Instagram has a lot to answer for.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m an Insta-fan. Between work and my personal life I actually have four different accounts, but that’s beside the point…
Because here’s my gripe. As a women’s health occupational Therapist who works primarily in the field of postnatal women, this is what I see:
Women spending a lot of money on cool, beautiful, on-trend stuff for their babies, and not a lot of money on their own wellbeing.
There I said it.
You may think I’m being harsh or insensitive, but I can guarantee you, there’s thousands of other antenatal health practitioners out there who agree with me. And we’re all wondering the same thing: “Do women truly value a beautiful nursery over their own health and wellbeing?”
I saw a Facebook post the other day which mentioned that the average cost of a wedding these days was $48,000. Forty. Eight. Thousand. Dollars!! That’s a whoooooooole lot more than I paid for my wedding nearly 8 years ago.
It made me wonder how much the average couple spend on setting up their home for a new baby – how much for the nursery, the pram, the car seat? Which is where my Instagram reference comes in. We see these beautiful nurseries, those gorgeous baby outfits, the extravagant baby showers – and we think we need them. Insta-envy is real – I know, I’m not immune. We get swept up in the romance of new parenthood, in the gorgeousness of it all.
But we don’t need that stuff. Your baby doesn’t need a $50 teething toy or a $200 tutu she will throw up on within 14 seconds. What we really need is to look after ourselves. And not just in a “popping-out-for-a-coffee-and-a-pedicure-mummy-me-time” kind of way, but in a “considered-practical-meaningful-evidence-based-longterm-wellbeing” kind of way.
So it makes me wonder – what would it take to convince women (and men) to take at least part of the money they might otherwise spend on beautiful baby stuff, and instead invest it into their future physical and emotional wellbeing?
Those of us who work in this industry see the difficulties (and oftentimes devastation) that pregnancy and motherhood can wreak on a body and a mind.
We KNOW for certain, that our services can help. We see the life-altering loneliness of disconnected mothers, the silent shame of incontinence after birth, the unresolved trauma of a labour that didn’t go exactly to plan. We see all that. And we want to help. We know we can help. But we need you to pay for it.
It’s as simple as that. There’s not a single women’s health practitioner I know who wouldn’t gladly run oodles of free workshops, classes and sessions if she could. That’s why so many of us have blogs, YouTube channels, and free resources on our websites, But the truth of that matter is that many of us are self-employed, or work in small private practices, and the reality of running a business is that you have to charge for your services. We have to charge to pay rent, pay for supplies, pay for our extensive clinical training, and of course pay ourselves a wage – because we also have families to feed and mortgages to pay.
And this is why we get frustrated. Because we know women need help, but we continually see them spending money on other things – other than their own wellbeing. We see women paying $1500 for prams, but not $500 for a hypnobirthing program. We see women buying $300 nappy bags, but not investing that same amount of money in a few physiotherapy sessions to help restore their pelvic floor function. We see women spend hundreds of dollars per term on baby swimming lessons or gymbaroo, rather than spending that exact same amount on a postnatal yoga or pilates class.
And it breaks our heart.
Truly it does. Seeing women neglect themselves and their own wellbeing is one of the biggest frustrations of our jobs. We don’t want to see you in pain. We don’t want to see you hiding indoors due to postnatal anxiety, or shying away from jumping on the trampoline with the kids because your pelvic floor can no longer handle the task.
We want you to be strong – physically and emotionally.
We want you to be a confident and connected mother – able to take the challenges of motherhood in your stride, to celebrate the joys with fervour, all the while knowing that your body and your mind remain resilient and capable of carrying you long into your future.
We know you can only do that if you’re well. And that, potentially, means you coming to see us.
It’s our job to convince you that we can help you, but it’s your job to invest in your own wellbeing.
Here’s the question I want you to ask yourself:
“Do I really value a beautiful Instagram-worthy nursery over the long term wellbeing and function of my own body and mind?”
I say this with love, because I truly believe it – but your money is better spent on supporting your wellbeing as a mother, than it is furnishing your nursery with pretty things.
I get it. I know how exciting it is to create the perfect nursery theme, to have all the latest baby gadgets with all the bells and whistles. But at the end of the day, they don’t compare to you being well, with you being emotionally resilient, with you avoiding a lifetime of incontinence.
