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Three steps to letting go of guilt

Guilt for not being enough, doing enough, doing it well enough. Guilt for juggling, for struggling, or for thriving when others are surviving. Guilt for wanting space, for finding it hard when others have it harder. Guilt for not being present, for resenting, for wanting more. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

Guilt has become the soundtrack to many of our lives.

Unnecessarily.

When I feel guilty, my internal dialogue gets a little (ahem, a lot) more critical. I’m less likely to engage in the things that help me, and more likely to engage in the things that harm me.

Self-sabotage, self-destructive behaviours increase because I feel guilty, I feel bad. I feel less deserving of good things. Good things like rest, support, insight, compassion, empathy. And goodness me, wouldn’t we all benefit from more of those things?

So if you also have a habit of carrying guilt around like a heavy, sooty rock deep in the core of your belly read on, because…

It doesn’t need to be this way.

I want to share with you three small albeit mighty powerful steps to letting go of guilt.

This is an excerpt from The Week on Worth Course  I go into much more detail on guilt and self-esteem within the course, which will be a great next step if you want to explore this further.

But first of all, you need to know that guilt isn’t there to shame you. It’s there to prompt you.

Guilt isn’t there to point the finger, to brandish the whip, to turn up the knob on the gas burner of self-criticism. It’s there as a sensation, as a little flag that pops up to say ‘hey, something needs addressing’.

The guilt we feel often sits in one of two camps: Justified and unjustified. And determining which kind of guilt it is that you are feeling can be really helpful.

Justified guilt

This is the kind of guilt that comes when we have done something wrong. We have hurt someone intentionally or unintentionally; perhaps we have acted in a manner that we aren’t proud of; or made a decision that has come with negative repercussions. This guilt is felt because our actions conflict with our ethics.

Unjustified guilt

This is the type of guilt that comes when you haven’t done wrong.

It might be that someone has done something wrong to us, and we feel a sense of responsibility that isn’t ours to carry. A good way to test whether your guilt is unjustified is to consider how you’d respond if someone told you they were blaming themselves for the same thing.

For example, I felt guilt and shame for my period of post-natal depression and the fact that I wasn’t able to be the mum for that

I’d wanted to be for my kids during that time. Was this my fault? Had I done anything wrong? Or was it the circumstances I found myself in? If someone had told me that they felt shame for the same thing, I’d desire for them to feel the compassion for themselves that I felt towards them.

Regardless of what you feel guilty about, whether it’s justified or unjustified, guilt is there to prompt you to action, not to shame you. Here is my ACT tip for the next time you feel a wave of guilt or want to address the weight of guilt in your stomach:

Address it.

Imagine that guilt as a rock sitting on the palm of your hand. Look at it and ask yourself what it is about. Why is it there? What do you believe you’ve done wrong? Is it justified or unjustified? What would you say to a friend if they told you they felt guilt about this?

Compassion.

We ALL deserve compassion. If you did something wrong intentionally, find a way to inject some compassion into it. You may need to be a little creative, but it’s an important step as when we feel only shame, we stay stuck in a cycle of shame and criticism. It hinders us from developing healthy self-esteem. Introducing compassion doesn’t absolve you of responsibility, it just enables you to address it more constructively.

Perhaps I hurt a friend because I feared they’d reject me at some point, so I did it to gain a sense of control. The hurt is the action I feel guilty about, yet the fear deserves compassion.

Tweak.

So now you know what the guilt is, and you’ve injected some compassion. The final step is to make a tweak or action based on that insight. If you feel guilty because you’ve hurt a friend, talk with them about the fear you’ve identified. Apologise, and then let it go.

Maybe I equip myself with a technique, or I do some research to gain further insight into my own responses. Perhaps I feel guilty about

being on my phone too much, so I consider placing boundaries around my usage. I can then set the guilt rock down. I’ve addressed it. It is no longer of use to me. I don’t need to carry that weight.

If your guilt is unjustified, this process is very important. We sometimes direct hurt and anger towards ourselves as a way of making sense of difficult circumstances, or someone else’s treatment of us. If you feel you’d benefit from talking in more depth with a trusted friend or therapist, please take the step to do so. That is a statement of worth! You’re worthy of support in that process.

I hope this helps as you navigate the many feelings and demands that come with the pandemic. You need more of what you need to keep going, and unaddressed guilt is likely to stand in the way of you believing you’re deserving of that.

Just because you feel guilty, it doesn’t mean you are guilty.

Further resources:

The Week on Worth Course – Download now for £25

On Feeling Less Guilty – 10 Minute episode of The Therapy Edit

Counselling Directory

Mental health charities and organisations

Home Learning with ease and without pressure

More Enjoyment – Less Pressure

5 Things Guest Submission by @enchantednanny

A note from Anna: I count myself privileged to call The Enchanted Nanny a friend having handed tiny Florence over to her care almost two years ago whilst I spoke to a group of mums about post natal anxiety. Danielle has had my three captivated by her Youtube phonics, songs and story times, more than Peppa Pig ever did! Her desire is to support parents in supporting their young ones as we all feel our way through the Pandemic. So, feel the pressure lift as you read her words today.

It comes as no surprise that parents are struggling with the world’s new situation. The weight of children’s education has fallen directly onto the shoulders of those not trained to hold it.

It’s like being presented with the rough blueprints of a house, along with a pile of bricks, some tools and a loose set of instructions – and expecting to create a structurally sound home.

The impact of attempting to complete the task to perfection, while also maintaining the life you had before would cause no end of stress, anxiety, upset and eventually burn out. As well as a messy, unfinished, slightly wobbly house.

Much better in this instance, to admit that attempting the whole task blindly is simply not sensible, and that your time would be better spent laying and maintaining the house’s foundations, organising the bricks and getting ready for the construction team to hit the ground running when they take over.

Most parents are not trained to provide the intricacies of a full school day, and those that are certainly did not learn to deliver their profession from home, while balancing siblings, housework and a pandemic. It’s vitally important that parents understand that they are not expected to build the whole house – to be teacher, mum, emotional counsellor, chef. Instead, parents need to feel informed and supported, and to understand that this time is about maintaining the foundations, not attempting to build the whole house.

1- Remove the Pressure

Children are resilient. It’s their superpower. They make the best of a situation and they bounce back. Although this time seems long and detrimental, please remind yourself often that in the grand scheme of things, this is a small segment of their young lives. They haven’t stopped learning just because the learning is no longer formal and set within the walls of a school. Your children continue to learn every day, whether you are consciously teaching them or not. No one (and I have spoken to many school head teachers to verify this) is expecting you to facilitate a school setting or bridge the gap in their learning. Please remove that pressure and expectation from your already burdened shoulders. YES we want them to keep learning NO this does not mean teaching to a structured, formal and fast paced timetable at all times.

2- Find the Magic

I am not saying that this experience is easy or that every moment is magical. Most of us are not used to being with our children 24/7 and it’s not without it’s challenges. This situation does however present us with a unique opportunity to surrender our structure opening the door to new experiences and learning opportunities with our children. Being with them every day gives us time to be surprised by them, intrigued by them and to learn who they are as people. Our children are being granted the gift of experiencing us as individuals too – as we learn alongside them. They have seen us laugh, cry, they witness our struggles, our triumphs and sharing these moments with us is creating a bond between parents and children, the impact of which I think we will see when this generation are parents themselves.

3- Have a Safety Net

It’s SO important to know that you are NOT alone in any of this. There are professionals and resources out there to help you across or around every obstacle, whether it’s help with the educational stumbling blocks, mental health support, child development advice, support groups or even pages specifically designed to give you regular breaks while your children learn, sing or play.

This list is best made when you’re alone and calm. Fill it with links to ANYTHING that will get you through predicted tricky moments. This list will be your safety net. You’ll know that you can ‘break glass in emergency’ and it’s always their when you need to solve a problem and no longer have the energy.

Fill your safety net with those closest to you. I have a code word for when I am at breaking point. I send it to my Mum and she calls and supports from afar.

4- Build in a Release Valve

One little change that can have the most positive impact is understanding that you are free to set a home learning schedule that suits YOU and your household. This might mean learning Sat-Wed instead of Mon-Fri or completing the bulk of the learning early in the morning or much later in the afternoon. It’s home learning and you’re in charge!

Tension can build in even the calmest of households, so build in a release valve and know that you can use it at any time. You can guarantee that whatever your release valves are, they will still include some important learning. Ours is building a ‘spa at home’ or baking and cooking together. BOOM

an important lesson in self-care, maths and culinary skills – and a much more relaxed and happy family!

5- Carve out a Sacred Learning Space that Your Child Will Want to Spend Time in

We all work best in different environments. Some like blank, tidy spaces others prefer being surrounded by colour and white noise. Some learners are visual, some auditory and some learn best when moving around. Creating a sacred learning space for your child is vital and avoids a negative association with learning and their memory of our current situation.

Ensure they know it is theirs, that it feels personal, the lighting is good and it’s separate from the rest of their world, with all of the tools they’ll need close by.

