My eldest turns 21 today. He is having a birthday in isolation. That means no -one over to celebrate, not going out with mates. He's stuck with me and his brother!
It was today 21 years ago that I became a mother (yes that's me and infamous baby who didn't sleep all night until he was 5)....
I'm so proud of him today and I've shared that on Facebook, but your children's birthday's are also a time for personal reflections.
I look at this photo and I see how young and beautiful I looked. I was 32.
Nowdays I am not so young or beautiful, but I am younger and probably more beautiful than what I'll ever be again.
When I was much younger, I loved going out and dancing. Connecting, and just being with the music and the friends and strangers around me. Whether it be ‘sock hops’ at school, listening to pub cover bands, or going to bushdances. It was fun!!
Then for a while, the music stopped. With the unrelenting fatigue that accompanied the jump into motherhood.
There was no more dancing and the isolation of motherhood became real.
The only dancing was the swaying that happened trying to soothe the babies, or the bouncing and rolling around on the Swiss ball as they were jiggled off to sleep.
And then the babies grew and even the swaying disappeared….
The music changes when you become a mother, well it did for me. Suddenly you have children who depend on you, who trust you implicitly (until they become teenagers anyway) and look to you for guidance in everything they do. And often, we don’t have all the answers, we can’t fulfill all their needs, we can’t even fulfill our own needs of sleep, and that sense of failure to be perfect can lead to isolation and times of despair.
So, although I had my mother and my family, and friends, I lost the music.
So how do you get the music back? You start by giving yourself permission to hear it.
When you embrace your imperfections, your authenticity, and follow your life rhythm you find others who resonate with you, who will support you, challenge you and join in your dance.
You may find as I did, when you make a commitment to embrace your vulnerability, you create space to make new soul connections with your family, your friends, each other.
It's OK, it's normal to lose the music, to get overwhelmed, to reach out for guidance and support. I've been there, swaying in the corner, waiting for it to change.
I get it.
Remember we are all connected, and although you may feel it at times, you are not alone.
The music, the dance, the connections are there. Sometimes we just need a little help to rediscover them.
And then you become older and the music and dance, and often connections, change yet again. It's time now, for me again to rediscover what the sound and the movement are for me, in this next stage of my life.
Until next time, take care of yourself.
ps…. And I totally love my children, and always wanted to be a mother, and I will always be their rock and their comfort. They make my heart sing, even when I can't always hear the music.
There is no doubt that the presence of the Coronavirus / COVID-19 is causing emotional distress in the community and amongst individuals. In this article I outline why this happens, how you can manage your anxiety, and why it is important that you prioritise your self-care now.
Some initial research into the first month of COVID-19 found mental health difficulties were at least twice as prevalent as in non-pandemic circumstances. For some people the restrictions around COVID-19 are a blip in their lives, for others the impact is significant and ongoing. And, as to be expected, the people most impacted are the most vulnerable in society.
The need for practical, positive, flexible self-care to manage this ongoing anxiety and stress is clear.
WHY DOES THE PRESENCE OF COVID-19 TRIGGER FEAR?
In many people the presence of COVID-19 and being in the midst of a panademic triggers fear (as well as anger and sadness). At its most basic a pandemic represents a threat to life. You are given daily updated global totals of how many people have died. Additionally, the presence of COVID-19 threatens your health, your liberty, your place in society, and exposes the divide between the haves and the have nots, both locally and globally.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE FLIGHT, FIGHT AND FREEZE RESPONSE?
When fear is triggered your body responds on instinct. It sends you into an acute stress response. Without you thinking about it, physiological changes in the body happen that are designed to keep you safe. These instinctive and primitive reactions cannot tell the difference between threats – that happens next. So your body responds as if the threat is right there – like having a ferocious tiger appear in front of you.
Once your brain identifies something as a threat to your safety, it sends a message to your adrenal glands requesting energy to take action.
When your body responds a cocktail of biochemical survival hormones are released such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, cortisol, norepinpephrine and ephinephrine. These hormones influence everything you do, from eating and running to feeling, thinking and behaving. Your heart will start beating quicker as it pumps blood to the areas that your brain believes are needed right now, like your muscles. A rush of adrenaline causes your lungs to take in more oxygen which the heart pushes to the rest of the body. Your breathing becomes more rapid and shallow as the airway between the nose and the lungs constricts.
Examples of how the fight, flight and freeze responses are appearing in the community follow:
Includes arguing with the government and authorities, defiance (eg breaking the law and community standards – think house parties, extended family gatherings, toilet paper hoarding, refusing to be tested), blame, deflect, disbelief (eg conspiracy theories) increase of domestic violence, ostracization, and abuse.