Here’s something to consider:
If you choose the Boori Urbane Noosa Cot for $399, over the Boori Pioneer Cot for $699 – you would save $300 – that’s three one to one sessions with a Women’s Health Occupational Therapist or Physiotherapist.
If you choose the Baby Jogger City Mini GT for $799 over the Bugaboo Chameleon 3 for $1519 – you would save $720 – that’s 12 weeks of personal training sessions with a womens health specialist PT.
If you chose a Collette Pocket and Zip Baby Bag for $79 over the Mimco Splendiosa Baby Bag for $299 you would save $220 – that could buy you four weeks of professional housecleaning while you spend that first month getting to know your baby.
Finally, just remember this – within a few years all those baby blankets will go to Vinnies, the cot and the pram will be sold on Gumtree, but that body you’re inhabiting? That’s going to be with you for a lifetime. Invest in it wisely.
Until next time, Sarah
ps. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article – comment away or email me at email@example.com
Post. Baby. Body.
Three little words. But a whole lot of angst.
I live an interesting conundrum through my work. As someone who works in the field of post-natal rehabilitation and recovery, I talk a LOT about post-baby bodies. But I also rail against the tidal wave of “post-baby body” messages that engulf new mothers – those messages that come from mainstream media, social media, friends, family, fitspo-instagram “experts”, dodgy personal trainers, and society at large. The sort of messages that impress upon women the importance of “losing the baby weight”, and “becoming a yummy mummy”. I don’t buy into any of that BS. Because, it’s BS. It doesn’t matter how you look – what matters is how you feel, and how you function. #formoverfunction
When I talk about “post-baby bodies”, I’m talking about restoring “function” to our bodies after the rigours of pregnancy and childbirth. But by and large, the post-baby body discussions in the media and society are about our body’s “form”. What it looks like, whether it’s firm and perky or soft and droopy.
It’s an unfortunate truth that women face immense pressure to get “beach body ready”, almost as soon as we’ve popped out our little munchkin. There is such a strong message in the media around the importance of getting back into your bikini as soon as possible after childbirth. But why? I’ve never worn a bikini in my life, and I’m not desperate to get into one now, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. But it’s something that gets on my last post-natal wellbeing nerve. I’ve written about it before here.
The “post baby body” message is pervasive.
Whenever I start working with a new Mum for post-natal support I always ask them about their goals. I can honestly say that every single one of them will mention something about “losing the baby weight”.
What I’m really curious about is why women feel so compelled to “lose the baby weight” as their number one priority. I get that weight loss is a goal for many of us – myself included. But I wonder why it’s so difficult for so many of us to accept these natural postnatal changes. Why is it so important to get our pre-baby “form” back super quick? And why is it more of a priority than getting our pre-baby “function” back?
So in an effort to shift the conversation, and to tip the balance in the favour of “function” over “form”, I’m sharing my list of top four post-baby body goals that are way more important than “losing the baby weight”.
1. Restoring your posture and body alignment.
Nine months of hefting around a growing uterus does terrible things for our posture! As our baby bump grows, it naturally changes our centre of gravity, meaning that our body will frequently shift into abnormal positions to counter-balance that bump. This can lead to a completely unbalanced postnatal body – some muscles are overstretched, other muscles are too tight. We call these “upper and lower crossed syndromes”.
But it doesn’t end there! Once that little bundle of joy is out of our belly, we face the additional physical demands of lifting, carrying, feeding, handling and caring for an infant (not to mention the added manual handing of lugging around heavy strollers, capsules and nappy bags). It’s also worth noting that much of this manual handling is done in an asymmetrical fashion – such as always carrying our nappy bag on the same shoulder, or carrying our baby on the same hip. So our unbalanced, out-of-alignment bodies continue to be unbalanced and out of alignment – and they rarely get the chance to re-calibrate to a natural posture post-baby. They often need support and we need to consciously retrain ourselves back to a proper posture and alignment.
