Tag Archives: stress

New beginnings

New beginnings hold so much potential. Image source: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Karora.

New beginnings hold so much potential. Image source: Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by Karora.

An unintended and prolonged absence has occurred and like missing anyone you’re fond of, I’ve definitely missed my blog. Life for many of us seems to have a somewhat annoying habit of getting in the way of what we perceive as far better plans. In fact so often I have to resort to my Antarctic fieldwork or alternatively laboratory science motto “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”.  Parents will relate to this concept as well because in the past tense, it can frequently be a summation sentence of a pretty ordinary day.

This first blog under the new title of Parenting by Instinct should be a joyous blog full of the celebration of a new beginning- like new growth occurring, the chance to celebrate a new season, the slight nerves mixed with excitement of doing something for the first time.

I should be using this first PbI blog post to discuss any number of new pieces of science that parents should know about – such as a recent study that showed that even small lies from adults to children may result in the child then becoming more dishonest (and I wrote an article on it here). Or another study showing that the gut microbe make-up doesn’t settle for up until the first three years of life and this has implications for breastfeeding duration.

I will write about these eventually but in the meantime for the last couple of months my world has been somewhat rocked. It seems incredibly ironic that my last post was about Embracing Change and as it turns out just a few days before change was so forcibly on top of me.

I wrote in that post about this kind of change and even the effect it is having in my city: “Change that’s not driven by internal ruminations and is instead imposed on us is frightening and the change and associated stress that my home town people are experiencing is leading to a new vulnerable spanning my age group.”

The university where I work has been under financial stress for many reasons, not the least of which have been multi-faceted earthquake related effects. These have had sustained and considerable impacts on the staff that work there. Exhausted after a very intense year of restructuring all of our undergraduate qualifications (on top of more direct earthquake effects) and aware that the ‘change proposals’ were being announced across Faculties, it was a strange combination of complete surprise and yet non surprise to find a letter on my desk telling me that there were impacts on my position from these proposals.

Twenty-four hours later in a meeting with my Dean, supported by my mother at her request and where the room seemed to come in and out of focus, I got to hear that they propose to disestablish my position. With some 15% of academic staff in our Faculty proposed to go, 10% of staff overall and potentially as an unintended outcome 42% of women academics these are big changes on the cards.

These last nine weeks have flown by in a roller-coaster blur. Confronting me at every moment of the day is the prospect of phenomenal change in the supposedly secure world of tenured academia. It’s been a long time, these two months, spent drifting in limbo land, working through the stages of grief for the existence I immediately exited the second I saw that ominous envelope.

I’ve never experienced feelings of stress on this level before and it doesn’t seem in keeping with my character, except that this particular stressor is sitting now on layers of significant stress from new parenthood, and many, many direct and indirect earthquake effects, all building up over several years like compound interest. Others in my city can no doubt relate to this.

It’s given me a sensitive stomach and the low point perhaps was eating the tiniest bit of a pretty average meat pie my daughter had been eating en route out of town last week, which within seconds had me violently throwing up all over myself in the car- I was even slightly more contained than that when pregnant with nine months of debilitating morning sickness. What followed was an unintended, uncomfortable and unpleasant drive home to get changed and clean the car before setting off again. Driving past the offending bakery today brought back the association and history nearly repeated. My daughter said “Oh poor Mummy, even driving past the bakery makes you nearly throw up”! It’s good at least that we can laugh about it and she has been developing fantastic empathy skills, frequently doing all manner of nice things for me because “Mummy’s lost her job” (although I haven’t yet).

Mental space has been filled with trying to find the strength to mount a response to maintain my position in some form and at the same time to think what else the future might hold. Is this an opportunity for change that may indeed be a welcome visitor, that might propel my life in a different direction? I’m not entirely ready for that aspect- too exhausted surviving the now, but it’s always in the back of my mind- possibilities being considered and ideas formulating.

Many people, far too many, go through the prospect of redundancy as I am. In my situation, my job is nothing close to a job- it’s far more of a vocation, a considerable part of my identity. Being a scientist is something that is intrinsically a part of me, inescapably part of my fabric.

So too, is being a mother. And throughout this beyond-stressful experience as I wait to know my fate and having  temporarily re-found my calmer state, I’ve been thinking about whether there are similarities of this experience to an aspect of parenthood,

In many ways, it’s a little like adjusting to life as a parent. One striking difference is that in general the birth of a child is a wanted event, whereas the prospect of loss of a job tends not to be. However, both situations are full of difficult, challenging surprises. Both involve going through a form of grief, or they should do.

Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment, especially in the modern world, where there isn’t typically extended family existence. At the same time as celebrating the new life you have created, ever so gradually finding your mothering or fathering rhythm, and finding the pure pleasure of moments spent gazing at the miracles of daily development, there is, or there should be, some level of grief to deal with the life you left behind.

And to fully engage in the parenting space, it’s essential that this process of mourning occurs. It may not even be registered consciously and I would hope for most parents it wouldn’t resemble anything of the grief I’ve felt with respect to my job these last weeks.

Some parents however, don’t complete their mourning journey, think their child must squeeze itself into their life that should largely carry on as before, but this places them stuck in the denial phase of grief unable to fully commit themselves to embracing the change that is in front of them.

Falling completely into parenthood doesn’t mean that all of one’s former life is lost though, nor one’s identify and nor should it- there’s no such thing as a complete life switch- rather life is a jigsaw puzzle at times, and bits fit in and out as required. It’s more fluid than that too- who we are today is different to who we were yesterday and who we will be tomorrow. Our environment and circumstances are constantly moulding us.

For me in the last few weeks, more than at any other time in my life, I’ve needed to find some space for myself and to engage in some self-care. I’ve had to continue to turn up at work, to honour teaching commitments, supervision of students, attend meetings and of course continue to be a mother.

With so much pressure ,self-care has been a necessity. This is important for mothers and fathers too. However, I think the societal pressures that seem to dictate that me-time needs such high elevation of status in the forms it is often promoted it should take are not always what is required. Self-care and me-time can be simple and it doesn’t even need to be without children; at least not in my book, as it seldom is child-free (see more here in The rubberband effect: building and maintaining resilience).

A cafe trip for a hot chocolate, time spent in the library slowly choosing books, gym and yoga time, a few minutes a day of meditation/breathing, the joy of cooking a lovely meal, watching a movie or a favourite programme, an afternoon snooze, an early night, gardening, a catch up with friends with or without kids all rate high for me.

But the most restorative thing is getting up high- driving to the mountains or more easily climbing up the hills in my city. There’s something that feels fantastic about working hard and then being on top of something, seeing a vista that is grand and sweeping- all the way from mountains to sea and over the city, connecting yourself back to home. It’s a form of conquering and feeling a profound sense of vitality, of connecting with the primal urge to be at one with nature and also of getting away from it all. I always do these trips with MissBB but a few weeks ago and early on in this potential job loss situation, she was in childcare and for the first time in her existence I was having a de-stress day at home without her.

Working hard to get up high on the hills is incredibly restorative

Working hard to get up high on the hills is incredibly restorative

So I walked up the hills on my own and strangely it felt so difficult. I had no one to carry as I usually do and so I should have bounced up, but without the distraction of four-year old chatter I was left to concentrate on the steepness, the deep breathing, and my own thoughts about the future and it was hard. As much though as it was challenging I really felt a sense of achievement and it did give me precious time to reflect. I missed my girl though, and all I really wanted at the top was a hug from her. My life is enriched by her presence and I see no real need to miss out on that. At the end of the day we’re social animals.

At work my existence for these weeks has largely been filled in a sense socially as well- lots of intense discussions about my situation, albeit from concerned colleagues, but those same conversations have sucked the life force out of me, leaving me feeling an emotional exhaustion that even beats the newborn phase.

Sadly, I’ve also experienced colleagues treating me like I have a communicable disease: I’ve had doors shutting on me, people walking away and not talking to me- them being afraid of what to say, worried I’ll burst into tears on them. There was also a truly demoralising on an other-worldly level departmental meeting that ultimately saw me exiting but I teetered on giving an impassioned speech before deciding I would tackle inaction and apathy another way. And in the end it worked: the submissions to support me and the proposition I have put forward have been really amazing, and touching.

How many parents out there can relate to these same kinds of experiences in their role as mums or dads? Feeling isolated, shunned perhaps for many reasons, and when people know you’re having a hard time choosing to be absent rather than supportive? Or in contrast some truly devastating conversations that lead you wondering whether these people know the harm they are causing with their ill-chosen words, or missing words?