Includes people fleeing to their holiday homes. Other people may avoid all societal contact, not even going out for daily walks.
Think stuck brain. Inability to change routines or do anything proactive. For example – binge watching Netflix, losing track of the day, not being able to adjust to current reality.
THEN WHAT HAPPENS AFTER THE FEAR RESPONSE?
Usually when the situation that triggers the fear response disappears, your body starts to return to normal. The fear response is an emergency response and is designed for short term work. However, when a threatening situation is ongoing, like the threat of COVID-19, you can start to experience chronic stress.
Without engaging in intervention, like good self-care, your feelings can start to overwhelm you.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN I EXPERIENCE CHRONIC STRESS?
Some of the common effects of chronic stress can include:
You want to look after yourself more, but seriously, who has the time (or energy) for that.
And really, what difference would it make anyway?
I get it.
When my children were young and didn't sleep very much self-care seemed like a luxury that I would get to , one day. I so wish I'd realised then, how incorporating little things that fitted what I was going through (no time, money or energy!) could make a difference.
Did you know that every time you make a choice you lose something? It’s called opportunity cost. It’s unavoidable because you can’t be in two places at once, you can’t browse Facebook and get the dishes done, you can’t eat pizza and fish and chips and Chinese for dinner – you have to make a choice.
And choosing to engage in self-care, or not…..
…is no different.
But first let’s take a brief detour and let me dispel a myth for you. Self-care is not all about pedicures, massages and pampering. Sure, whilst there’s no doubt that some people love this and it helps them rejuvenate themselves; it’s only one, small, aspect of self-care.
Self-care is all about YOU looking after your physical and mental health. The action you take can be positive, practical and personalised. That’s the best type of self-care – finding out what you need and doing what works for you.
Back to the opportunity cost of NOT prioritising self-care.
Not being mindful (one of the key self-care tools) can lead to forgetfulness, missing non-verbal cues in conversations and harming connection, not being present for the best moments in the day, missing the everyday beauty around you.
Not doing something that brings you joy can lead to resentment and sadness.
Not practicing gratitude can lead to envy and jealousy.
Not exercising can lead to depressed mood.
Not reaching out to others when you are feeling lonely can lead to increased isolation and lack of connection..
Not practicing self-acceptance can lead to a feeling of not being worthy and not speaking up for yourself.
Not going to the doctor can lead to undiagnosed and untreated physical illness.
Not enforcing boundaries can lead to burnout and a deep sense of being taken for granted.
So, in answer to the question that was posed at the start – what difference does engaging in self-care make anyway?
Incorporating positive, practical, self-care strategies that reflect YOUR needs can make a world of difference to your health, your mood, your life.
Now, just because it’s self-care, I really, really want to stress one thing.
You don’t have to do it all by yourself. I am here to help you work out what you need, what strategies will work best for you and your circumstances, and to teach you positive, practical strategies that take very little time.
Just to show you that these strategies don’t have to take long, here’s a simple one for you to try.
Look up from reading this and find something that catches your eye and makes you smile. Allow yourself to focus on this feeling and the thoughts that go with it. Maybe it’s something your chid made, maybe you bought it for a special reason, or at a special place. Maybe it is just beautiful or was given to you by a special person. Then, if this thing is cluttered by other things, make space for it to shine by itself.
That’s it. You have just practiced self-care. You have touched on emotional self-care, connection and meaning. You have also practiced using you Awe and appreciation of beauty muscle.
If you feel inclined to send me a quick email, I would love to know how you went with this exercise.
Ever shut up instead of standing up? Ever allowed others to shine whist dimming our own light. The world needs you to be at your best.
I talk about this and what may be stopping you in the latest podcast. How to stand up instead of shutting up. What it takes to express your authentic self.
And remember, if you want to be a part of the exclusive subscribers podcast group – all you need to do is subscribe to Creating Connections that Matter, leave a review, and email me a screen shot at email@example.com.
For an update list on different ways I can help you click here. And of course, I am currently available for Telehealth Counselling or Telehealth self-care coaching - email for more details.
Until next time, take care xx
Last year I wrote the below article. As our children go back to school this question is even more relevant. What plans do schools have to help children going back to school after this huge disruption to their lives? Are there adequate resources, support, and understanding?
The elephant in the room - what do we do with students with mental health difficulties?
I want to start my saying that my mother was school teacher, and I grew up with a lot of respect for the good teachers, the ones who worked hard to understand and then educate their students.
And I still believe that the vast majority of teachers have the best intentions, and just like our students, they do well if they can.