2: Restoring your core strength – and recovering from abdominal separation
When our bellies start entering rooms before we do, it places our poor little abdominal muscles under great strain. For many women, this leads to a condition called “diastasis recti”, commonly known as abdominal separation. This occurs when all of the abdominal muscles are stretched to such an extent, that the two bellies of the Rectus Abdominis muscle (the 6-pack muscle) pull apart from each other. The ligament that holds these two parts of the muscle together (the linea alba), can stretch a great distance, and in extreme cases, can even tear or rupture. Once the baby is born, it can take some time for this separation to return to (or close to) it’s original alignment. Until it does, our abdominal strength and function can be compromised.
But core strength isn’t just about our abs. Postnatal women also need to consider the impact of pregnancy and childbirth on all of their abdominal muscles (not just the Rectus Abdominis), their back muscles, as well as their diaphragm, breathing technique, and of course the pelvic floor. Because all of these structures have a role in maintaining our core strength and integrity, and they all need to work together, in perfect harmony, to encourage great core strength. Check out the image below, for a great representation of how the abdominal and back muscles, along with the diaphragm and pelvic floor, combine to create the “core”.
3. Restoring your pelvic floor.
Actually, I really should have made this number one. If you don’t want to be stocking up on the Tena Lady products by the time you hit your 40s, you’re going to need to focus on pelvic floor recovery asap! I think most post-natal women understand the importance of this by now. But understanding doesn’t necessarily lead to action. And when you consider the statistics that 45pc of women still experience incontinence issues seven years post-birth, it’s clear that many women aren’t doing all they should! And for the record, good pelvic floor rehab is about more than just doing your Kegel exercises. It’s also about restoring your posture and alignment (see above), restoring your core strength, improving your breathing technique and learning how to functionally engage your pelvic floor during all kinds of activities. Yes, there’s more to it than “just do your pelvic floor exercise”.
So, here are three of my “top four post-baby body goals”. But really, they’re actually just ONE goal. Did you notice how in each section, I mentioned each of the other two items. Because pelvic floor, core strength, posture – they’re all one and the same really. An issue in one will create an issue with all. So to repair one, we need to work on restoring them all. The body doesn’t segment itself the way we think it does. It’s one big integrated unit that should work together in perfect harmony with itself. When you figure out how your body really works – from a whole body perspective, you start to understand how best to “get your pre-baby body” back in a functional sense, rather than a pants size sense.
But what about point number 4: Learning how to accept your baby body – whatever it looks like?
Easier said than done right? I know I’m currently struggling with this personally. To be honest – I’m actually heavier now than I was at full term during either of my pregnancies. So yes, I had my “pre baby body” back – but then I lost it again. I know it’s not ideal, and there are several reasons behind it, which I’m currently working on – namely addressing the adrenal fatigue that has smashed me for these past two years. Every day is a body challenge for me. Exhaustion is a tricky beast to describe and explain to someone who’s never experienced. I’ve written before about how I so badly wanted to want to run, to work out, to push my body harder. But I simply couldn’t. It’s only really been the past several weeks that I’ve again felt strong and energised enough to start jogging again, which is a great win for me.
I lost a lot of confidence in my body through those two years, and I see-sawed between being angry at my body for letting me down, and being angry at myself for letting my body down. And of course this kind of anger isn’t particularly productive! But the one thing I can be confident of is this – even though I’ve gained weight, and lost cardio fitness in the past two years, my body has stayed functional. I haven’t struggled with pelvic floor issues, or poor core strength, and I believe I can attribute this to my postnatal recovery efforts. I put in the work in those early days after each of my babies and it’s given me a solid foundation to keep moving through this challenging body period. Because effective rehab is useful at, and for, any size.
If you’re a new mum, are you keen to know more and to start really focusing on rehabbing your “post-baby body”? If so please check out my postnatal wellbeing program, Body Mind Baby. Our next five week course is being held in Adelaide (West Lakes), starting on Wednesday June 7. You can book online here.
Please feel free to share with any other new mums who you think may be interested.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
I’m looking forward to helping you get post-baby rehabbed!
Until next time,
Cheers Sarah xx
Isn’t it always the way that when life gets hectic or stressful, the first things we let go in our tight schedule are generally those things we most need?
When my life cranked up last year the first thing I let go was my meditation practice. At the start of the year I had a nice little meditation habit happening. But sometime mid year it seriously slipped by the wayside.