My middle child is a visual/kinaesthetic learner, she sees, feels and moves in order to learn best. Learning prompts have been displayed on the wall along with her favourite drawing and physical resources are readily available, there’s space to move. I’ve popped some cheap and cheerful flowers on her table and we start each learning session with a cup of something warm. The sacredness of all of this has made her learning special and comfortable – for both of us.

 

Practical Ways to Protect your Mental Health in Isolation

You only have to glance the aisles of the supermarkets to know that people have been considering the practicalities of being isolated in their own homes. But how do we address the impact that isolation will have on our mental health?

Understandably, there is a lot of fear, trepidation and anxiety around the uncertainty of our global situation. It’s hard and worrying, because…it IS hard and worrying. Covid-19 is the term upon everyone’s lips, and many things hang in the balance. If you’re experiencing anxiety, read my article on addressing coronavirus anxiety here.

I’m going to give you practical tips to protect your mental health as we follow government guidelines for the foreseeable future.

Make space

Whilst the physical space that is available to us will be limited significantly to normal, ‘space’ is going be harder to come across. If you are living with others, find ways to create personal space and quiet away from the noise.

Perhaps you agree a set time in the day where you take it in turns to have half an hour on uninterrupted quiet, set your alarm so that you wake to stillness. You might find it helpful to retreat to a particular corner of your home and put your headphones on.

Increased emotions

This enforced slowness may well bring to the surface emotions that have been hidden in the busyness of life. As the pace slows, emotions such as grief, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, trauma and sadness may emerge from the depths of where they have been hidden.

It is important to find ways to to verbalise some of these emotions. It can feel vulnerable, but the only way to process, and soften emotion is to give it appropriate space. If you can, speak to a trusted friend or family member. Take little steps of openness. You don’t have to tell them everything straight away, but it’s important to validate and respect what you are feeling. You might want to speak with your GP, or browse these helplines.

Seek physical comfort

I don’t think we realise how much small gestures of touch positively impact our mental health until they aren’t possible. A hug, a handshake, the brush of an arm or the pat of a back – all work to make us feel accepted and appreciated. For some, the lack of touch is going to feel prominent.

If appropriate (strictly following guidelines relevant for you), increase physical contact with pets and those in your home. More hugs with kids or drag the cat upon your lap as you watch TV. If you are alone and isolated, wrap a heavy blanket tightly around your shoulders for a feeling of containment. It’s not the same, I know, but it’s something.

Hold house meetings

Your home is likely to be used differently now there may be more people there. Hold regular meetings in order to delegate responsibilities. With lack of commutes, and the home doubling up as a workplace, you may need to set new boundaries and adapt roles. Unclear boundaries, confused roles and mismatched expectations can cause resentment and frustration.

Be intentional not passive

Let’s face it, whilst we can hazard a guess and make speculation, we don’t know exactly how long we will be isolated. Our government are constantly assessing and amending guidelines.

Don’t put life on hold. We have a choice on how we view this period of life. If we see it as a waiting room, we may become passive, letting the days slip through our fingers as we wait for some kind of familiarity to resume. Or we can use this time to learn, grow, develop relationships and invest in things that have been on the back burner! There is absolutely time and need for quiet and rest, but being intentional about the way we choose to live could mean that we learn and grow positively as individuals and families.

Maintain the weekend

It could be so easy to forget what day of the week it is, but finding ways to maintain the structure of the week can be really helpful. Having the weekend to look forward to gives us something to lean towards as we complete another week. In our home, you’ll find relaxed rules, pyjamas at breakfast, a little more tv and more exciting snacks!

Combat boredom

Boredom is something that we have long avoided with busyness, and filling every moment with a scroll or a soundtrack. Boredom isn’t a negative thing, yet it has been something we have tried to avoid at all costs.

Boredom gives our brains space to process feelings and experiences. It allows us to daydream and get creative. Remember the pre-technology days when sitting on a train or a plane meant looking out the window, thinking, remembering. That was valuable time.

Boredom is uncomfortable when we feel anxious, or have suppressed emotion because the feelings and thoughts y come forward when space is found. Once we begin to find techniques that help us productively acknowledge and address our anxiety and any trauma, we can start to enjoy those moments of boredom.

These next few weeks are a great opportunity to do this. See my home based Reframing Anxiety Course (use discount code ra-save15), or my post on coronavirus anxiety to help with this.

Gratitude for the small

Grab a piece of paper and write down a list of 30 things that you are grateful for. Note how you feel beforehand, and how you feel afterwards. Gratitude is a powerful tool, it calls us to look at what is right and good in our lives, bringing balance and perspective.

Bringing balance into confusion

I’m going to tell you a personal story to illustrate this.

I remember being ten. I was with my younger brother, rolling sideways down a steep, grassy slope in our little village. We were laughing hysterically, swaying dizzily as we stood. The thing was, we were rolling down the slope of a graveyard. Short weeks after we stood there burying our sister.

It wasn’t that grief didn’t sit like an elephant on our small hearts, or that our cheeks weren’t stinging from the salty tears we cried. It was that, in that moment, there was joy. And we didn’t know to strip the richness of the laughter by focussing on the aching confusion and pain. We just let it be. Sure there were tears that came after. Confusion, vulnerability – it was all there. But there was also laughter and joy too.

There is pain, hardship, uncertainty. There are tears, grief, fear. But when we let ourselves see and experience the joy, or pertinence of the moments that we walk through, it brings balance. It brings perspective.

No feeling is out of bounds. You may find yourself feeling a multitude of conflicting emotions and that is okay. Remind yourself that you can feel frustration AND relief. Fear AND happiness. Grief AND joy. Feelings may sound they are contradicting one another, but we are multi-layered beings, the more we try and dictate what we should or shouldn’t be feeling, the harder it makes them to process, and therefore pass!

Seek support

If you are living in a situation in which you are in emotional or physical risk, or living in relationship dynamics that are harmful in some way. Please seek support. You’ll find details on how to get support for domestic abuse here, and relationship support here.

If you are concerned about your mental health, you can find some tips for anxiety here, along with some contacts for support. You might find it very helpful to connect with people who are in similar situations to you. Mind has an online peer support community called Elefriends .

Monitor digital usage

We are going to be leaning on technology and the online world more to entertain, connect and support us. The internet can be both constructive and destructive, and it’s important to monitor how we are utilising it. Scrolling to feel connected is one thing, but if we find ourselves embroiled in a cloud of unhealthy comparison that makes us feel worse, then it’s not so helpful.

Consider using apps to help monitor and guide your use of social media and how long you spend on it. Before you pick up your phone, consider why and whether you’re going to benefit from the way you may be intending to use it. If you want to explore this further, this page is helpful.

Find light relief

Watch or read somethings that make you smile and laugh, or pick up the phone to someone who never fails to raise your spirits. Laughter brings a welcome dose of happy endorphins, seek it and enjoy it.

Do something for others

Altruism is good for mental health. Helping others gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. What might you do to support those around you in any way, big or small? Perhaps calling an elderly neighbour, or dropping some groceries on the doorstep of a family who need them.

Instil routine

Building routine can be really grounding. Even though we cannot plan our days around the things we usually do, you can still benefit from the predictability of routine by creating your own. However, ensure it is lose enough so as not to increase stress. Ensure plenty of flexibility to allow for fluctuating mood and feelings.

I’d recommend getting up and going to bed at the same time you usually do. Get up and dressed and make the bed. It may be a good chance to tweak routine to benefit you, adding in things you don’t usually find the time for such as exercise or hobbies. It’s still good to do the things that make you feel yourself – like wearing clothes you enjoy regardless of who sees you.

Get fresh air

Regardless of what restrictions are placed on spending time outdoors, ensure that you are getting a dose of nature every day. It is known to improve mood and reduce stress. Get outside if guidelines allow can or sit on your doorstep with your morning cup of tea if you are able. But regardless, open the windows daily even if it means wearing an extra layer. Bring the outside in – bring a pot plant indoors, lie or sit and listen to the sounds that come through your open window.

Be productive

Feeling like we’ve accomplished something is so rewarding and enforces a sense of purpose. Consider what you might be able to tick off the to-do list each day. Maybe there is a drawer you’ve always intended to clear out, or the kitchen has been begging for a thorough clean. Perhaps your digital photos need sorting, and you’ve always meant to map out some photo books!

Stimulate your brain

Have you always wanted to learn a new language, master crochet, or have a pile of industry magazines that have sat gathering dust? Now is the time. Regardless of whether you are working at home or not, keep your brain stimulated, however don’t pressure yourself to have to do it all!

Setting yourself a task or a project gives something to work towards and it’s always really enjoyable to see progress in your skills! There are lots of apps that help your learn languages, podcasts to give insight into different topics. What’s more the FutureLearn and OpenLearn websites offer some free online courses!

Keep connected

Pick up the phone and have voice to voice discussions with friends and family. It’s easier to simply send messages, but visual and voice calls give more of a sense of being with that person. It’s not the same as physically being with someone, but it’s beneficial in maintaining relationships. Text messages can be easily misunderstood too, so seeing and hearing someone adds context as you can hear tone of voice and see expression.