Over the last 10 years as an independent child and adolescent psychologist I have witnessed school and teachers who do not know what to do when a student has acute and/or chronic mental health difficulties. When we look at understanding why a child is not learning well in the classroom it is not enough to look at cognitive abilities the emotional wellbeing of a student must be taken into account. In our school system there are both systemic gaps, knowledge gaps and understanding gaps.
The World Health Organisation states that half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age and “most cases are undetected and untreated”. And “globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents” https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health.
About 10-20% of adolescents experience mental health problems. In a classroom of 30 children that means 3-6 on average. In a school of 1200 that is 240 students. This is not an elephant that should be ignored and dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
We may be increasing the number of counsellors and psychologists in schools, but is that helping? How far is it going? Do schools think that because a student has an appointment a session a week or a fortnight, or is seeing an outside psychologist that that is enough.
I am asking these questions to school leaders, parents, teachers, mental health professionals. These are aimed at encouraging conversation. Possible answers and/or best practices to some of these topics will be addressed in future articles. For now consider the following.
Knowledge and Understanding
These and many other questions need to be answered.
Let’s carry on the conversation. Whether you are a principal, a teacher, a parent or a school psychologist/counsellor/welfare worker – what is your school doing? Let’s share, what is working, what isn’t, where are the gaps in understanding, knowledge and systems.
As you may already know, podcasts are my go to at the moment. Whether it be catching up with the latest in psychology, business or self-development, I have a range I can choose from according to the move. Some are great for listening to in the car, some when I’m lying down resting, some for when I can’t sleep in the middle of the night, and others when I’m really in the mood to learn something new.
In fact, they are a perfect way for mums to learn. Some podcasts are short, some are longer, so you can pick and choose.
Below is a list of my top 6 favourites at the moment, although they do change from time to time.
Private Practice with Soul by Dr Brooklyn Storme.
The Content 10x – Amy Woods
Brand You Personal Branding – Mike Kim
Marketing that Converts by Teresa Heath-Wareing
Potential Psychology – Ellen Jackson
Parental as Anything ABC radio.
And a special shout out to two really new podcasts
Phoenix Rising with Gallagher Psychology by Patricia Gallagher, and
Course Creation Bites by Sam Winch
And of course I love my own (because it would pretty terrible if I didn’t!)
Creating Connections that Matter by Kim Dunn.
Do you listen to podcasts? If you've listened to mine I would love to know what you think, and I am always interested in what you would like to hear more of, simply drop me a quick email.
So, you'd like to stop feeling guilty.
If you're like me you are not short of examples where motherhood guilt popped up its head.
As recently as last week I was at an all day event and about 11.30 I received a text from my youngest.
'Mum, where are you?' 😳😳
I put my hand up for another vote towards the Worst Mother of the Year Award.
Well, first the bad news about feeling guilty...
You cant really stop it....
You don't really want to.
Guilt is an emotion, and like all emotions it has a purpose - it is giving you feedback and guidance on your life.
It is important that you feel guilt.
There are two question to ask yourself:
Have a look at these two examples.
Carrying around the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’ of being a mum is exhausting.
It’s not called the ‘weight’ of expectations for nothing!
Expectations are things we grow up with.
They create boundaries and provide guidance. For example you are expected to walk before the age of 12-15 months otherwise this is a clear sign of a problem with development.
You are expected to do your homework, obey the teacher, eat your dinner etc….
A lot of expectations are in keeping with how society and families encourage behaviour and growth for the good of your development and that of the community.
The broad aim is for you to become a functional human being who makes a positive contribution to society. Then there are individual family differences based on culture, religion, family structure, birth order, personality etc.
As you entered adolescence you probably rebelled at many/some of these expectations, but you probably also carried many of them into adulthood.
Then you become an adult, and on top of family of origin and society expectations you now have expectations from your work place and expectations from your partner, AND THEN you have children!
And, if that’s not enough you also have the thick layer of consumer ‘expectations’. In a world where economic growth is still valued above all else we seem to have really internalised the ‘greed is good’ doctrine in our society. You are encouraged to buy, to have more, to be good consumers. It is an insidious expectation.
So, what happens when you step back, when you become the observer, when you listen to your noticing self and see the reality of your expectations?
You can see the ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos’ for what they really are; they aren’t rules by which you have to live by, they aren’t absolute truths, they are just thoughts your mind is holding on to (sometimes in a vice like grip!).
By seeing this you can you can choose to let go of expectations that have no meaning or satisfaction for you.
Knowing this you can choose.
I don’t know the expectations you are carrying.
