Emotions are complex. Feelings can scare you so much you can shut them down and walk through life feeling numb. Or may you live your live feeling trapped by anxiety or depression. Or spend your time chasing the euphoria that comes from happiness, and by trying to create it, miss the moments where it actually exists.
The following three factors are paramount in your emotional self-care:
1. Awareness and acceptance of your emotions;
2. Being able to express emotions in a healthy way; and,
3. Doing activities that cultivate joy/happiness.
Let's talk briefly about these three factors.
Very young babies communicate first through their emotions. Babies cry, scream, laugh ... way before they can talk. It is how they let others know that they have desires - for food, comfort and sleep - that need to be met.
From birth individual differences are apparent in how intensely babies feel and express their emotions. Some are born screaming at the top of their lungs - ever notice that some babies don’t just cry a little bit when they are hungry, need changing or tired, they scream at the top of their lungs. Whereas others are much more contemplative and seem to take it all in their stride. .
Over time as a baby learns that people will respond to their cries; as they begin first to use movement as communication, and then speech, their emotional response tends to reduce in intensity.
However, the ability to express emotions varies.
Emotional overwhelm (meltdowns) may occur when speech language development is delayed, when children are exhausted from not getting their needs (both real and perceived met) and/or when they are coping with high levels of stress.
And so it is with adults. Have you ever noticed how much easier is to be calm and rational when you have had a full 9=8 hours restful sleep?
And lastly a quick look at doing activities that cultivate happiness. To help you do this I have put some prompts below. I invite you to actively journal and write down some of your responses.
🌼When was the last time you felt happy?
🌼In whose company do you feel comfort?
🌼In what activities do you ‘flow’?
🌼When do you lose a sense of time and space and feel that you just 'are'’?
🌼Do you have something to look forward to?
🌼What excites you?
🌼Have you planned to do activities / made time for things that make you smile?
🌼Do you know when people are happiest?
🌼Have you planned to do activities / made time for things that are important to you?
Research indicates that doing what is most important, pursuing a meaningful life may be the true key to happiness. It also shows that being present and fully in the momebt, regardless of what you are doing is also linked to happiness.. Based on your experience, what do you think? I'd love to know.
If you would like to look at this further, and are curious about mindfulness, I invite you to be a part of my upcoming, and last one for the year, Introduction to Practical Mindfulness mini-course starting on the 10th October - World Mental Health Day.
Until next time, take care of yourself
Yesterday the roadmap was delivered to Victorians. As a Victorian living in Metro Melbourne, the roadmap was worse than I had anticipated.
Worse both personally, and for the larger community.
I am looking for strong forward sustainable leadership in regards to future town planning which maximises the resources available in each person’s 5 km bubble. Maybe that’s coming, but it wasn’t there yesterday.
I am looking for leadership that supports family connection, and that wasn’t there yesterday. There are at least 7 weeks before I can see my parents, or any member of my family again. And at least 11 before we can come together as a whole family. None of my family are within my 5km radius.
There are at least 7 weeks before my children can look at resuming a proper education – ranging from High School to University.
So, yep it sucks.
So yesterday I wallowed, a little bit. Something clicked in my brain and I slipped into self-sabotage mode. To me this is often a combination of not doing anything and over eating – not a healthy combination – and getting angry.
If I am to name my anger, it would be disappointment, fear (the above will only happen if certain parameters are met), some envy and resentment.
There will be no grand final meet up with family.
If I’m going to be stuck in a 5km bubble, I want a better 5km bubble! I want a beach, or a forest, or a river walk, and/or some family! I have a lake .2 km out of my bubble. Do I risk it?
In crisis it becomes the gap between the haves and the have nots - geographically, financially, emotionally, and socially becomes so apparent.
In a crisis, this gap becomes a chasm.
There are many of us who don't have friends who check in on us and who take the effort to make our iso birthdays something special.
There are many people stuck in worse 5km radius than me. Those who don't have the money to indulge in Netflix, Foxtel, online purchasing, take away meals, or other distracting behaviours.
There are many who don't have the resources or energy to get dressed each day, let alone create and finish any sort of project.
And of course there are those stuck in a loveless or abuse relationship, unemployed, detoxing, the list goes on.
The above, and more contribute to the anger I feel.
So what, if anything, is the antidote to this anger?
Do we just wait it out the best we can?
Well, yes there is that but, here are a couple of things that may help
You know those thoughts and feelings going around and around in your head, perhaps sabotaging you the way mine do? Get them out. Write them down, talk them aloud, acknowledge them, show them in the light and own them as yours.
Now this is not denying that other people may have it worse. This sort of comparison does not help.
This is acknowledging your hurt and your loss and all the reasons you may be feeling anger.
From here there are a few options.
If you have uncovered a sense of loss, hurt or suffering you may like to look at the Three Steps of Self-Compassion.
You may like to channel the energy of that anger into something you can control, that fits with what is important to you. It might be writing a letter to your MP, starting a home construction/demolition project, going for a run, dancing to loud music, actively contacting (or recontacting) everyone you know in isolation to see how they are doing.
Or you may wish to reconnect with a passion, a person, a therapist, a positive habit.
I’m taking stock (again) today. Looking at doubling down on exercise, doing something in the garden, taking pressure off myself to complete work projects and slowing down a little bit, spring cleaning the house. I’m also going to keep connecting with the people I care about and…find a new Netflix series. Vampire Diaries you’ve served me well, but you’re almost over.
And, I’ve had one week off since March and am about to go and schedule in a couple more weeks when I finish this. Because, yes you can still burn out in isolation, in fact it can be even easier to do so.
Where ever you find yourself day, take time to reflect on how you are really feeling, what you are really thinking and then act upon this feelings. If you would like some support with that I’m here for you. Whether that’s through self-care coaching, supervision, mentoring…simply email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk about your next steps.
Until next time, take care of yourself
Kim Dunn xx
I was looking at old home videos today, and I noticed I really miss those days when my children were little and just wanted to be with me.
And, I also remember how isolating many of those days were. How hard it can be responding to unrelenting love and need for attention.
I'm not going to tell you that one day you'll look on those demanding days and miss them, because it doesn't help.
You're smart, you know this, but right now in this moment, when you just ache for some time for yourself without the guilt you feel as your youngest child runs down the driveway telling you to come back because they miss you... now is not the time to tell you you'll miss it.
What I can do is help you not carry that guilt that is trying to follow you down the driveway...
Having a child cry that they want you to come back, does not make you a bad mother. Having a child scream that they hate you, does not make you a bad mother. Having a child kick out at you because they don't want to be in their car seat, does not make you a bad mother. Having a child refuse to go to school, does not make you a bad mother.
It sure has heck feels like it sometimes though....
I'll let you in on a secret, well it's not really a secret, but it does seem to be something that people don't talk about much.
Some children are more difficult to look after than others. They're the ones who don't want to go to sleep, who don't want to eat the food you make, who are quick to anger or cry.
It doesn't make you love them any less, but they are harder work. And it's OK to accept this fact.
You may even find that letting go of the idea that it is your fault your children are difficult and accepting what is, helps lessen the feeling of guilt that is following you around.
If this is something you struggle with, we are here to help.
Simply call us on 0408533515 or email email@example.com to book a parenting consultation and let us help you move from overwhelm to calm.
And to help you get started we have created a special resource that helps you identify one of the first things you can do help reduce that feeling of overwhelm - if you don't have it yet, click here to access your First Step to move from Overwhelm to Calm.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
* 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.