When we become parents we’re frequently accosted by offers of support and advice and it can be exhausting to listen to all this babble and to know what to do with it. So much depends though on the attitude that we bring to listening. People come to these discussions believe-it-or-not usually from a  place of caring and as much as it can be shattering and bewildering, sometimes it’s good to take on board what’s said and see how it fits. Stick up for yourself if you truly need to. But know too that in the process, listening can help you shape your own story and your own values, even if you disagree with what’s said. I’ve certainly found the discussions with colleagues helpful at work, as tiring as they have been, because they’ve let me work through my story and my plans and given me valuable outside perspective.

We’re used also  when adversity strikes (again) to hearing the supposedly reassuring “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. This is indeed true to a point but to be fair I think there’s a limit.  There’s only a certain number of challenges before I feel the character cup is pretty much overflowing and I think that many of us, including myself, that live in this earthquake-ravaged city have had a truly disproportionate number of adverse situations to face in the last few years. As an educator however, I know in reality we are always learning but it sure is hard to stomach that concept sometimes, literally!

In amongst all this challenge there was a day of pure fabulous-ness and a reminder that even in dark days that there will always be moments of total sunshine, especially if you work hard to create them. For us it was a day of chasing the Royals. Here’s a teaser picture. More on that in the next post.

Royal interlude- Duchess Catherine creates happy moments

Royal interlude- Duchess Catherine creates happy moments

As I wait to hear about my job, I’ve been reflecting about what I want my life mission to be. When I reached the top of the gondola on my walk, I met a young woman who had taken the gondola up and who was incredibly impressed I had walked up all that way. She told me that I, a complete stranger, inspired her. It was incredibly touching. She didn’t need to go out of her way to talk to me and more than that nor did she need to offer that personal piece of herself. What she gave me was a precious gift- of words. Words are easy to throw out of our mouths- but words that make a positive difference in other’s lives – they’re treasure.

What I want really is pretty simple: to inspire and to be inspired. I achieved both that day on the hills. Being a mother to a fabulous four year old too, who views me as her greatest role model and in turn inspires me every day, is a pretty good step in the right direction, whatever ‘job’ I end up doing.

Time to contemplate up the top.

Time to contemplate up the top.

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Embracing change

Metamorphosis is within  our reach

Metamorphosis is within our reach

Change is often a word that instills fear. It signifies not only new beginnings but the unknown, a form of stepping over the edge and not knowing what’s beneath. Will you fall, fly, be caught?

Change in my earthquake ravaged city of Christchurch has become a constant and unchanging aspect of our lives, one that in many ways has been a most unwelcome visitor but one that has challenged thoughts, ideals and eventually prompted many of us into action and in amongst the trauma allowed the forging of new connections.

That’s the thing about change- we can fear what it may portend and shrink away from it as if it’s the Grim Reaper or we can look at change as an open door to a different world and hopefully a better place. Embracing change opportunities can be our own mini metamorphosis- an opportunity to shake off the old skin and discover what hidden strengths, talents and new structure lie beneath. To do that though we need to be receptive to what change has to say to us, or equally importantly what we say to change in return. It necessitates a conversation and if we are to be a friend of change then it’s not just a discussion but change will also require us to follow through on the action points created.

Like probably any of my fellow quake survivors I’ve been pondering change and what it could mean. I started this blog after months of hesitancy- a desire and effectively a strong compulsion to do it had expressed itself but I felt an inability to action it for months- after all I was too busy, wasn’t I or was it just too scary to express myself in such a public forum? Would I know what to do, what to write about, how to write?

I tend to have ideas whirring away that are slowly forming themselves like clouds in my mind often over days and weeks into more structured thoughts that just then seem to suddenly come together solidly like rock and at that point often there’s associated action. Perhaps others also ruminate quietly and somewhat unconsciously and most definitely organically with typically no forced agenda in a similar way to me?

And so it was suddenly when an opportunity in the form of a blogging competition for a local magazine presented itself late last year, this was the time to take action. I didn’t win the competition (not enough of my readers took their own action to vote)  but that’s not why I entered really- we have no room for the trampoline that was the prize!

That’s another thing about change- it can be easy to avoid it even though one part of you is curious to meet it but sometimes an imposed or self-set deadline forces a meeting with change head-on. We know at that point whether to follow the path change will take us on or not- sometimes/often the fear and hype of acquainting ourselves with change isn’t the reality of meeting change itself. Change can be more demure, more polite, more soft and caring sometimes than we imagine.