Seek at least one voice-to-voice conversation per day, especially if you’re alone. If you’re not able to do this, listen to talk shows on the radio to provide a sense of verbal company.

Get creative

In stressful or worrying times it can be a welcome relief to get respite from our own thoughts. Flow activity examples are colouring, jigsaws, painting, sudoku, playing board games or cards and other activities in which you lose track of time! The world around you quietens and stress is calmed.

Increase self-care

Our main excuse for not engaging in self care has been that we are too busy. But now the busyness has been stripped away, if you still find it hard, it’s often because you don’t believe you are worth acts of kindness towards yourself. Address your internal dialogue. Living in a home with an internal bully isn’t going to be helpful at all. Start to introduce a more kind and compassionate voice, and hopefully you’ll then find it easier to engage in acts of nourishment.

Move

Whatever your experience of exercise, now is a good time to routinely engage in it at home. We are so fortunate that the digital world offers many free workouts for all levels of experience and fitness.

Whether you engage in some gentle movement, or something more intense, all you need is space for a mat. Exercise is brilliant for both mental and physical health as they are inextricably linked. Find something suitable for your fitness level, and perhaps find an app or Facebook group that encourages a sense of community and

Eat well

In stressful times it’s increasingly tempting to comfort eat. However, this is such a good time to consider how you might eat well for mental health. Eating well has a positive impact on both our physical and mental health, whereas consistent overindulging makes us feel sluggish. If you struggle with this, and would like some further support, visit the BEAT website.

Cooking itself can be therapeutic. If you’re a sofa eater, challenge yourself to head to the table for some mealtimes. If you don’t have people to eat with at home, try a FaceTime dinner date. With online supermarket deliveries in high demand, batch cooking healthy, warming, balanced meals will get more out of your order.

Pep talk

I just wanted to finish with a pep talk. I so wish I had the answers, but I don’t. So see this as a metaphorical hand on your shoulder. This is a tough time of unchartered territory. The ground on which you stand has been shaken and we are all stumbling around trying to find ways to navigate the constantly changing guidelines and rules. There is collective grief, grief for the things that are no longer as we know them, fear for the health of those we love. Be kind to yourself, there is no map. Lower your standards of what you ‘should’ be achieving. You will get into a groove in time. The forced slower pace will become a new kind of normal, the and jarring sense of uncertainty and fear will blur. Focus on today, this moment. Use all the support mechanisms available to you. Anchor yourself in the things you know to be true so that they bring balance to the unanswered questions. It’s hard because it is hard. It’s tough, because it’s tough. But so are you.

 

 

Dealing with coronavirus anxiety

(My Reframing Anxiety Course goes into significant depth on health anxiety, but I’ve been asked numerous times a day to write about how to handle Coronavirus anxiety, so I am putting some of my tips into context).

Perhaps you find yourself obsessively checking the news for fresh articles on Coronavirus or scouring updated statistics. Maybe you are constantly symptom checking, washing your hands until they are raw, feeling consistently fearful or tearful, and playing potential scenarios through in your mind. Perhaps you have gone through trauma or grief that is heightening your fear of the virus.

There is an air of anxiety and fear around coronavirus due to the shared stress and uncertainty it brings. It is dominating conversations, lining news shelves and flooding social media feeds. Supermarkets are being swept and diaries cleared.

Anxiety likes a focus, to ruminate on specific things. Anxiety mainly focusses on circumstances out of our direct control that have potential, unpleasant consequences. If you have experienced anxiety around health previously, Coronavirus is understandably going to be a trigger for you. In addition, your anxiety may well be raised due to being or knowing someone who is vulnerable or considered to be within an ’at risk’ group.

 

What you want.

Anxiety is exhausting isn’t it? When we fixate on the things that trigger it, we find ourselves less able to rationalise our thoughts and ground ourselves. Anxiety occupies headspace, and casts grey shadow over the more enjoyable emotions that make you happy! If your anxiety about coronavirus is impacting your ability to enjoy the things you usually do, or you’re finding yourself pre-occupied with concern, this article is for you.

I could research and reel off a ton of statistics about the likelihood of you or someone you know being impacted by the coronavirus, but the reality is, you’ve probably seen many of those stats. And just as the theories do, the stats are often conflicting. Leaving you wondering who or what to trust, and where to turn.

What you want is reassurance. Someone to take you by the shoulders and promise you that all will be just a-okay. However, just as with anything in life, nobody has the ability to make truthful statements based on an unknown future.

Nobody can reduce their risk of illness to zero, just as no amount of money in the world could secure a future without any illness. Therefore, the most helpful thing for me to do, is to help you find ways to deal with the uncertainty we live in.

However, there is hope! Anxiety doesn’t have to rob you of your enjoyment of your health, or the times you share with your family. It doesn’t have to have you awake at night pondering the possibilities, and ruminating repeatedly over contingency plans.

 

How to help keep your anxiety at bay:

Be kind to you

Firstly, have compassion for yourself. When we feel fearful, we need compassion and guidance. Ridicule or criticism coming from others or yourself isn’t helpful. Whether those around you understand how you feel or not, try and cultivate some compassion towards yourself because it’s not your fault that you feel heightened anxiety right now.

It might be that you or someone close to you are immunosuppressed, at higher risk. Maybe you know and love someone who’s health is already challenged, and you feel terrified that this might impact them. You may have a history of trauma or anxiety, or a fear of losing someone close to you that has rushed to the forefront.

Whatever your experience, whatever is causing your anxiety, shaming and berating ourselves keeps us stuck. Not everyone will relate to your experience (although many will), but it doesn’t mean that your anxiety is less valid or your feelings less valuable and worth addressing. If you find yourself feeling frustrated, consider how you would reassure a friend, and try to use that supportive and understanding voice towards yourself.

 

Limit your exposure to news

At the moment, it’s hard to wade the reams of coronavirus articles to learn of other newsworthy topics! You may find yourself glued to the TV or flicking between news apps, on the hunt for something that will reassure you.

However, when we feel anxious, we are less able to rationalise what we read, and more likely to overemphasise the negative. Nobody has specific, certain answers about the prognosis of the coronavirus, so many articles are full of conflicting speculation. You might find it helpful to abstain from watching or reading the news, and asking someone trusted to relay any pertinent messages to you verbally instead.

Constantly checking for updates and theories fuels anxiety. As you find yourself opening a search window, pause, and ask yourself what you’re going to gain. Knowledge isn’t power when we are overwhelming ourselves with it. Searching for too much information, or searching in the wrong places can be disempowering, confusing, conflicting and frightening. Cut out the noise by choosing to stick to the facts:

https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses

 

Stick to guidelines

Out of care for our own health, and respect of the health of those around us, it’s wise to educate ourselves on recommended protocol. We cannot sterilise our environment, but we can take simple preventative actions that are statistically known to reduce risk of experiencing any infectious illness. These are good techniques to instil regardless of what bugs are circulating at any time of the year.

Current advice: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51711227

If you are someone who is at additional risk to infectious illness, please do follow the official guidelines set for you.

These are the actions we have been advised to take by those acutely experienced and knowledgeable on how infectious illnesses spread. They will be looking to neither under-advise us, or over-advise us. Their overwhelming focus and aim is to halt the spread of infectious illnesses.

 

Make plans and then tuck them away

It’s always wise to have a contingency plan in place. Whether you have a plan for remote working, or what you’d do if you needed last-minute childcare. It’s helpful to consider these things regardless of what illnesses are around. Life is certainly known to throw the odd curveball every now and again, so having considered things like this will help reduce stress should you ever need to put things into action.

The important thing is that once you’ve considered your plan, tuck it away in the back of your mind, or on a piece of paper in a drawer. Look at your plan like the war bunker. It’s there, it’s available for when it’s called for. Let it be a reassurance that it’s there should you need it. Revisiting it, adding to it, playing it out in your mind like a film, extending it with ‘what ifs’ and overthinking will add to your anxiety.

It’s always good to keep medication up to date and your medicine cabinet well-stocked, just as it’s good to keep fuel in the car and change in your purse. Follow what is in line with current World Health Organisation and NHS advice, and question when you might be pushing that boundary out of fear and anxiety so that you can apply some supportive techniques.

 

Limit discussion

When discussing coronavirus with friends or family, some people’s opinion and approach will fuel your anxiety and some will calm it. Limit how much you talk about it and when you do, choose to speak to those who are supportive and ground you. If you feel your anxiety levels increasing when discussing the virus, make an excuse to end or step away from the conversation. Discussing it with those who are also experiencing anxiety will likely reinforce your fears and increase your own feelings of anxiety.

 

Maintain healthy routine

Eating well, giving yourself the best chance to get good sleep and adequate rest, and exercising in whatever way you most enjoy is brilliant for both your mental health and your immune system.

