Focus in 2015

Quite by accident in December last year I found out about Susannah Conway’s Find Your Word mini-course via some planner addict friends and I found it to be a really helpful process to go through in terms of defining some personal goals for myself in 2015.

Focus in 2015

My word is FOCUS, there were other words that really appealed, including connect, and simplify but focus is what I need to get to and focus is not where I am right now. I also felt that this word was sufficiently action orientated to be encouraging – I will ask myself “am I focussing on being present in this moment?” “is my focus elsewhere or where it needs to be?” “how could I focus better on switching off?”

focus

Through counselling last year I’ve learned to expose myself to experiences I find uncomfortable and I also learned a lot about anxiety and how it holds me back. Managing anxiety takes focus and practice and this is increasingly becoming important to me as I have a lot less time to myself, and a lot less time to practice, now I’m back at work, working longer hours and nap times are a thing of the past.

I arrived at FOCUS after exploring my anxiety further last year. I learned that at its root, for me, is a desire to be productive, it’s in the quiet moments when I have nothing to do that I find a disquieting voice creeps in and I start to worry (hello ‘what ifs’ goodbye ‘calm collected’ self, if you will). I’ve learned a lot about managing this; if I step up my productivity I risk taking on too much and burning out, but if I listen to the disquieting voice, and just learn to let it be, paying it a low level of attention and moving on I find I start to enjoy life more and the noise in my head lulls again. So focus is a good starting point.

I am not a very focussed person, I flit from one thing to the next. I have lots of ideas, so many that I struggle to prioritise them, and I take too much on to fill the gaps. I’ve always done this, at primary school when the teacher gave out ‘jobs’ to do I’d always have my hand up, not just for the first job, that too, but also for anything that came later, I have an acute ‘fear of missing out’ and that can be disruptive; it’s where I lose hours to Pinterest or flitting between the open tabs of the desktop that is in my head, planning, thinking, being productive.

I’m sure I’m not alone in browsing pins for inspiration, but it’s more than that. It’s getting caught up in something and suddenly realising it’s 11pm and that book I’d been looking forward to reading hasn’t been read, I’ve distractedly binged on food I didn’t want or need and all that would be OK if I even enjoyed the browsing but there was just something driving me on, a compulsion, and one I have been working hard to get under control. I’m getting there, last week I sat for an hour and had a cuppa and just sat alone with my thoughts, not trying to collect them, but just let them be there.

So in 2014 I learned to control this to a degree, but in 2015 I need to start to focus myself further. In 2014 I achieved two big lifelong aims, I finished my Masters after many long years of part-time study, and I had a research report published that I feel really very proud of. In both cases I showed my ability to focus, but it was at a cost to other areas of my life where procrastination reigned supreme again.

I’ve started 2015 with a renewed energy, and took this focus into this weekend taking a trip to the beach despite the blustery weather.  We probably chose the coldest day of the year for it and were all blue after 15 minutes but man it blew away the cobwebs, it’s hard not to focus on the moment when your toes are freezing!

beach

The word ‘focus’ came to me when I was at my computer. I saw a photo on my desktop, a piccie of my darling girl in the sun, I was at work but wanted to reach out and hold her hand. I wanted to go back to that day, a day where I was really present in the moment and bring that presence into all aspects of my life, so that is why I now have a small card in my planner, and another on my computer screen with one short five letter word, I’m ready for the challenge, let’s see what FOCUS is all about in 2015.

beach1

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

New Year Mini Home Makeover

I don’t know about you but I go into overdrive with cleaning in January. I’m doing a 30 day declutter challenge (sweet joy!) and in the course of doing it I’ve also been doing some jobs that have quite frankly needed doing for some time. The nice side to all of this is appreciating the lovely things you have, that you love and want to keep (check out Marie Kondo for more info on cutting clutter) 43d17d4a071d0183b39de9e66aca8eb2

New Year Mini Home Makeover

Our mini makeover has seen us finally get round to hanging some artwork we’ve been keeping under the bed in Joss’ room, a Chinese kite which I love on the wall, and a French alphabet poster (shh, it’s a sheet of wrapping paper but you’d never know it wasn’t from a chic boutique! bird french And this latest offering by the little lady herself, a starry sky painting starry skies picture I’ve also really appreciated the little things, always floral, always gorgeous, including bulbs I’ve grown myself and prettied up by covering their pots with fabric and ribbons, and some pink hyacinths from a flower market.  I can appreciate them more now the surfaces have been cleared of clutter and my mind feels less ‘busy’ too flow flowers While this has been happening Joss has been jumping, a lot, from the sofa onto her Christmas beanbag and keeping her beady eye on me so her toys don’t get culled! action And finally we’ve all been enjoying a spot of winter sunshine to blow away the cobwebs. toby Some proper planning for 2015 comes later this week when I’m back at work and thinking about some goals for the coming 12 months, but after a busy 2014 I’m ready for the challenge, and the house is ready for it too!

You Baby Me Mummy

Please, please go to sleep sweetheart…how sleep affects mood in parents

This is one of those posts that’s been in my head for a while; it stopped being relevant for a while when Joss started sleeping better again but it’s now very much at the forefront of my mind.  I wanted to share some ideas on being kind to yourself when sleep deprivation hits because it’s important not to become desperate for sleep or to feel desperate about the situation. It’s an issue that comes up so much in the postnatal depression groups I run and attend that it felt important enough to need a post in its own right.

