Ah January. The month where shops put their gym gear where the boxes of Celebrations used to be. For me, I’ve found that focusing on my body just doesn’t stick. I’ll look at my doughy reflection and vow I won’t eat an entire bag of Flipz pretzels but find myself doing it anyway if I’m mentally worn down by life in general and two small children. Call it lack of willpower if you like, but I call it reality. Rather than just berate myself about what I ‘should’ be doing/stopping/moderating (delete as appropriate), I’ve found that focusing on my all-round wellbeing and a mental health routine has a more lasting effect and more often than not, results in major physical benefits too.
After I had Finn, I was determined to put my mental health first. As most of you know, after my first baby Ethan, I suffered from quite debilitating postnatal anxiety. I’ve spent years trying out various preventative measures and seeing a psychologist, and now I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what anxiety actually is and what sends my amygdala (the freak out part of the brain) haywire. Alternatively, if there are times when I’m just feeling low or subpar, I turn to this checklist as I can almost guarantee I’ve let some aspect of my mental health routine slide.
The following is what works for me, and I figured if I shared the details, some of it might help you create a routine to take care of your own mental health. I’ve also included some interesting links to the reasons why some of this stuff works throughout the post, in case you’re interested in the science behind why certain actions have positive effects on the mind.
I don’t drink enough of it. Never have, probably never will. But one success I’ve had recently is ditching my water bottle in favour of a pint glass. For some reason, a closed water bottle just doesn’t prompt me to skull a load of water in the same way as a big glass does. I’m currently using one of my husband’s German beer glasses, and it follows me around the house all day so if anyone knows where I can get a glam pint glass, do share. I also have a little mental game with myself that I can’t have my morning cup of tea until I’ve finished one glass of water. Works a treat. Because I need that damn tea.
Sleep has been an area of interest of mine for quite a while. I have read books on the topic, listened to podcasts, watched TED talks… you name it. This borderline obsession has been responsible for my sanity during sleep deprivation this time around (most of the time). Because the reality is that with a small baby, I have zero control over the quantity of sleep I’m getting but I do have some control over the quality of sleep. The most effective tip I have is a weird one. One tablespoon of apple cider vinegar before bed (in water to prevent the burn!). Tastes rank, and I have no idea why but it makes me sleep like the dead. My sleep feels restorative, even if it’s in short bursts. I now have multiple members of my family converted too. Sleep is a whole topic of its own, so if you’re interested, maybe we can do a separate post on it? However, another point worth sharing now is napping. Highly recommended by my therapist, if you’re feeling anxious, one of the best things you can do is go for a nap. It resets your hormones and allows your brain to process whatever it’s panicking about, making sense of it all while you’re blissfully in the Land of Nod. Pretty cool if you can get it. But most of the time I can’t, which is why I rely on the rest of the following.
I love food. LOVE it. Would eat all the things all day long if I could. But all the things usually means all the carby and sugary things. And I know that my body works best on a high fat, bread/pasta free diet. But rather than trying to control every morsel that passes my lips, I have decided to label breakfast as my one meal I must get right. I find that if I eat the right breakfast, I stay full and my sugar cravings are definitely curbed. If I have biscuits or something sugary with a cup of tea in the morning, my day is almost doomed to be an unhealthy one. So I either fry up some spinach/kale and mushrooms in a pan with butter and top with an egg most mornings, make a quick vanilla & banana smoothie (healthier than it sounds, can share the recipe in the comments if you wish) or if I’m extra prepared, I reheat some pre-chopped, roasted veg and pop an egg on top. Basically, if I can get a good amount of veggies/protein/ healthy fats in for breakfast I notice that I’m calmer, more focused and feel like I’ve got an early win. It also tastes way better than Weetabix.
I have read a lot about people getting up at 5am to factor in some me-time recently. Not a good move for me at the moment as every 10 minutes of sleep is precious. Instead of shoe-horning it into my already busy days, I have factored mine into my weekend, when I have support. As soon as I was given the nod at my 6 week check after Finn, I joined the gym. And I purposefully made it one of the fancier gyms in my area. Now, every Sunday, I leave Gavin with some bottles and the boys and I head off for a few hours to do yoga, have a sauna then sit in the lovely cafe planning my week or reading. I cannot tell you the difference this has made to my mental health. I look forward to it and labeling this time as time for myself not only encourages me to exercise, but gives me time alone with my thoughts and Gavin time alone with the boys. And while positive benefits of regular exercise on mental health have been well documented, I’ve also noticed a host of mental and physical benefits from doing regular saunas too.
We are big music lovers in our house. But sometimes we forget the power of it and get stuck in an audio rut of whinging kids, Paw Patrol theme tunes and washing machine noise. One of my favourite things to do if we all (or even just me) seem a bit off kilter, is to turn off all screens, pick a playlist to suit the mood and turn the volume up. Without fail, my 4 year old plays more contently, the baby calms down and my emotions improve. And there is always time for a dance party in the kitchen. Music just cuts through the bullshit and brings out the relaxed, happy me.
This sounds like a weird one, I know, but I make a point to factor in a few little luxuries to my days. It usually takes the form of a hot chocolate at my fave hipster cafe midweek, expensive dark chocolate chucked in my online shopping cart and a monthly full body massage. None of these things break the bank (although the regular massage was a bit of an investment), but they all make me really happy. And I think that it’s important to romance yourself just a little bit with fancy things and/or experiences to keep your mind lit up and enjoy the lovely things life has to offer.
I tried meditating in the morning… But my kids have this fab habit of waking up as soon as I do. Even if I get up super early doors. Which is not conducive to getting some headspace. So my solution is late at night. First I jot down a few words in my One Line a Day 5 year diary. I really rate this diary as it helps me not only reflect on the nice parts of the day but it also gives me the perspective to see that things will look different when the time comes to fill in the future years on the page. Then when my head’s on the pillow and I turn out the lights, I just lie there and practice dismissing thoughts as I focus on my breathing. I like the in-for-4-out-for-7 breathing count. It helps me relax and often sends me into a lovely calm sleep. It’s the only realistic way I can fit in meditation at the moment. And I actually really look forward to it.
I do all of the above purely for my mental health. And have a little checklist on my phone to remind me of the things that help me stay happy and chilled when I’m feeling a bit off and life has me carried away.
Have you ever thought about jotting down your own mental health checklist to keep yourself on course? How do make sure you’re looking after your mind as well as your body?
As I’ve already stated though, this is my personal approach to maintaining my mental health and keeping anxiety at bay. If you’re at all concerned about your mental health, your GP is the best person to contact. Thankfully our wonderful NHS has many referral routes for expert help and advice.