Although I might have had some hesitancy about starting my blog I always knew what I wanted to call it – some variation of Mother’s Instinct had come to mind when I wrote a magazine article about trusting our instincts. This piece was the blog seed that months later I finally placed in soil to germinate and become Mothering by Instinct. Mother’s Instinct and other variants were taken as names but Mothering by Instinct seemed to fit the bill perfectly for what I wanted the focus of this blog to be.

That focus was always about empowering those with children to make the best decisions they can for their families and for those who don’t have children to hopefully understand what may be best for parents and children. Parenting is a baffling and confusing exercise in a world full of media overload with the never-ending waterfall of misinformation that may not serve parents and children well and is in many cases quite simply detrimental.

I have a unique and privileged position as a scientist to be able to access scientific information and to dissect and critically evaluate it to know what aspects of parenting are supported by ‘good science’ and which ones aren’t. I believe that parents have a right to know this information especially where a counter approach is recognised as harmful to the child, the mother-dyad relationship or the family as a whole. In many cases this information though isn’t getting disseminated for a wide variety of reasons- societal pressures, entrenched ethos, commercial influences, lack of media awareness and buy-in, self-serving media interests etc. When I started my own blog I was actually completely oblivious to other excellent blogs that have nuances of the same theme  as my own but having discovered them I now also read avidly as their content informs my own.

Mothering by Instinct seemed ideal as it describes who I am and how I operate with respect to raising my daughter. I believe that many of us are out of touch with trusting our own instincts when it comes to parenting- we’ve become afraid and left feeling as if we have to turn to information sources and books to tell us what to do or just to fall back on what our parents did or those around us, knowing what we are doing doesn’t feel quite right but afraid to tackle it anyway. We’re afraid of the change that becoming a mother or a father brings, we’re afraid of getting it wrong and the consequences of this. Yet, we are our own best encyclopaedia if we choose to embrace the change that each new day of parenthood brings and trust in ourselves to follow change where it will lead us or indeed where we lead change.

Scientific knowledge can reaffirm what’s buried within us, which is where blogs like mine and others have a place. The presentation of accurate and easy to understand information can inform us and be used as a tool, assisting us to cut away the family, cultural and societal filters that often steer us as if in autopilot without us realising, letting us get back in charge.

I never wanted my blog to just be a relay of information though- it’s important to me to share some of my stories as I journey through parenthood so that people know that I’m an actual human with emotions and my own thoughts and that I’m fallible at times with my parenting journey just like everyone else.

My blog is only in its newborn days but I’m wanting my blog to continue to grow in value, in conversation and in readership and ever since my friend Darren made a Facebook comment after my blog’s first post I’ve been pondering whether I should commit to change. Now after much, at times circular, discussion conducted mainly over Twitter with people whose counsel I value highly, I have made an appointment with change.

This will be the last post as Mothering by Instinct. After this post the blog name should be changed to Parenting by Instinct (I say should not because I am hesitant but in case there are naming issues- I checked and as of now it looks fine) and I hope that you my valued readers will follow me to my new site. Redirections to the new site will take place automatically for a year to enable the transition.

Aside from the name change the site won’t change and the focus will largely remain the same. Mothering by Instinct was born because I am a mother  and that’s how I view myself and because of the play on words with ‘A Mother’s Instinct’, which might be ‘just a saying’ but I think is something many mothers no longer know how to listen to- mothers have strong innate instincts about their children and their care. I want for mothers to reclaim their instincts and to show them why with science.

However, I want this blog to be inclusive and its title may potentially exclude 50% of the population. This blog isn’t just for mothers although much of the content may relate to women (because I am one)- it’s for anyone that is a carer of children and even those that aren’t parents at all. A shift to include Parenting should enable men to feel welcomed as you are an integral and valued part of this parenting process too.

I do identify as a mother first and foremost- in fact I hadn’t even considered thinking of myself really as anything but (i.e. a parent) a mother until I put the question about changing the blog name out in the Twitterverse. I understand now though through that 140 character constrained conversation that some mothers think of themselves more as parents, presumably because they view equal responsibility with the father for raising their children or that mothers and fathers have interchangeable roles.