For four weeks now we have had some pretty horrendous night’s sleep. Normally we can cope with night wakings but these have been coupled with it taking two, sometimes three hours to get Joss back off to sleep by which point it’s 11pm, we haven’t had any time to talk to each other as husband and wife, we haven’t had any real ‘down time’ and then from 1am to 6am we’re up and down like a couple of yoyos and let me tell you it’s taking its toll on us, I feel like the walking dead some days.

How sleep affects mood

The longest day after the worst night

Things came to a head last week when, after another 4am spent in the freezing cold over the cot I did something stupid, sleep deprived and very stupid. I forgot to put the Calpol away and the seal on the bottle was broken. The next day Joss got the bottle and we couldn’t be sure she hadn’t drank any so we took a trip to A&E, a blood test and six hours on the ward later and we found she had not a drop of paracetamol and was perfectly healthy but the damage was done, we had reached peak tired and I felt like the world’s worst parent as the hospital filled out a ‘cause for concern’ form.  We all know the unthinkable consequences of this stupid mistake and I really went to town worrying about ‘what if’.  A week on and I have forgiven myself for this mistake but the enduring tiredness continues.

These night wakings can be relatively short, they’re probably owing to cutting teeth at the moment so they’re only five to 10 minutes long, but they disrupt the natural rhythm of our sleep in their frequency.

How sleep affects mood

There is undoubtedly a connection between lack of sleep and mental health, our sleep debt is racking up and Joss is tired too, so we all feel slightly emotionally frayed, except she cannot yet control and understand her emotions so tantrums ensue. They’re harder to deal with after sleepless nights and before you know it the wheels have come off and we’re all grouchy, sometimes it’s hard to tell who is the toddler and who is the grownup.

How sleep affects mood

The 11pm bedtimes mean the housework doesn’t get done, we snap at each other, neither of us have had a break for even an hour in weeks and it’s just relentless when work is thrown in the mix. Then back to mental health, the black dog pops his head in…”it’s never ending…it will always be like this…look at the state of the place…things are slipping…you’re a terrible parent/wife/colleague” then the “what ifs” and anxiety begins to spiral- “what if she never sleeps through again…what if we can’t cope” – I’ve blogged about this awful spiral before, not good.

Seemingly my own mental health becomes more precarious when I don’t get the rest let alone the sleep that I need to keep me on an even keel.

These last few weeks have brought some revelations though. I can cope with less sleep than I thought I needed, I can go to work, be a mother, feed the family, wash the clothes and yet I can’t be as present as I would like, or as positive as I would like.

How sleep affects mood

So what have I learned after probably five or six of these cycles of sleep deprivation?

  • Firstly it’s important to remember that your child is not giving you a hard time but is having a hard time too. You’re all having a hard time of it, they are likely feeling as miserable at night as you are, so do what works, take them into bed with you, share responsibility with your partner for ‘nightshifts’ or arrange for yourself to get some time for a catnap if you can. Asking for help is not a weakness, be kind to yourselves and each other, apologise if you row more frequently and remember it’s because you’re exhausted
  • If you do decide to sleep in shifts as is sometimes necessary here one of you could use earplugs to make sure you get the most of your hour or two
  • I also find that if I feel frazzled and am blaming Joss even though I know she’s not at fault it really helps me to reconnect with her in some way, whether its sitting by her as she plays, cuddling or just enjoying five minutes of a TV programme she likes together, I cope better when I’m connected with her and with her Dad, those short moments bring me back to reality and out of my anxious thoughts.
  • Another thing I’ve learned is that the old ‘sleep when they sleep’ mantra rings true, genuinely there will be a point when they do sleep, even if its not ideal timing, get your head down. When Joss naps I will nap, now she naps less I go to bed really early if she goes off easily or I sleep when she does, even if it’s just for an hour or two (and they do sleep eventually, just not necessarily when you want them to!) to catch up, the other stuff can wait, leading me nicely to my next point
  • Forget the housework, I know this sounds like something people said when you had a newborn and it sounded ridiculous and you wanted to do it all but genuinely (even if you are unlucky to have a poor sleeper) this current period of real crunching all-consuming tiredness will pass and you will pick up the time and energy to get yourselves sorted out again, to sort out your home and feel more ‘together’
  • Try to eat a healthy diet, even if it means cutting some corners, it’s so tempting to slip into bad food habits to get you through, after all you probably feel down and crave comfort, but eating well will help you to have more energy to get through the day. Try and reach for nuts, bananas, dried fruit, oaty snacks etc that will give you a healthy boost
  • Use relaxation techniques and breathing techniques to help you stay calm and make the most of the odd moment of rest that you get. A friend of mine swears by a 20 minute catnap at work, I like to take an hour on a weekend when I’m really flagging to have a massage and I use essential oils to calm and relax me during the periods when Joss is awake but should be sleeping
  • Get out in the fresh air. It’s so easy to stay home in your PJs lamenting your lack of sleep, but in reality tiring your little one out with a walk and waking yourself up in the fresh air is a air is a great tonic. If you’re at work take a break and get out, and try to do your hardest tasks first thing as you may flag during the day and could use that time for basic admin etc
  • Ask for professional help if it’s really getting too hard to bear; I know sleep training is controversial but there are gentle methods for supporting a good sleeping routine if other methods are not for you.  When things were really rough last year at the height of my postnatal depression just talking to my GP helped me gain perspective and feel less alone
  • And finally, ditch the guilt and being hard on yourself, this is so important. That someone wrote a book called “go the fuck to sleep” should tell you that you’re normal and only human, it’s bloody hard being a parent and you should use kind words about yourself

If you have ideas for additions to this list do let me know what works for you by leaving a comment, and I will try to add them as I hope this will be a useful resource for other parents

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