I didn’t think too much of it until my Headspace
app renewal came through at the start of last month and I realised that in the whole of 2016 I’d not even made it through the three introductory levels!
Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve been making a big effort last year to be a lot more mindful through my day to day life. But I do feel that, for me, adding in a regular block of formal meditation time daily has huge benefits. So I’ve been doing just that since the new year. Not every day yet, but most days, generally switching between my Headspace and Smiling Mind
apps depending on how I’m feeling.
The way the Headspace app works is that I’m currently stuck on 20 minute meditations, I need to get through three more 20 minute sessions to move out of the “intro” series, at which point I again have full reign over which track – and which length track – I choose.
Only three steps left til I can make my own choices!
I gotta say – 20 minutes of meditation is a HUGE stretch for me. I struggle big time. Which is why I keep flipping back to Smiling Mind, where I can choose a lovely seven minute track I can easily manage! I’ve done many, many more seven minute tracks there in 2016 than I have 20 minute tracks here!
But at the same time, I also want to extend my practice, so this morning I headed back to Headspace.
Ready for some zen.
It didn’t exactly turn out that way…
Here’s a brief rundown of at least 19 thoughts that ran through my head through this morning’s meditation.
1) Man I haven’t done this in ages.
2) I do love Andy’s voice.
3) Oops. I closed my eyes, I’m not supposed to do that yet.
4) Okay now I can close my eyes.
5) This is so much easier with my eyes closed.
6) But why do I struggle so much with eyes open meditation? I should be able to go that.
7) Don’t ‘should’ yourself Sarah
8) Gah, you forgot to respond to that person that texted you last Friday
9) I better send that power point presentation off its due today.
10) But I better change that slide that needs changing first…
11) Damn I forgot to link up my new accounting software with my invoicing software.
12) I really should YouTube how to do that.
13) I wonder how hot it’s going to be today?
14) I hope that dress I bought yesterday is okay for tomorrow’s conference?
15) What shoes shall I wear with it?
16) Hair up or hair down with that dress?
17) And what about earrings….?
18) Oh, there’s Andy talking again.
19) That’s right I’m supposed to be meditating…
And that was all in the first five minutes! There were way more thoughts in the following 15 minutes, but that’s okay. I’m slowly more able to not beat myself up about my wandering monkey brain!
You see the whole point of meditation isn’t actually to eliminate thought. It’s about being able to let those little thoughts come and go without getting hooked on to them. Clearly my little meditation hiatus has disrupted my ability to do just that. I did find myself latching on to some of those thoughts. Which is why I still love guided meditations, that little voice in my earbuds gently reminding me to let those thoughts go.
So hopefully I’ll be hearing a little more of Andy from Headspace on a daily basis as I head further into 2017.
What about you? Do you have a regular meditation practice? Any favourite apps? Any advice you can give me to keep a little more focused and build this habit?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
Until next time,
As I write this, I’m sitting on my couch, still in my PJs, hair unwashed, binge-watching Barbie episodes on Netflix with my feverish, and very unwell three year old by my side. We’ve been awake since around 10pm last night. It’s now 11am. I’m certain I can officially write this entire day off. Not a thing will be achieved. I’m pretty sure I won’t even stack the dishwasher.
Stuck on the couch with a sick baby.
Today, I’m cool with that. I”m certainly not thrilled. I had stuff to do today. Work stuff. Home stuff. In fact, I was looking forward to several unscheduled hours to tie up a few loose ends. That’s all out the window now. No creating new resources for work. No writing modules for my new teen girls life skills program I’m currently creating. No decluttering the kids’ toy boxes. After two nights of
broken non-existent sleep, I’ve got no energy to do anything but lie on the couch and mindlessly scroll through my Instagram feed. But, like I said, I’m taking it in my stride today. It’s not the end of the world…
But if it had have happened three months ago, or even this time last month, it might have been a different story.
You see, the past several months have been hectic, crazy busy, intense. And I don’t say that in a “look at me, I’m so busy and important” attention seeking kind of way. i actually say it in an “I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t been taking any of my own advice for at least the past year” kind of way.