I do know thought, that as a mother when I brought my first baby home I wanted nothing to mar his perfection. I wanted no harm to come to him, no heartbreak, no pain…
But that is wishful thinking.
No matter what you do as a mother you cannot protect your child from life.
In regards to other expectations you have choices.
You can choose to participate in activities that you value. That bring joy to your heart and that of your family.
You can choose activities that focus on kindness, gratitude, togetherness.
You can choose say NO and choose to say YES.
There is a lot of freedom that comes with being an adult and having so many choices to make.
We might feel the heavy weight of expectations, but when we lose that weight it is not just freeing, it also exposes us and makes it vulnerable.
And it can take a lot of courage to lose that weight and stride out on your own path.
For when you stand as an adult in your authentic self, it can feel that you walk alone.
Over time with greater confidence in your authentic self, the aloneness is replaced by a deeper connection with yourself, with others and with the natural world.
Take care of yourself
Have you ever been taken advantage of, had your trust betrayed, or got stuck in an unequal power relationship?
Trust – it’s a slippery little sucker.
What causes us to trust someone?
Do you trust people implicitly or does it take a long time to build up and develop trust that is quickly destroyed?
What do you trust people with – your secrets, your money, your heart, your life?
Trust and vulnerability are a cornerstone of connection.
It starts at birth.
Babies trust their mothers to feed them, pick them up when they cry, cuddle them. Responsiveness and predictability are key to attachment and connection.
As a psychologist, the relationship between myself and my client is inherently trust based.
My clients trust that I will do the right thing by them. That I will listen and seek to understand without judgement. That I will value and respect their experiences, their goals, their vulnerabilities. Within the clinic space they can let down their guards and don’t need to be strong. They trust that I will guide them using proven methods and honour their journey. That I will work within my expertise and the ethical and legal boundaries of the profession.
Did you realise that 50% of ‘success’ in therapy is due to the relationship between therapist and client. And when you think about how important trust is, this totally makes sense.
Many years ago I sought out counselling through the services provided by my then work, and began seeing a therapist. This person crossed boundary lines. They crossed boundary lines in a number of ways. I followed their behaviour up with a complaint, but that too was unsatisfactory.
This incident totally derailed the therapeutic process for me. It destroyed the connection. It created a mistrust of the counselling profession which I maintained for many years, and, a mistrust of my own experiences.
Why am I telling you this?
I have described an unequal power relationship which was abused by one party. This wasn’t the first time I experienced this and it wasn’t the last. It’s also not uncommon.
You may have experienced something similar.
Here is what may help:
If you are specifically looking for a mental health professional and want more information on professional and ethical conduct.:
I hope this helps. If you want to find out more about my story go to the latest podcast episode https://anchor.fm/kim-dunn/episodes/How-a-therapist-broke-my-trust---and-how-you-can-protect-yourself-against-something-similar-happening-to-you-ear293.
As always you are welcome to email me or book an appointment on 0408533515.
Until next time, take care of yourself
Did you always want to be a mum?
And I was so sure I would be a wonderful mum.
It was so much harder than what I could have imagined or expected.
Transitioning to be a parent is a HUGE step.
And one of the first lies of motherhood is....
You'll know what do. Your maternal instinct will guide you.
Well maybe if you had your children in a country where there was no social media, you didn't need to work and you had people around to take care of you after birth.
...and maybe you did...
...but you probably didn't....
So, why talk about motherhood myths and lies? Why does it matter?
The main reason is that when you carry the lies, myths, expectations it gets in the way of your actual experience.
It gets in the way of connecting with yourself - the mother you truely are - and then it gets in the way of connecting with your family.
Buying into other people's beliefs, listening to the things you 'should' be doing, does you NO service.
Learning to trust yourself, your rhythms, your children's rhythms is not always easy, particularly in this complex world we now live in.
There are however simple things you can do to start doing this, including identifying what beliefs, expectations, myths and lies you may be carrying around.
You can download the FREE First Step from Overwhelm to Calm or have a look at my new Live Your Best Life: The RoadMap to Personal Wellbeing Program for Busy Mums..
It's been far from a care free summer holiday this year. Instead we are facing a natural disaster the prolonged likes of which we haven't seen before in Australia
As a parent it can be difficult to know what to do for the best. I have included two resources in the email.
Firstly there is a video from me outlining some practical strategies, suitable for all children.
Secondly there is an article from Autism Tasmania which includes two social stories (for those of you for whom this applies.
Positive Young Minds reopens next week. If you would like to make a booking for you or your child to come in and speak about what is happening, or for any other reason, you can book online here
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy..
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.