Although I can see there is a strong momentum for this ethos at the present time, for my own reasons that’s not how I view my own role- I am a mother (although one that is quite happy to talk about the wider, inclusive role of parenting) and to me mothers do things and bring things to child-rearing that fathers don’t/can’t and vice versa.  I’ll share in a future post down the track more about why the current trend which is a bit like ‘Dad’s can do anything’ may not best serve and why maybe we should be more accepting of letting mothers be mothers and fathers be fathers. That may seem contradictory to my blog name change but overlying this is the idea that we are all parents and most of this ‘stuff’ we need to know whatever role we have, so yeah let’s talk about parenting because that is literally the glue, but let’s also be cognisant of the subheadings beneath that.

For regular readers too you may have noticed posts are coming out at the moment fortnightly rather than weekly. That’s a side effect of the academic teaching year starting, grants due in etc etc. Where I can I’ll attempt weekly posts but sometimes you’ll find me slipping  into fortnightly mode. That’s also because I’ve been setting up a new science blog under the Sciblogs banner. It’s called Ice Doctor and you can find it here (live from sometime Friday 21st March). Ice Doctor will predominantly be a fortnightly posting blog and it’s the place to go if you want to know more about my day job and in particular Antarctic science.

That’s another aspect of change I’m embracing- it was a long time pushing myself to set up that particular meeting (a second blog) but it’s another thing I am very excited about. When we take control change isn’t so frightening after all- a little bit of an adrenaline rush, a flurry of excitement and suddenly what is new becomes routine.

How much do you share of any personal change you are going through? I recently read a superb post by an inspirational gym instructor Bevan James Eyles at the gym I go to- sadly I can’t go at times his classes are on but Bevan writes beautifully and provocatively, in this case about a conversation with a friends who was stuck in a rut- always complaining about an issue but not doing anything about it and how his listening and uttering one single question prompted an internal conversation in his friend and her pathway to change.

His post got me thinking. Depending on our vulnerabilities and our personalities we may not share much of our meetings with change with others- outwardly we may be having those same old conversations about how everything is well just same old. Underneath though and away from the conversations with friends and families a metamorphosis can be going on- starting a blog for example. I wonder whether friends/partners can detect this unspoken change and at what time and with what kind of friend do we feel comfortable enough to share change? And the flip-side- how many of us are willing to listen as Bevan did and then support our friends in their desire for change?

Change that’s not driven by internal ruminations and is instead imposed on us is frightening and the change and associated stress that my home town people are experiencing is leading to a new vulnerable spanning my age group. Of that I’m not surprised. It’s been a rough ride. People are sick of hearing “hang in there” and “Kia Kaha (be strong). What opportunities though in the constancy of inconstancy, in the normalcy of abnormality is there for a meeting with change that isn’t so threatening? What strengths do you derive from adverse situations?

Our children may be our best guide and best answer to this. Our children arrive facing endless and constant change- the world outside the womb and their development so rapid that every day is new with what they see, what they think and what they can do. How do children meet with change so tirelessly and not get overwhelmed by fears?

The constancy in this equation is you. When you give consistent nurturing and loving support at each moment of change, when you are there for your children and you listen to their communication and respond to their needs, then you provide the rock on which they can meet with change taking its form as the ocean lapping against the rock- you child dabbling toes in and then withdrawing them, listening to the sound of the waves and babbling back to them, feeling the force of the ebb and flow of the water, pushing off the rock and feeling the sea, the support of change all around keeping them buoyant, and the reassurance of a return to the rock at any point. In my blog I hope to offer support to parents to create the attachment children need to thrive and survive.

I’ll miss Mothering by Instinct- I’m attached to my creation but I’m looking forward to the change to a more inclusive name and the opportunities for growth. I know too that sitting just under Parenting by Instinct is my own personal subheading- that of a mother, a brave mother, one whose not afraid of at least this particular meeting with change.

Join me at Parenting by Instinct.

The rubber band effect: building and maintaining resilience

When resilience is low, it can feel like life is an uphill battle

When resilience is low, it can feel like life is an uphill battle

Resiliency is one of those qualities that when we’re fully equipped and our resilience cup is overflowing, we don’t notice how strong we are- life just feels good. We tend to be either unfazed in the main by the curve-balls that constantly seem to come the way for many of us as adults or in a state of mind where we can readily find coping strategies to work through the issues we register. When our rubber band gets stretched out however, at some point we suddenly realise that there are cracks forming.