It hasn’t been pretty the past several months. My clinic work hours have been long, My in-the-house work hours have been even longer. My husband and I had fallen into the woeful routine of “High Five Parenting”, exchanging barely barely more than a high five with each other as one of us walks in the door and the other walks out, our schedules so tightly packed and co-ordinated that I’ve even colour coded our respective schedules on my Google calendar.
The children, I hope, have remained relatively unscathed – I, on the other hand, have not. Coming off a period of adrenal fatigue from 12 to 18 months ago, from which I’ve never fully recovered, for these past few months I wasn’t managing well. I simply had too much to do and couldn’t do all of it. I also simply couldn’t shake this low level cold/flu/sickness that extended across several months. Coupled with a lack of motivation and energy this resulted in missed deadlines, forgotten emails, un-returned phone calls, turning up late to appointments, and a general feeling of letting people down. Which of course led to guilt, so much guilt. Plus a few little bouts of anxiety – such as the time I woke up at 4am, convinced I had left a candle burning in my clinic, and unable to get back to sleep. It wasn’t until I did an intentional drive-past at 8am on my day off, to check that the building hadn’t burned to the ground, that I could let that worry go.
None of this is like me. Not the real me. But it’s unfortunately too indicative of the “too much on my plate” me. It’s also exactly what I support women through in my work. I know, irony, right. Like I said, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t been taking nearly enough of my own advice. With a diet consisting of way too much sugar and processed foods, and too may days consisting of too little physical movement, but still not enough (contemplative) stillness, my lifestyle has been totally at odds with my message.
That’s a particularly hard thing for an allied health professional to admit. I’ve struggled to say it out loud – for fear that if I admit to not looking after myself it will somehow render me unprofessional or incompetent. A health professional who doesn’t look after her own health? A health professional who has put on 20kg and can’t shift it? Oh, the shame. But it doesn’t make me any less of an OT or Pilates instructor, and it certainly doesn’t make me any less of a person. But what it does do is simply prove that I’m human. It also gives me a greater insight into just how effing hard it can be sometimes. For people who’ve never experienced this kind of exhaustion, fatigue or anxiety, they simply can’t understand that total lack of ability to get out of bed in the morning – even if it’s for something you love, or have been desperately looking forward to for weeks. That bone-aching tiredness that prevents you from moving your legs at more than walking pace, even when you so genuinely “want to want” to go for a run. That incredulous feeling of overwhelm when you have so much to do and don’t know where to start, so you simply choose to do nothing. Unless you’ve been there, you might be able to empathise, but you don’t truly understand. It’s a very bizarre and unsettling feeling. It makes you question your worthiness as a person, and makes you wonder when, or if, the “real you” might ever show herself again.
This isn’t a situation that’s specific to any one group of people, but I have seen it so, so much in working mothers lately – particularly in those mothers who run their own business. Being a business owner / mum is a struggle every single day, and for those of us in the midst of it, it can seem that no-one else sees exactly how hard it is, as my wonderful friend Carly from Sass Place so eloquently explained in this blog post.
But, luckily for me. It has all finally seemed to turn around in the past month. Since about mid September I’ve felt like I’ve finally come up for air. That i can come home from my day at work without contemplating another few hours on the laptop to finish some important task. That I can take a full day off work without feeling the pull of what else I “should” be doing. That I’m no longer rushing – everywhere and everyone. That I can go to bed at night without a mind frustratingly going over everything I didn’t tick off my “to-do” list. So what’s changed? In short, I started heeding my own advice.
I made a concerted effort to say “no” and “yes” in a more considered fashion. Better boundaries with working hours and additional requests that required a “no”, for which previously I may have said “yes”. And more “yes” to extra quiet time, earlier nights, screen time limits, meditation, and the reading of real, actual books. I had several big events I was committed to in the past few months, including three interstate trips in five weeks. Some of them were non-negotiable, some of them I brought upon myself and potentially shouldn’t have. I’ve certainly learned a lesson about over-committing myself.
I asked for help. I outsourced tasks within my business. I booked a few sessions with a counselor. I had an art therapy session. These things all helped. Yes, they all cost money. But for me, they were worth every penny – and more. I had to invest in myself. What I was saving in terms of dollars, I was paying for in my dwindling wellbeing.
