project, moving, scoring a promotion, having children… Fourthly, we need self-care to give us access to our best self. Lovingly tend to yourself with self-care and you give yourself the best possible chance of being the person you aspire to be. Lastly, for parents and those nourishing children, if we want to raise resilient and compassionate kids, we need to be modelling self-care for them and teaching them their own self-care toolkit. Even better, engage in collective self-care and boost health, happiness and wellbeing together.
Lizzie: I think it is important to try and thrive rather than just survive in this crazy mad world we currently live in! Whatever stage you are at in life, you have to open yourself up to taking care of you, especially when you become a mother as you need to give so much, you have to try and take care of yourself too and that’s where self-care comes in. For me self-care is both the physical and mental welfare. Having someone like Suzy breaking down the practical everyday things we can do is huge. As you say there is so much info out there – where do you start? The idea too of mindfulness e.g. instead of doing your to do list in the shower (which is always never ending!) to enjoy that particular moment. That small bit just for you, can be hugely restorative.
What are five ‘smart habits’ we can all adopt to restore our energy and conquer life’s day-to-day demands?
Suzy: 1. Before we can wholeheartedly commit to the self-care habit, we need to get clear on our personal WHY. It’s your WHY that will galvanise you when temptation arises or life gets challenging. If nourishing your health is important to you, take a moment to reflect on the following questions… Describe yourself when you are well-nourished and energetically topped up. What does this facilitate in your life? What does this allow you to do or be? Describe yourself when you are depleted, empty or fatigued. How does this affect your life and the people in it? Write out a few statements of why you personally want to commit to taking better care of yourself – for you and anyone your life touches.
2. Just like our computer needs a reboot every so often, so do we. Unplug yourself and take a minute to recharge by ‘earthing your brow’ – what is this? Think Homer Simpson saying ‘D’oh’… when we are in overwhelm this is a hard wired response – to bring the back of the hand to the forehead or to rest your head in your hands. This is rebooting your nervous system. Take a seat at a table and rest your head on your folded hands for 6 slow deep breaths. If you’re in full scale meltdown, get onto the floor and take the yoga’s child’s pose (kneel and bend your upper body downwards until your head touches the floor in front of the knees).
3. Move your Body – the quickest way to change your mind is to move your body. A single yoga pose will do or head out in nature’s beauty and blow out the cobwebs.
4. Breathe – when you breathe better, you feel better. Take some mountain breaths. Stand tall like a mountain, arms down by your sides. As you breathe in, take your arms out wide to the side, reach them up overhead and look up. As you breathe out, lower your arms back down by your sides and look forwards. 6 reps and it’ll change how you all feel, tapping you into your personal power.
5. If you want to really unlock the power of self-care then forming your own list of self-care PRIMER STATEMENTS is the way to go. Spend some time writing out your commitments in the form of ‘If I am feeling X, then I will Y’. These are powerful ways of priming your brain for more life-giving choices. The more time you spend with this, the stronger your self-care muscle becomes and the greater the dividends.
Why do you think ‘running on empty’ is such a familiar feeling for women at the moment?
Suzy: We live in ‘you snooze you lose’ culture which vastly underrates the value of sleep, rest and relaxation. We are conditioned to think that time out is lazy and we’re weak if we don’t keep pushing through. This has dangerous implications for our health as evidenced by the alarming stats on mental illness in both adults and children. We are more switched on and plugged in than ever before and also more depleted, fried and disconnected than ever before. As women we get to ‘have it all’ which for so many means domestic burden, management of the children AND work demands. We are squeezed, pushed and pulled from all directions and this won’t change until we get self-care on the radar and into daily life. We need to give ourselves permission to nurture ourselves.
Lizzie: Life just seems so full on now compared to when I was a child with modern technology and the access to so much. But take my mum, who worked full time, would disagree and say it has always been a mass juggle and she felt like she was running on empty a lot of the time! We are bombarded with messages and I read something recently that said it’s ok to not always be on a journey of self-improvement. Self-care is actually about taking that breath, slowing down and finding ways to improve the now. We think we have to do it all and think this has always been the case but with the rise of flexible working and entrepreneurism, many women (I can definitely hold my hand up to this) are desperately trying to be all things and feeling that we are in some way failing if one of the hats slips off for a bit. Perfectionism is not new. But perhaps everyone talking about it all is. And that is where social media can be really helpful but also unhelpful too unfortunately.