Hopefully, we reach that point with enough insight into our own inner workings and limits to know that our resilience systems are in need of repair. Psychological resilience is our ability to cope with stress and adversity. When we reach this state it’s time to regroup and find that inner strength to alter our situation (frequently that centres on changing our thoughts) in order to bring the rubber band back to its strong relaxed state. If we’re unaware that our rubber band is starting to fragment by being stretched so thinly then it’s difficult to see a way out of the tunnel that’s starting to enclose us and that can lead to the beginning of the blues or other negative feelings and for some people, symptoms of depression.

Stretching the rubber band

This last week and the last of my summer holiday, I reached the sudden realisation that my resilience indicator was reading low. In fact, it felt like I was hitting a record low alongside a feeling of being the most exhausted I have ever been. The power of the mind to erase previous negative experiences or at least lessen their magnitude means I don’t really think this was my least resilient point or my most tired- surely those severe reflux, no sleep newborn months were worse, or the times immediately post-earthquakes or other far more stressful events I have experienced? To me, it just felt earlier this week that like the polar vortex in the US that I was heading to zero or below.

It seems strange that at the end of a decent length holiday anyone should feel least resilient or most tired. However, anyone with children will know that holidays with children are not particularly restful (not even!), as pleasurable as they may be. In my case, after our family time away, it was two weeks at home for me and my daughter whilst my partner was back at work six days a week.

There are many interrelated reasons why my resiliency took a hammering at this point. Parenting a full-on boundary-pushing four year-old is one way to achieve a new level of exhaustion I have discovered (upcoming post). After another long arduous year with effectively no holiday time, it’s probably unsurprising that as the holiday went on, my mind and body realised how much resilience rebuilding I need. That and the trepidation of what the working year ahead entails as I am aware it is going to involve significant restructuring, including job losses, with one of the first (and uncharacteristic) emails issued this year about how we could maintain wellbeing this year (alarm bells screaming). For all the residents of Christchurch still, there are now the longstanding, multi-factorial and accumulated effects of being now three years and counting post earthquakes. The predictions of health professionals (e.g. here and here) were that the 3rd-4th year post quakes would be the hardest and they weren’t wrong and it’s worse for women.

Frequently, there’s a trigger(s) or factor(s) that is a resilience eroding tipping point and I would take a guess that all parents reach a point or many time points where their resiliency is far from optimal. In my case, the camel’s back-breaking stone was actually technology. We live in an age where we have embraced all the advances of technology and what it offers us, but there’s actually significant stress associated with use of technology- it’s real and it’s called tech stress. For me it was combined effects: a faulty motherboard in my work laptop which I have been waiting a replacement for for seven long months plus our home internet failing and promised support call-backs from our provider not eventuating. The ultimate tug on the rubber band has been, for the last month, needing to use my old, faulty and mega infuriating android because my iPhone was being fixed and has just been declared terminal following an unfortunate road/car vs. iPhone incident.

I’m acutely aware that this is a crazy first-world issue and seems pathetic as I write it, but the actual frustrations and time wasted trying to use this largely non-functional phone have felt epic. When technology use actually impedes life and impacts heavily on time in a negative way, it’s not the magical thing it’s touted to be.

How to rebound

I could have spent ages self-analysing and trying to pinpoint exactly what factors were impacting me and to what degree but having spent enough time working out the general list my aim was to get that rubber band back to as close as its strongest phase as soon as possible using decisive action. To take myself back to a state of wellbeing using whatever psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources seemed appropriate. These are called cumulative protective factors.

Get out and get active- surefire ways to boost wellbeing and enhance resilience.

Get out and get active- surefire ways to boost wellbeing and enhance resilience.