Consider any habits that could benefit from a bit of a tweak because perhaps they add to feelings of anxiety (e.g drinking too much caffeine or alcohol) and get support in addressing them if needs be. Again, this is a good thing to do for your future, let alone the current climate.

 

Ground yourself in the present

Feelings of anxiety are triggered when we focus on negative, future unknowns and uncertainties. The difficult thing, is that we aren’t creating stories about alien invasions, they tend to be fears based in potential realities, that have not, or may not happen.

The more we think about a fearful scenario, the more our body and nervous system will respond with physical symptoms of anxiety (such as increased heart rate, stress hormones, panic attacks). We can interrupt this process by stopping the whirlwind of our thoughts in their tracks.

There are many techniques that can help halt overthinking by shifting our focus from the unknowns of the future, to the realities of the present moment. Some of my favourite techniques are:

  • Count backwards from 100 in 3’s.
  • Name 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
  • Take a walk outside, breathe deeply and pay close attention to the things you see
  • If you have any physical feelings of anxiety, do ten rounds of grounding breaths to calm your nervous system. Breathe in deeply for four, and steadily exhale for a count of 6-8 (dependent on what feels most comfortable)
  • Utilising a guided meditation app such as ‘Headspace’ or ‘Calm’

Use these techniques as soon as you feel your mind begin to overthink or catastrophise. Practice them as you fall asleep. Use them when you don’t need them so that when you do, they feel familiar and instinctive.

 

Check in with your decisions

Note the decisions you might be making for yourself or your family. If you notice that you are taking steps outside of the advice recommended, then consider whether the motivation is based on facts or fear.

Maintaining your normal day-to-day life where appropriate promotes a sense of normality for yourself and those around you so stay connected with others. You might find it helpful to increase contact in an appropriate manner with those who have historically had a positive impact on you and your mental health.

 

Introduce gratitude

Challenge yourself to write a list of ten to thirty things you are grateful for. You might start off with the fundamentals such as family and your home, but the more you jot down, the more you are called to reflect on the things we take for granted, such as movement, sight, warmth, sunshine.

Return to your list when you feel like your mind is leaping ahead into the unknown. Gratitude draws our attention away from what could go wrong, to what is currently right.

Gratitude brings perspective. It ushers us to look at the things in our life that give us joy, and when we think about these things, it makes us feel good! It helps anchor ourselves in the present moment, distracting our busy minds from getting carried away in the torrent of ‘what ifs’.

You might find it enjoyable to re-engage in an old hobby, distract your mind in the pages of a novel. Either way, explore ways to put your energy into what’s most important and what makes life worth living for you. Anxiety takes up so much of our energy, so it’s helpful to find other ways to use and distract this energy if we can, in things that feed and energise, rather than take from us.

 

Be mindful of assumptions

Be mindful of your assumptions. Assumptions that aren’t based on fact or rationality feed our anxiety. It might be that you find yourself feeling that everyone who has a cough or fever has coronavirus. Of course, exercise caution as advised. However, if your assumptions are negatively or unnecessarily impacting your decisions and feelings, then deal with them as anxiety fuelled thoughts.

 

Find a mantra

Personally, I find it really helpful to have a phrase, sentence or ‘mantra’ that I can recall at times of anxiety or stress. I find it quite anchoring and comforting.

My current favourite mantra is: ‘Everything is okay now. And ‘now’ is the only thing that is real’.

Here are some other ideas:

I let go of fear

I return to now

I am here

Feelings aren’t facts

 

Anxiety support

If you are experiencing overwhelming levels of anxiety, or notice a strong link with trauma, please seek additional support.  If  isn’t the first time you have experienced it, it is worth addressing. Here are some websites or resources you may find helpful:

My Reframing Anxiety Course

Read details and reviews here.

This is a 3-week guided course you do at home, taking no more than 5-10 minutes per day. It addresses all types and levels of anxiety, including health anxiety. Use the discount code ra-save15 if finances are a hurdle for you.

Mind

A charity offering information and support for mental health. Read more about anxiety and how you can help those struggling here.

NHS website

Find information on anxiety and facts on coronavirus here.

GP

How can your doctor help you with anxiety? Find out more here.

Sane.org.uk

A charity offering support for mental health, including a helpline and peer support. Find more here.

 

 

Dear Charlie – Letters on Motherhood

I’m sharing this letter in honour of Gi Fletcher and her beautiful book, Letters on Motherhood.

I wrote this to my son Charlie, when he was 5 months old. It was typed through tears as  I spent New Years Eve of 2016 alone on the sofa. It’s a stark reminder of how things always move and change, even though during the tough times, you fear it may last forever. It wont.

As this year closes, I sit alone on the sofa, full of last night’s dinner reheated, and a miniature bottle of bubbles. Just because, you know, it’s ‘New Years Eve’. The clock will chime and I will be asleep. At least, I hope I will. You, my restless babe lie upstairs in your cot; our wanted child, our second.

I’ve eschewed a family get together because I am empty. I’ve spent myself. I have nothing left to offer besides tears held behind heavy eyelids. Maybe you can trace them down my cheeks; the little telltale tracks of makeup not yet reapplied. Those that escaped earlier, as a friend gave me a hug.

This year has been the hardest one thus far. I feel a pang of guilt as my fingers chase the keys of my laptop. My mind begins to verbalise what my heart has been feeling. The guilt settles like an unexpected snowfall. I’ve known death. I’ve known death of a sibling, as a child. Cancer. So, how can I call this year the hardest yet? It was not full of prognosis and CT scans. Nor final words of ‘I love you’ uttered down a hallway. How can I negate the loss of a loved one, for a year of tongue-tie and colic, of restless nights and reflux?

Because with grief, I had my ‘self’. I knew myself. With grief, there was a cause, a reason for escaping tears and guttural cries. Missed functions were excused, explained. My heartache had a name. It was understood.

You, my wanted second child and I, we’ve been on a journey this year. Your birth bought with you a whirlwind of why’s and what’s. Why are you not feeding, or sleeping or seemingly content? What am I doing wrong, what do you need from me that I cannot seem to give? You can have my all, yet I am not enough for you.

Up and out of the house. I have two children. I am a ‘coper’. Makeup on. Sunglasses on. For they hide the fact that the smile on my lips is a lie that my eyes cannot sustain. I am tired. I am scared. I am drowning in pretence, desperation to hold together the very thing that I wished for.

You screamed and you cried. You clawed me. My thin-lipped smiles became increasingly translucent, as fat tears would escape beyond the rim of my wide framed sunglasses, no longer able to contain the swell of dew that lined my bottom eyelids. What else do you want from me? You want sustenance and comfort, yet you scratch my chest, now displaying scrawny, pink scratches at various stages of healing. Who are you? You do not know me nor like me, and you resent me for bringing you into this world that seemingly makes you so distressed and tormented.

My birthday is marked on a green prescription for antidepressants. Penned by a concerned GP who asked me to return to ‘check in’. I never took the tiny white pills. Promising a happier mind-set but a terrifying list of side effects. They still lie in their foil blisters, un-popped. It wasn’t the chemicals of my body that saddened me, just the fact that you seemed to fail to find your home in me; a simple sadness that my baby will not be loved nor comforted by the very one that grew him.

Tongue ties, snipped twice upon my living room floor. I held you tight. Blood shed. My desperation to encourage you to find comfort at my breast. I found myself taken aside by well-meaning friends and family. Try a bottle they said. But no, in my stubbornness, I sought to continue. I needed you to want me amidst the screams. I needed you to find solace in my arms. I needed you to feel like mine, and I, like yours.

So now, we find ourselves half a year in, at the year-end. Finally a diagnosis for your discomfort. Syringes of sweet, sickly liquid administered into your cheeks. Reflux. Seasons take no notice of the years. Desperate for this season to draw to an end, I know full well that I will wake tomorrow and again, you will scream at my breast and I will cry in exhausted despair as I spoon puree into your puckered mouth. They say it might help. But really, only time will.

Reflux is a bitch. Six months passed, undiagnosed. It has unknowingly taken me to the very edge of myself. Chipping away at my self-assuredness, my self-confidence. Never have I second-guessed myself so many times, so much so that the self-doubt is written upon my face each time you cry. The persistent discomfort, the screams of pain teemed with a whining two year old that have led to a splintered door and pummelled pillows paired with raucous roars of frustration. The roars of a mother who does not know how to comfort her child. A mother who is exhausted, and still seems to find something left to give despite claiming herself empty.

Your older brother was easy. Kisses fell from my lips, wonderment in my eyes. You, my precious, second child, are my labour of love.

I’ve never used such bad language. I’ve never felt despair and frustration so physically. I’ve never denied myself so much so that I regularly forget to eat.

I’ve never loved so desperately and so furiously. We are growing together, you and I. We are finding each other and falling in love. One day, this will all be but a distant memory, and the months of screams and frantic Google searches, will be but echoes. But for now, I wish that the clock chime would usher in overnight relief.

But no, the years take no notice of the season, and ours is not yet over, but it will be soon. And you will smile more easily, and you will laugh more readily. And the joy will come.