You swear by the Vitality Wheel to boost health, happiness and resourcefulness. Can you tell us more about that?
Suzy: In my experience, when we need self-care the most, it can be really hard to put your finger on something nurturing! For this reason, I created a framework to help us identify some kind of available tonic when we are feeling frazzled, fatigued and full up. I call this the ‘Vitality Wheel’ and it has 8 spokes each reflecting a different way we can top up our energy bank. Use these categories to get thinking more broadly about what self-care means for you and you can read more about practices that will bring to life each spoke of the Vitality Wheel in my book ‘The Self-Care Revolution’. Even better, annotate the wheel so you have options at a glance.
What are the most common mistakes people make when dealing with stress?
Suzy: Taking on too much and not maintaining our boundaries, denying we are overwhelmed, putting our head in the sand when it comes to the effects stress have on our health, also feeling like we should have everything in check all the time! We need to give ourselves permission to be normal fallible human beings and to carefully tend to our energy bank. A concept that helps bring self-care to life is to think of having an ‘energy bank balance’. Just like a car needs petrol to go, we need reserves to get us through our day. Self-care is the means by which we make a deposit into that energy bank. Take a moment to reflect – what are the things that top you up and have you feeling full of zest? How can you factor more of those into your week? It’s worth also reflecting on the things that deplete you. If there are some that you can avoid or minimise, take action. If they’re unavoidable, know that you’ll need to engage in some kind of nurturing act to make up for the shortfall. Proactively keep your energy bank balance healthy and you will be more resilient in the face of life’s inevitable challenges.
After years working in marketing, you stepped away to set up MAMA.DO, which curates boutique events providing intelligent and inspiring experiences for women. Do you think there is still more to do in this area?
Lizzie: Oh my goodness yes. I love the diversity of what we do and the range of topics from beauty to interiors, fashion to politics and supper clubs to self-care. I have also wanted MAMA. DO to inspire people and to help. Getting out and doing something for you for a couple of hours is actually a type of self-care. It feeds the soul, it brings laughter, it makes you think and it inspires you. We recently did a menopause panel talk with 90 women in the audience and there was lots of sharing, laughter and tears and that is incredibly powerful. I want to grow it and also keep that real mix of areas. We were called a cool WI when we started but I have always rebuffed that as it’s all about positivity for me and there is a place for everyone and every type of event, interest and person. And we are certainly not a business networking group – there is plenty of those! We are all about the other stuff in our lives.
When you’re a new mother, it’s not unusual to feel guilty about taking time for yourself. What would you say to women who are struggling to find space for self-care?
Lizzie: I am mother and have two girls 9 and 5 and it’s a tough old journey the early years. I found it a HUGE shock how hard it was and is. As they grow up, you do find yourself again (promise to any new mums out there!) but you are different. Maybe new and improved but also completely shattered a lot of the time too. Don’t rush it when it comes to self-care and don’t be too guilty about what you haven’t achieved in the day. Self-care for new mothers is finding that small moment that can be restorative like getting that moment of peace and time for you. Make time and plans for a walk outside on your own or with a friend. Don’t feel guilty to stick on the TV if they are toddlers and sit down for twenty minutes. We spend our lives as new mothers in a perpetual cycle of guilt. Be kind to yourself. Babies needs us to take care of ourselves too. And yes that can mean time away from them.
Your latest book, Stand Tall Like a Mountain: Mindfulness & Self-Care for Children and Parents is out this April. What made you write it?
Suzy: We teach our kids how to brush their teeth, to safely cross roads and the importance of healthy eating, I wrote Stand Tall like a Mountain to broaden the focus to include practices that boost our children’s emotional and mental wellbeing. We all want to raise compassionate, resilient kids and we achieve this by empowering them with their own self-care toolkit, helping them navigate challenging situations and difficult emotions such as anger, anxiety, and sadness. As parents, it can be hard to find the time for self-care and often we feel guilty about it. Rather than seeing self-care as something that needs to be solo, something special, somewhere away from home, I want to open people’s eyes to the ways we can nourish ourselves together as a family, teaching our kids the value of self-care and boosting the health of the family unit in the process. I hope that parents and kids can sit down together, take a leaf through the book and enjoy building a self-care toolkit that will keep everyone feeling well nourished.