Although I am largely opposed to listicles, it seems appropriate to insert a list here. None of it is rocket science. For me, some of those key wellbeing steps are:

  • Get out. Getting out of the house to experience new things or favourite things is a key way to bounce back. Sunshine improves mood. Taking children on our journey teaches them too the steps they can take to improve their own mood.
  • Get physical outside. There’s nothing better than pushing oneself hard in the sunshine. In my case that means carrying my petite four year old (but still 13 kg) up a steep hill to the top on a sweltering day for a stunning view or mountains, hills, harbour, sea and (broken) city and then engaging in activities that are fun for both of us.
  • Get physical inside. Whether it’s just at home doing squats and abs or a super hard gym workout.
  • Be kind to self. Kind thoughts. Kind actions. Treat oneself- a hot chocolate out (without over-indulging which will lower self-worth)
  • Dancing. In the privacy of my living room in front of and with my child to the latest hits.
  • Engage in daily mindful breathing. Breathe in and breathe out.
  • Recognising that external situations I cannot change, but my thoughts and attitude I can control, not falling into the victim trap- it’s totally unconstructive.
  • Yoga and pilates. One of my two gym sessions a week where I escape the house sans child.
  • Honesty with my child about how I’m feeling- the most touching thing that happened last week was my empathetic and thoughtful daughter putting together a whole bag of her things while I was in the shower so she could cheer me up, when my phone stress got too much. That and lots of hugs, when the tech stress rose to the surface! This honesty also teaches them that no one is perfect- adults struggle at times too. Letting them be a part of the support of the journey back to wellbeing is invaluable in teaching empathy and also allows them to witness how to find their own coping strategies.
  • Honesty with others (partner, friends, family) about what’s going on. Doesn’t need to be long and involved- a problem shared is a problem halved and all that.
  • Creativity. Doing something for me like craft is such a great way to rebound and feel self-confident and fulfilled.
  • Gardening. Looking at what is growing in the garden, the insects and butterflies and new life is such a restorative activity as is eating produce we have grown.
  •  Doing fun activities in or out of the house with my daughter (and my partner, friends, family)- getting joy from her development, catching up and connecting with others. A day with my parents picnicking and walking on the beach was fabulous.
  • Reading. As a parent and an academic, reading a work of fiction or literary non-fiction is such a decadent relaxing treat.
  •  Watching a movie. There’s no way anyone could watch Frozen and not feel more buoyant afterwards, even my musical hating husband.
  • Organising and goal setting. This can be as simple as getting the house in a semblance of order each day after MissBB is asleep, or making progress on some chores, writing lists and plans or even unpacking some more boxes following earthquake repairs temporary relocation (from a year ago…).
  • Thoughtfulness. Doing something thoughtful for someone else.
  • Abandon technology. Ok, so the technology is not working- may as well pretend I am still away out of range and attempt not to use it.
  • Sleep. Reset the mind. Recover strength.

Most of these are recognised as key factors that promote resilience. In the wake of the earthquakes here, much has been written about individual and personal wellbeing and I will write more on it in later posts. One of the best initiatives nationwide is The Wellbeing Game, which runs for a month each year and individuals from teams have to record their wellbeing activities across a range of categories during that time.  Aside from great data collection for governmental departments, at a personal level this game showed me daily just how many activities I engaged in last October that promoted my wellbeing and it also pushed me to fit in even more. I was pleasantly surprised just how much I did to address my health and it has since made me conscious of what I do in a day to foster personal wellbeing and register when I am not doing enough.

The other great social media campaign running in Christchurch (but applicable to anyone anywhere) is All Right? which is led by the Mental Health Foundation and the Canterbury District Health Board. Like The Wellbeing Game it aims to make us think about our mental health and wellbeing, here as part of the earthquake recovery process. With great billboards, postcards, lots of online resources and crazy spontaneous activities it is bolstering our exhausted residents. Mine and MissBB’s favourites: the posters stuck around the city with ‘free compliments’ to rip off and keep.

Many reality TV programmes are partly built around the concept of testing resilience- the Survivor series and the like. While, I was writing this post in the background I had the new Bear Grylls TV series, “Bear Grylls: Get Out Alive” shot here in New Zealand playing. American teams of two are put in taxing situations in our remote areas and those that don’t have coping strategies are eliminated. It’s both a contrived and extreme example of the assaults on our resilience we face daily, but the methods to improve resilience and be equipped for survival are exactly the same.

Just like the grip of the first polar vortex has eased in the US, my rubber-band is relaxing and rebounding again. Being prepared and equipped means a second cold snap for the US or in my case the return to work should hopefully have little negative effect.

When parents are resilient then they are better able to parent positively. Allowing children though to witness the ebb and flow of resilience is an important part of their own development (more on that in the next post). I just hope I can get our intermittent, suddenly dial-up speed slow internet to behave long enough to put out this post. Breathe in, breathe out.