And you’re teaching me that. The wild, ferociousness of love. My heart will never be the same again.
Charlie, this is just the beginning of you and I.
You are worth it all.

I’m sick of it! The fear of vomiting and how to address it

Me: ‘ I can’t stand people being sick’

Someone else: ‘yeah, nobody likes people being sick’

 But does everyone else..

Wake with a racing heart after repeated nightmares about vomiting?

Replay historic sickness scenarios through their minds like unwelcome horror films?

Experience a sharp rise of panic when someone coughs loudly on a train?

Feel intense fear when someone announces they don’t feel well?

Avoid social occasions, certain foods or travelling because of the increased likelihood of sickness?

Leap off public transport at an unknown location because a fellow traveller looks a little green?

Fear two of the year’s most beautiful seasons because of the sickness bugs that hover like the grim reaper ready to plunge you into a vortex of Dettol and washing cycles?

Approach pregnancy with trepidation out of fear of morning sickness?

Feel like a failure as a mum because they have to work hard to comfort your own sick child

The night I ran across three lanes of busy traffic with my hands over my ears and my eyes half closed, to escape someone vomiting….

I knew I needed to address the emetophobia once and for all.

It had had enough headspace, it had dictated too many decisions, tainted too many social occasions with anxiety. It had robbed me of enough. My fear of vomiting, and others vomiting, had been the background buzz of my life for as long as I could remember, and it was unrelenting. It showed no sign of subsiding.

There is hope. I promise you.

 

What is emetophobia.

Emetophobia is a fear of vomiting, or seeing others vomit. It’s very prevalent and is experienced by 1.7-3.1% of males, and a huge 6-8% of females (anxietyUK). It’s often unspoken about because people feel concerned about being misunderstood or dismissed as overreacting.

Emetophobia can be related to other fears and forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Symptoms can range from mild fear to brain tiring rumination and life-impacting apprehension. Sufferers may find themselves avoiding travel, social situations or public places. They may avoid certain foods out of fear of food poisoning, or they may avoid food altogether. In fact, emetophobia can sometimes be wrongly diagnosed as anorexia.

You may or may not be able to pinpoint when the phobia began. It might have been a traumatic event such as food poisoning or a stomach virus as a child. But it may have been simply that you felt scared and out of control at some point when unwell.

There IS hope.

 

My experience

Emetophobia dominated a lot of my life for many years. I can think back to the acute panic, from as young as age 6. For decades, I’d constantly scan the ground for vomit, my eyes would sweep corners and curbs like I was looking for something of value. I don’t even know what I wanted to achieve by that. I think it was the fear of being taken by surprise, it gave me an illusion of control over something which made me feel terrifyingly out of control.

I’d replay scenarios over and over in my mind from as much as 10 years before. My mum recognised it when I once ran away in panic as a young child vomited in the crowd of a local fair. It has manifested in varying ways and to varying degrees along the way. For ten years my body wouldn’t allow myself to be physically sick. But then I was (short story – too many speedily downed vodka redbulls), and I could.

In later years I experienced hyperemesis in two of my three pregnancies and was sick around ten times per day for months. It became commonplace. I was desensitised to my own sickness. But it’s a different kind of sickness to the one that is thrusted upon you for no reason other than a little spiky virus.

I don’t need to go into detail of the impact emetophobia had on my life. You know the drill. You’re here because you know the drill too well and you want out. You want hope.

 

How did you get it?

I’m not entirely sure. But if I could hazard a guess, I’d say it might have had something to do with memories of sickness being tied up with my sister’s brain cancer diagnosis and treatment. It was a turbulent time in our lives, one that was ruled by radio therapy appointments and side-effects. Our family life felt like a handbag that was upended and rigorously shaken as the contents tumbled out, clattering and rolling upon the floor. There was no control. We had no control. Cancer had control. It was terrifying, and seeing my sister sick both punctuated that journey and reminded us of the pressure inside her tiny head.

 

How did you make it go away?

I didn’t.

It’s still there.

Sorry.

That’s not what you wanted to read.

BUT don’t stop reading.

Yes, my anxiety might spike when I hear of the winter bugs doing the rounds. My eyes might sharply dart when I hear someone coughing violently on public transport. My heart momentarily races when the kids complain of stomach aches. I may swiftly make excuses and remove myself from certain scenarios if I safely can.

HOWEVER

I do not live in fear. Emetophobia no longer robs me of my grounding. It no longer has me wishing the winter months of life away, or turning down invitations, or lying awake with anxiety that we will be next. It no longer dictates my menu choices or has me grappling for alternative methods of transport.

I live with emetophobia. But my life is not ruled by it. It nudges into my headspace, but I have the tools to deftly kick it out again.

 

How did you make this transition?

(I write about this a LOT in my Reframing Anxiety Course. I use my Emetophobia as an example of how we can work with and through phobias by truly understanding what happens within anxiety, and by utilising certain tips when we are triggered. I really encourage you to engage in the course if you want to address your Emetophobia. If money is tricky, use ra-save15 for a discount).

For me it was a number of things I worked on over numerous years, things I implemented and encouraged myself to do, trusting that the outcome would benefit me somehow. It’s the the increased self-compassion and self-coaching. The quest to understand myself regardless of whether others can understand me.

Here are the things that helped…

1 – I learnt exactly what anxiety was and how it worked in my body. Get to understand the process of the different hormones at play. Equant yourself with how the adrenaline and the cortisol interact, how your fight or flight response is triggered and why. Knowledge is so important. You experience a sense of control when you realise that you are bigger than the habitual processes that happen within your body.

2 – I found some brilliant techniques to lessen the physical and mental impact of the phobia. Good grounding and breathing techniques will tell your body that you are not at threat. Breathe in for 4, out for 8 as soon as you feel your anxiety rising. It switches off your sympathetic nervous system, and enables you to access your rational brain. The more you do this, the earlier you’ll be able to implement it.

3 – I became sensitive to my overthinking. My thoughts would spiral at any trigger – be it seeing someone sick in a film, an image, a joke, or a real-life scenario. I’d spent time ruminating over the fear, which would then kick off my fight or flight response and induce physical feelings of panic. The further down the spiral I flew, the harder it was to rationalise. Simple grounding techniques such as counting back from 100’s in 3’s can halt that cycle, because you cannot overthink whilst doing maths.

4 – I find mantras really helpful when faced with sickness, or thoughts of sickness. These are little sentences to encourage and bolster confidence. I often tell myself ‘We’ve come through it before. If we need to, we can do it again’. Or ‘I have the resources I need to make it through’. ‘I am bigger than these feelings’. Mantras are like warrior cry’s. They ground me and act like the kind parent, bringing rationality and encouraging me that I can make it through.

5 – I sought therapy to deal with the traumas behind the phobia. There often is a story behind a phobia that deserves listening to and processing. Even today, I came off the phone to my therapist after talking about the death of my sister, decades later. There’s still stuff I need to process because I tucked it away for so many years. Our histories are alive in our present, and when they are unprocessed, they fuel anxiety, fear and phobia. As I continue to give my past space, it slowly loses power over my present. My past is still there, it still happened and it still has value, but it has less control.

6 – I mimic the reactions of those around me. At university, my friends would often be sick due to over-indulging in alcohol. I’d see the nonchalance of the people around them, and I’d try to channel their attitude. They were caring but not terrified. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. But every time it worked; it bolstered my confidence a little.

7 –  Now, this is the biggy. This is the most important point.

I tried not to flee situations immediately when I felt triggered. Now, this was the biggest challenge for me. My body and mind fought extremely hard to remove me from any situation in which I was triggered. A train seat, a party, a busy street, a car. I’d look for the nearest exit opportunity and I’d bolt. Sometimes it’s possible to up and leave, sometimes it simply isn’t.

I reminded myself that anxiety peaks and falls. Like a labour contraction, anxiety cannot continue to rise and rise forever, otherwise we’d explode. Anxiety is a mechanism designed to keep us safe. Panic is a mechanism to keep us alive in which our senses and awareness suddenly fire on all cylinders. But it is not sustainable. Anxiety and panic will fall, even if our trigger isn’t removed.

The most pertinent moments in disempowering my emetophobia, are the times in which I utilised my breathing and grounding techniques throughout the triggering experiences, endured them, and emerged the other side triumphant.

Imagine that you really want to ride a rollercoaster, but you know it has a scary drop. Every time you reach the peak before the drop, you feel the fear, the risk and the apprehension. So you press the emergency stop button and you use the emergency ladder to escape. Your anxiety falls, you feel safe again.

Should you find a way to ride through the drop, to cope somehow, to breathe your way to the bottom of the terrifying peak, you’ll no longer purely associate the ride with fear. You’ll be able to think beyond the drop, to the sense of accomplishment and empowerment you get at the end.

8 – I question my response. Shall I Ride it out? Or Run.

I ask myself if this is something I can ride through using my grounding and breathing techniques, or whether it’s something I can give myself permission to run from.

For example, when I find myself making assumptions about vomiting – such as, that person is pale, therefore they are sick. Or, my child has a tummy ache, therefore he certainly has norovirus. These are not always discovered to be truth! Perhaps that person is tired, or my child has mild constipation, or ate too fast. I must also ride through times that my children are sick, because I am responsible for them!

Riding these situations through can certainly be anxiety provoking, but using the right techniques, I come out the other end feeling tired but accomplished! Like I’ve weathered a storm. I’ve exercised a muscle that will make me stronger for the next experience because I have lived through it and survived, yet again. It rewrites the old, repetitive story.

Can I run? If I am out and about and someone looks as if they are about to be sick, or someone is sick, I ask myself whether the best thing is to ride or run. Am I making assumptions about the situation? Is it safe and convenient for me to leave, are they safe? If so, I see no harm in removing myself and using techniques to calm myself.

 

So what can I do?

I hope my own experience has offered you some hope and tips.

You are not alone. You are not broken. You do not have to deal with emetophobia to this intensity forever. Absolutely not. You are worth more than a life buzzing with an undercurrent of fear of the next episode.

This wintery season can be triggering for so many people, but you’ve got this. You’ve been there, you’ve done it before and you’d make it through again if it happened. Lean on your tools, hold onto them like trustworthy lifeboats in a stormy sea.

Not everyone will understand how you feel. It can be really hard when you’ve made yourself open and vulnerable to someone and felt misunderstood.  Educate those around you so that they can best support you, whether it’s reminding you to breathe or by helping ground you through helping you rationalise things when your head is in a spiral. Maybe send them this blog article!

Find some good, solid breathing and grounding techniques, and practice them when you don’t need them, so that when you do need them, they are easy to implement and you can do so at an earlier point.

I encourage you to seek therapeutic support if you can. You can get a counselling referral via the NHS. The Counselling Directory is my first port of call for finding local practitioners. Also there are local charities and training institutes that may be able to offer low/no cost therapy options. Sometimes phobias are rooted in experience or trauma, and talking it through whilst addressing some of these thoughts, can really help.

You’ll find more in depth insight, techniques and support through my Reframing Anxiety Course if you’d like them.

 

Other support:

Anxietyuk.org – https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/anxiety-type/emetophobia/

NHS – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/phobias/

Counselling Directory – https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk

 

 

 

 

Tips for the parenthood-rollercoaster ride

(Sponsored post by Waterwipes)

What a rollercoaster parenthood is! However, a quick scroll through social media would often have us believe that we’re the only ones sitting on this hair-raising ride. It seems like comparison is king and we often feel like we’re the only ones winging it. I’m going to share my top parenting tips, both as a Psychotherapist and as mum of three.

In May, I was honoured to be asked to host and talk at a parents breakfast organised by WaterWipes for its new #ThisIsParenthood global project. Not only have I used WaterWipes’ super pure wipes for all three of my children (bye cotton wool and water), but I was really touched by the #ThisIsParenthood documentary, produced by the talented BAFTA nominated Lucy Cohen. Have you watched it? Here’s the link if you haven’t – grab a cuppa and a spare 15 minutes. The documentary shows a rare and candid insight into the realities of family life with a newborn, detailing some of the challenges that punctuate this crazy, special and map-less time. When WaterWipes showed us parents the footage during the breakfast, there wasn’t a single dry eye…I think due to the fact that, ultimately, we are all just trying to do our best! Sometimes we feel like we are scrambling around in the dark, sometimes we’re winging it, sometimes we’re smashing it (momentarily for me at least), but #ThisisParenthood.

WaterWipes yearns to shift the conversation around parenthood by encouraging us parents to be more open about the highs and lows that come with it. As a Psychotherapist, I am hugely supportive of this initiative as openness and honesty are the turning points to every single one of my clients’ stories.

A global study by WaterWipes revealed:

  • 55% of parents feel like they are failing within the first year (British parents being the second highest country (62%)
  • Almost a quarter (24%) feel like film, TV and advertising contribute to this
  • Nearly half (42%) of UK parents feel the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ on social media
  • Nearly half (41%) of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgment
  • A huge 50% of parents admit to putting a brave face on rather than being honest about their experience
  • UK mums are twice more likely than dads to feel pressure to be a perfect parent from social media (51% vs 27%)
  • 49% of UK parents feel as though they cannot relate to the parenting images they see on social media
  • Across the world. 68% of parents wish there were more honest representations of parenting on social media

If only these results could shock me…but sadly, they didn’t. I receive messages on social media from 200-400 parents a day who feel like they are failing, or like they are alone in their struggles. Like WaterWipes, I am desperate for us to call a truce on this whole pretence. Yes, of course we will continue to share the highs, the smiles and the cute snaps. However, in order to shift this culture of toxic comparison, we all need to be a little more mindful that what we see, isn’t all there is.

Working with WaterWipes for #ThisIsParenthood was such a pleasure, and for those of you who couldn’t join us on the Instagram live, I thought I’d share the words I spoke:

 

My story

After my textbook pregnancy, birth and then newborn experience with my first little boy, I enjoyed the coffees and the relatively calm play dates. We laughed about our incessant Googling (ps. Dr Google is NOT your friend) and shared our thoughts on routines, and our moans about lack of sleep.

However, my experience with my second was vastly different. He came hurtling into the world wailing, and didn’t stop for a solid nine months. Undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue-tie, and less sleep at night than a nocturnal mouse – I fell into a messy post-natal depression. As a therapist myself, it challenged me greatly that despite all of my training, I couldn’t seem to find the strength to pull myself out of the black hole. It was at this time, during our largely wakeful nights, that I downloaded Instagram. I scrolled mindlessly through images of happy mothers, seemingly thriving newborns with scrumptious chubby legs. I compared their lives to my grey eyed, constantly crying (him and me), chronically sleep deprived (him and me) existence, and the sense of failure felt even greater. With my first, I felt like I was winging it. With my second, I felt like I couldn’t put a single, faltering step right.

I made it through, and the key to that was the moment that I couldn’t hold up the pretence any longer. It was the moment I put my hands up and said #ThisIsParenthood for me. This is MY parenthood. And I found that my openness inspired the openness of others, and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. And that changed everything.

So, I’ll share the words I shared at the breakfast. Why do we often feel like we’re failing? And what do we do about it?

 

Why?

Why do we often feel like we’re not enough? Why do we get so drawn into the half-stories of other people’s portrayal of their parenting experiences and feel led to believe that in comparison, we’re not doing quite so well?

From the conversations we had around the breakfast table at the brunch, I was so reminded of the truth that we’re all just trying to do our best at this parenthood lark, yet we all feel like we’re failing. Why? Expressions like ‘I hated myself for working’, ‘mum guilt’, ‘mummy fail’, ‘helpless’ were thrown around under pictures of our plates of pancakes and greek yogurt, as if they were permanent fixtures of our vocabulary. Are we really failing? Or are we just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves?

We are hardwired to compare ourselves with what we see in others. If we don’t have an inbuilt belief that we are ‘enough’ as parents, then we will naturally look outside of ourselves to get a measure of how we are doing. The issue is, what we see around us is often isn’t the full truth. We compare our behind the scenes, with what other people curate and share of their lives. If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.

I remember that during one of my hardest parenting times, I strolled down the street pushing a double buggy towards a playgroup, wearing super-sized sunglasses in the blazing July heat. Any onlooker might have thought ‘Wow, look at that mum of two small children. She’s smashing it!’ The reality was that my glasses hid my tear-stained eyes, and nobody witnessed the conversation I’d had with my husband moments before. As I sat on my kitchen floor with two screaming children, I told him that ‘I can’t do this’. I meant it.

If we’re all in the same boat, how can we make sure that we stop feeling like we’re sailing alone? I’m going to share three tips that could shift this for ourselves. Because, really #ThisIsParenthood. It’s brilliant, and hard, and messy and wonderful.

 

What now?

Openness

Openness inspires openness. I remember meeting with my antenatal friends. The first time someone said that they were finding it hard, or arguing with their husbands over night feeds, or finding the bonding a struggle…it opened up a conversation. Sometimes there was an actual visible air of relief as people started to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting. One person’s disclosure gave the rest of us permission to share our true experiences.

Take little risks of openness. Be the conversation starter if you can. I always encourage my therapy clients to engage with at least two friends, family members or professionals who understand the reality of their circumstances. Talk to those who have a history of being kind and understanding towards you. It can feel challenging to start the conversation at first, but it gets easier, and often it inspires others to open up too.

 

So often, we fear that if we portray anything other than the highlights, we’d become a burden to people. Think of how honoured and how much closer to someone you feel when they open up to you! It’s an acceptance of love and friendship, and you’re just as worthy of the support of others as they are of yours.

 

Accepting support

Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others, which is why I encourage people to take little steps with this. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.

 

Self-care

Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures – the manicures, the long workouts, the massages. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s about fuelling the car and respecting that it can’t function if it’s empty. Neither can you. I used to feel that self-care was indulgent and I didn’t feel worth it. Now I can clearly see how my family fully benefits from me not being burnt out and resentful of anyone who gets to pee alone!

 

So.

#ThisIsParenthood: it’s a wild ride, but we’re in it together. We really are. Sometimes it might feel like we aren’t and it might look like we’re the only ones covered in baby goo, with bags under our eyes, but we are not alone. The more shoulders we find to lean on, people that we can share the highs and the lows with regardless of how different their experience may be, and the more we talk openly about the realities of OUR parenthood journey, the more we will start feeling part of something bigger.

I’ve shared my #ThisIsParenthood story on Instagram. Have a search of the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the project!

“I don’t want a boy” – The secret shame of gender preference

I met a girl in the park on a lunch-break walk one day during my first pregnancy. I was feeling the wrath of the hormones and was wrapped up in a straining coat. She was pushing a double buggy, looking a bit knackered around the edges. She made some friendly small talk. ‘When are you due? Is it your first? Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’

‘I don’t want a boy’. My mood stripped me of the ability to spit out a more socially acceptable response. Her eyes widened and I held my breath in shock of what I’d just said. We chatted awkwardly and then parted ways. How dare I want a girl, when so many people don’t even get a baby at all?

Whether you were or are hoping for a certain gender like me, or didn’t mind at all, gender disappointment is common. A quick Internet search reveals anonymous forum threads on the ‘secret shame’ of gender preference, and even sonographers and midwives will admit they’ve seen tears shed over gender reveals.

I’m so aware of the devastating stories of friends who have lost babies. So, of course, a healthy baby is what we yearn for above all else, right? However, this often means that any hint of gender preference get cast as ‘selfish and shameful’. It’s good to seek perspective, but it’s not good to silence feelings with comparison because then they will never be understood. It’s far more useful to explore where feelings of gender disappointment are rooted, as they are attached to real stories and explanations.

As a Psychotherapist with a passion for tacking taboo topics around motherhood, I made it a mission to get to the bottom of this shameful gender preference I felt. I wanted to understand why I had this aching desire for a girl. If I’m honest, many of my close male family relationships have been somewhat dysfunctional. I think I had a deep-seated fear that if I were to have a son, there would be a painful disconnection and that when he grew old enough, he would reject me too. In addition, my relationship with my mum has been one of the most positive ones in my life. So, I feared that I would fail to relate to a boy in the way that I would a girl.

I realised that in my mind, I had assumed that a daughter would enjoy the same things I did. But when glancing back at my childhood, I recall how my sister played ‘army’ with my brother in the woods, dressed in my Uncle’s old military camouflage, Meanwhile I played with dolls and covered the carpet with glitter glue in the company of Mum. Perhaps my heart yearned for a mini-me, but no girl would replicate the relationship I had with my mum.

Weeks later I went for my scan to be told that we were having a boy! We watched his little thumb sucking, alien like form. My heart sunk into my flip-flops with a huge, guilty kerplunk. I stuck on a smile, you know the one where your eyes don’t quite get the memo? I wanted to prove to the sonographer and my husband that I was a good, happy Mum. Slowly, my disappointment ebbed away and I began to daydream again, with a cheeky boy in place of the girl I’d longed for. By the time I swept Oscar out of the birthing pool, the sense of disappointment felt nothing but a shameful memory, replaced by adoration.

The second time around, crippling morning sickness led everyone to proclaim ‘it must be a girl this time’. However, back in the sonographer’s room covered in cold jelly, she pointed out the very clear boy parts. We laughed so much in shock that she struggled to continue her checks. I grinned at the joy of another healthy baby, but on arriving at a friend’s house, she gave me a huge hug and my eyes welled up. I flicked the tears away and stole a look in the mirror to ensure no mascara trail would give away that flash of grief. I may never have a daughter.

So now I have my two boys and my house is littered with miniature drills and footballs. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I got what I needed. These budding relationships have been healing in ways they will never understand

If you have a gender preference, consider the assumptions or fears that you might be harbouring as it helps so much to acknowledge them. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a grieving process for what may not be. This is okay and it is healthy! We can live out a life in our mind, projecting ourselves ahead to certain scenarios, painting an elaborate picture coloured with a desire to relive a past we loved, or a wish to do something differently to our own childhood experience.

Often, gender disappointment fades away quickly, at first sight of your wrinkled tot, or maybe as bonding deepens. But if there are continuing feelings that would benefit from some further thinking, then do so in therapy or with someone supportive. It might just be that you need to do a little more gentle exploration of the root cause of these feelings (like I did) in order to break free from that unnecessary feeling of shame or guilt.

Before I finish, I want to highlight in neon orange streaks the fact that it’s normal to have a gender preference. It’s the silence and the taboo that balloon it into a guilty secret. We all have our stories, histories and reasons, and some of them just take a little more making sense of than others. You’re not bad or mad you’re normal.

And you know what the funny thing is? As I write this, I’m currently pregnant with a girl! I was fully expecting to be a mum of boys. That’s my comfort zone now! I’m heading into unknown territory!

Driving me mad – Anxiety behind the wheel

White knuckled fingers gripping, heart pounding, body braced. Death feels a hairs breadth away, a possible reality at any second.

No, this isn’t me seated on a rollercoaster, this was how I felt when behind the wheel of a car until very recently.

I can’t remember when driving became the focus of so much of my anxiety, or when the flashes of intrusive thoughts began to flicker across my mind –  ‘If I turn the wheel now, I’d cause a pileup’. I’d have shockingly clear visions of cars skidding across all three lanes, smashing into the reservation barriers and bursting into flames. I’d make any excuse not to drive, walking miles with a double buggy, turning down invitations that required a car trip, or loosing sleep visualising that the next days 2.5 hour drive to my parents would result in certain death. There were times my hands shook so much that I had to pull over to  free from from the wheel, and times where my driving was  unsafe because of the rash decisions I’d make at perceived threat.

Now? Well, now I drive every day with the kids. I’m sometimes in and out of the car more times than I can keep count of. Today alone I’ve driven on two motorways, back country roads and scaled huge multi-lane roundabouts. I’d be lying if I said that these thoughts were all a distant memory, or that I didn’t have to yoga-breathe my way past a lorry. It’s freeing and exhilarating and sometimes scary, but I’m doing it and I’m continuously proud of myself.

What changed?

Well let’s go back to the beginning first. Bear with me.

I passed my test at 19, first time after a huge number of lessons with an instructor aptly named ‘Vicky Passmore’. She used to drill into me the idea of the ‘blind spot’ telling me that most accidents were caused because of people not looking. I cannot remember shaky hands or shallow breaths, just enjoyment of the freedom I had to be able to drive the 15 miles to college in an ancient Rover instead of having to freeze at the bus stop. I rolled a car at 19 in a back country road, as my wheel caught the crumbling edge of the road concealed by inches of wet leaves. My then boyfriend took my wheel and turned it sharply, sending us up (and down) a bank. It was terrifying, but I got a new (cheaper and older) car, a black Fiat Panda with neon pink interior – my ‘skip on wheels’. We’d just got the internet and I remember googling the car to find that there was one instance in which the flat bonnet had flipped up to hit a windscreen whilst in motion. I don’t know if it was that, or my fear of ‘blind spots’ that sparked these intrusive, visual assaults on my mind, but the nerves began to kick in and I began to envision being squashed by lorries, and my bonnet flipping up. Conveniently for me, I then packed myself off to a campus University and didn’t need to drive for 4 years…before moving to London and not driving for another six. I avoided my fear (I mean, I was a terrible passenger when the opportunity arose, often grabbing the seatbelt or sharply intaking breath as we overtook traffic on busy motorways).

The longer I didn’t drive, the more fearful I became. It crept into my nightmares and I became sure that people I loved would die on the roads. Every goodbye to my family as they left our home, I was convinced would be the last. I’d wave them off with a lump in my throat, holding back tears, as was the intensity of my belief.

Avoiding your fear quickly turns it into something larger in your mind. It’s like falling off a horse or a bike and not getting back on. Your last memory is one connoting an unpleasant experience, so you’ll add power to the belief that it’s ‘bad and scary’. This is especially true after a traumatic event has occurred, and is utterly understandable.

We moved out of London and bought a car, and I decided that my fears wouldn’t rule me. Firstly I gave myself the challenge of driving every day, even though my thoughts tried to find my way out. I made journeys to the corner shop, to the gym. Yes, not the best for the environment but surely better for everyone’s safety.

The issue is that nobody can promise you 100% that everything will be fine when you drive. Nobody can say with certainty that nothing will happen. They can state facts and ratios and likelihoods, but you can’t promise against a rational fear. But the same stands with every fear. It’s an existential dilemma of knowing the risks of life whilst having to live it.

I called the AA, not for ‘hey, I’m 18 and I want to learn to drive’ but for driving lessons. I asked for someone used to and experienced in sitting with anxious drivers. I met a lovely guy who took me on and off the motorway (my worst fear). The more often we did it, the more the anxiety was slowly replaced with the mundane boredom that comes with feeling less bothered by what you are doing over and over and over again. That was the best gift I gave myself. I wasn’t fixed, I’m still not fixed….but I’m in a place where I can feel the fear, ride the waves of anxiety and do it anyway.

Anxiety comes in waves. And when the wave reaches its peak, it can only subside. The thing is that in that moment, we fear that the anxiety will build and build into something utterly unbearable, but breathing myself through those waves (download the Headspace app, or learn to Yoga breathe), has been insanely helpful. Once these waves reach their peak, they begin to subside and your physiological fear response starts to lose effect….all the while you’re still exposed to your trigger. THIS moment makes the breakthrough. The more that you can ride and breathe through the waves of anxiety WHILST you’re driving, the less power those fears will begin to have. You’re literally starving the fear by doing the thing (this is relevant to other phobias too).

Here are my tips:

  • Recognise what you’re losing to this fear: What is your fear of driving robbing from you? Seeing family and friends? Being involved in things that matter to you?Have you got a licence? If not, why not? What has been holding you hostage?
  • Have a lesson with someone used to anxiety-  This was brilliant for me. I voiced my fears and the instructor helped me face them and find that they weren’t as scary as my mind had made them to be.
  • Get some CBT – Therapy can absolutely help. Often it’s fear of possibility and power that affects us in driving fear. CBT can help you find a way to talk back to these thought patterns and find another argument that makes more sense. Speak to your GP as you may be entitled to a referral.
  • Drive with someone who can reassure you –  If you have a license, find a confident and kind driver friend and ask them to come and sit with you. Talk openly about your intrusive thoughts and your fears and let them argue back to them and support you as you are doing what makes you anxious. Hopefully you’ll be able to ride these waves with them and slowly see the anxiety drop.
  • Embody a confident person – I know a good few confident drivers, so when I’m feeling anxious, I like to ‘pretend’ to be them! It might sound silly, but it helps me. My Dad used to be in the police force so he’s used to racing a flashing car through busy streets and motorways. I try and draw from his confidence and it makes a difference.
  • Breathing – I cannot tell you how much of a difference that breathing can make to the physiological affects of anxiety. Research it and learn some techniques. I’m often doing breathing exercises so determinedly that my toddler asks what I’m doing. It calms the adrenaline and lessens the stress hormone which it turn, slows your mind.
  • Find your mantra – If you find mantras helpful, find one that helps and say it repeatedly when anxious. I do this all the time. Mine is ‘everyone wants to keep their car undented’. I know it sounds funny but it reminds me that people are out for their own safety and will generally do what they can to keep them and me safe too.
  • Drive Slowly – Stay in the slow lane until you WANT to pass, keep to the speed limit or below. It’s better to be slow and safe than people-pleasingly fast and uncomfortable. I’m pretty sure that I often drive at Grandad pace, annoying those around me. I also tell myself that I can drive behind a lorry on the motorway for the entire duration if I want to! I no longer care if I drive slowly or stall on a roundabout (this has happened many times). If I make someone annoyed, they will get over it. The worst I will endure is a hand gesture or knowledge that they’ve taken home some dinner-table fodder but so be it! What does that say about me? That I’m still learning at 32? Pah. Aren’t we all in some way??
  • Thoughts aren’t facts – What I think and imagine aren’t certainties. Just because I fear death in the car, doesn’t mean it will happen. I’d rather see friends and family and take the minor, minor risk, growing in confidence (and therefore taking even less risk), than be missing out on the life that happens outside a mile radius of my home. I tell myself when I’m seeing visions and going at 69mph on the motorway that these are games my mind plays.
  • The more you do it, the more you disprove your fear – and the more confident you’ll be. I’ve in no way conquered my fear. I’m in acceptance that intrusive thoughts and anxiety will be a part of my life to some degree but I refuse to let them have the power over me to stop me from doing the things I want to. The more I’ve driven, the more these voices have been shown who’s boss and have started to shrivel into nagging little troublemakers. I see them for what they are and that’s where change happens.
  • Set yourself little challenges – Find challenges to set yourself. Drive every day even if for a few minutes. Increase those challenges as time goes on and ask loved ones to support you. Get driving lessons even if you have a licence. Reach out in knowledge that this fear is SO COMMON! It doesn’t have to rule you if you don’t want it to.

My Reframing Anxiety Course could be a good next step for you. It’s a three week self-led course that takes no longer than 5-10 minutes per day. I have used my own driving anxiety as an example of how you can use the tools to address phobias.

You are not alone. You can do this. I’m doing it with you x

My Reframing Anxiety Course LAUNCHES!

A powerful three-week, self-guided, interactive course designed to help you reframe your anxiety. Suitable for anyone experiencing any level of anxiety.

(Find it here)

After months of kid’s naptimes, weekends and evenings spent hunched over a laptop pouring out everything I know about a topic that sets my heart on fire. Writing down all I’ve learnt from years in lecture theatres and hundreds of hours sat with people as they tell their stories. Metaphors dreamed up in my head, spilled out with fast fingers on clicking keys…Yes, after months, the Reframing Anxiety Course is ready for launch.

Anxiety has woven through my years like a hissing snake. Sometimes a buzzing undercurrent, yet sometimes it overcame like a roaring wave, sucking air from my lungs and drowning all rational words.

Not anymore. It stole enough. I reframed it and reclaimed so much in the process. The course, the words and journalling questions…they’re a map.A signpost that there is so much more for you than this. Whether your anxiety is a distant buzz, or a deafening shout, a compulsion, an intrusive thought, or an elephant on your chest. I’ve written this for you.

So…The Reframing Anxiety Course has launched! A 3-week, self-guided, psychologically-grounded course for those experiencing any level or type of anxiety.

THANK YOU to my husband, my ultimate cheerleader. He has relentlessly facilitated giving me time to write. And stood beside me as I fumbled through the years (and recent days too) practicing all of these things for myself. This wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for you. THANK YOU to web/graphics extraordinaire Amber of  Ooohlala Your vision, creativity and skill are amazing. THANK YOU to buddy Coley who has lovingly edited my words. And to my Mum (a counsellor herself) and Psych friend Amy, who kindly cast professional eyes over it. And thank you, you guys, for your encouragement, content requests and supports.

So, here’s some more about the course.. (but you can also find it here)

  • 3 week self-guided course
  • Downloadable PDF
  • Covering intrusive thoughts, triggers, self-care, internal dialogue and much more
  • Packed with practical tips and light bulb moments
  • Based on grounded psychotherapeutic insight, clinical work and anecdotal experience
  • Days alternate between in-depth texts to read, and guided-journal points to engage in
  • Take breaks and complete in your own time

The purchase price will entitle you to a single download of the course PDF

For those experiencing financial difficulty, please click on the ‘Additional Information tab’ to read about the discount code.

What type of course is it?

This three-week, self-guided course isn’t an academic course full of references. It’s an amalgamation of my years of Psychotherapy training, personal experience with anxiety, and my client work. Within the course, you’ll discover the advice I give to my clients, alongside my own personal anecdotes. You’ll be encouraged to think, reflect and engage in a way that should start to shift your anxiety and introduce hope.

How does it work?

Each day alternates between a text to read, and some journal points to explore. The text explores a different element of anxiety (such as Intrusive thoughts, knowing your triggers, top tips), and I encourage you to scribble some notes if you wish. The journal points aren’t extensive and don’t require deep thought or essay writing. I’ve designed them to help bring the text to life for you, making it relevant and encouraging you to apply it to your particular circumstances.

The course length is for you to follow or play around with as you wish. You could take longer over the text, add extra days in between for journaling, or take breaks. There is no right or wrong way, just your way. The three weeks is just a guide, and will offer quite an intensive insight. If you need to take your time, please do so.

These concepts, tools, and insights have undoubtedly changed my life and the way that I feel on a daily basis. It’s not a quick fix. A lot of what we speak about will require on-going effort, but bit-by-bit, they will chip away at the power that anxiety has over you. I am excited for you to read the words on these pages, and for the light bulb moments you’ll experience.

Course format

  1. Get your ducks in a row
  2. Journal
  3. Why do I feel anxious? Know your triggers
  4. Journal
  5. Seeing anxiety for what it is
  6. Journal
  7. Anxiety isn’t all bad
  8. Journal
  9. Intrusive thoughts and overthinking
  10. Journal
  11. The most important conversation
  12. Journal
  13. Self-care
  14. Journal
  15. Top tips 1
  16. Journal
  17. Top tips 2
  18. Journal
  19. Slow and steady
  20. Journal
  21. Final thoughts

About Anna

Psychotherapist and passionate Psycho-educator with experience working in GP surgery, private practice and various charities. Speaking, running workshops and writing regularly on topics around maternal mental health, anxiety, depression and advising on general mental wellbeing (e.g. people pleasing, emotional resilience internal dialogue, self-care)

  • Accreditation with the BACP (British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy)
  • Masters in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Diploma in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2011
  • Post Graduate Certificate in Psychotherapy & Counselling – Regent’s College London 2010
  • Undergraduate Degree in Social Psychology – Loughborough University 2004-2007

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