I stopped pushing so hard and accepted a level of consistency in my business. There’s no magic solution for this one unfortunately, for those of you in the slog of a start up phase of a business. Maybe I always had to put in the hard work I have done over the past two and a half years to get my business to the point where it is now running comfortably and I’m about to start a waiting list. But what I do know now is that I’ve resisted the urge to add an extra clinic day to my caseload or add more after hours sessions, when previously I would have done just that – eager to provide more services. Right now I know that’s not the right move for me. It’s time to put a boundary on myself. What I also know is that while I perhaps couldn’t have brought my business this far with less work, I could have (and should have) implemented better self care strategies. There were absolutely habits and behaviours that I overlooked which could have made a big difference to my wellbeing.
I stopped mentally beating myself up for not achieving my self-imposed expectations. The big “aha” moment came when my counselor asked me – “Have you always placed these kinds of high expectations on yourself?” It’s a classic case of not seeing the forest for the trees. I can spot a chronic over-achiever a mile away, but I couldn’t identify it in myself. What I’d always told myself was simply hard work, commitment and drive, was actually, in fact, great expectations and setting myself up for a fall. I just couldn’t see it in myself. I expected more of myself than I’d ever expect of anyone else. Who else can say that about themselves?
Which brings me back to today – as I sit here, trapped on my couch by an overheating toddler. This moment, a mere month ago, would have sent me into a tail spin. I would be trying to finish presentations or balance my expense account while caring for a sick child, getting distracted, making mistakes, and ensuring whatever tasks I tried to do only got done half as well, while taking twice the time. It all came from a place of fear. That my business, or perhaps my world, might fall apart if I didn’t keep pushing. When in fact it was the opposite. It was the push that was causing the cracks to deepen.
I’m not saying there won’t be another time where its appropriate for me to start pushing again. But I know that right now, is not the time. A forced slow down is exactly what I – and my family – need right now.
So today, as i sign off from this blog post. I’ll turn this laptop off, switch Netflix over to re-runs of the Gilmore Girls, now that munchkin is sleeping and just embrace today as a day when nothing will get done. Because the world won’t fall apart., my business will still be standing tomorrow, and I’ll still be good at my job after a day off.
Until next time,
Keep well, Sarah xx
Do you see that mole there. That little one to the left of my chin?
Back when I was a teenager I used to think that mole gave me something in common with Cindy Crawford. So I was secretly a little proud of it. I may have even “enhanced” it every now and then with a little eyeliner. But didn’t we all make poor makeup decisions in the early 90s?
I haven’t really given much thought to that mole in the past two decades. It’s just been there, blending into the landscape of my face. Until the past month or two. When I started noticing it was getting bigger.
So I did what so many of us tend to do in these situations.
I ignored it.
Not intentionally, of course. It just wasn’t a priority, it was probably nothing. I was so busy, I didn’t have time. Insert any number of excuses here.
But it was always there. In the back of my mind. Just one more little annoyance I “should” get checked out – somewhere on the list after getting my pap smear and booking my first dentist visit in seven years.
Until I finally snapped myself into gear and booked my appointment for Tuesday this week.
All day Tuesday I had that heavy feeling in my stomach. You know the one. That feeling like river rocks in your belly. Weighing you down. Anchoring you somewhere you don’t want to be.
And it wasn’t just the belly. It was all those worrisome little thoughts popping into my brain. Why didn’t I get this checked sooner? What if it has to be removed? How deep will they need to cut? Will I have a scar? What if it’s something serious? Could it be cancerous? Will I need radiation or chemo? Why wasn’t I more diligent with my sun cream?
Sounds extreme right?
All these questions over one little mole. But they kept popping up – all day long until 2.45pm when I finally got to my appointment to be told by the doctor that my worrisome little mole was “totally benign” – possibly the two best words you could ever hear from a doctor. Apparently it’s just a normal little mole that’s growing. That’s what moles do.
Those words were like a magic spell. Expecto Patronum. All at once I felt lighter. Not only did that lumpy knot in my stomach dissipate immediately, but I also opened up physically. My body, all of a sudden felt loose and at ease, and for someone who is normally pretty well in touch with how my body is feeling, I was surprised to realise just how tense and brittle I had actually been that day. It wasn’t until my body released its tension that I actually became consciously aware of it.
Now, this story isn’t a brush with death tale. It’s not even a warning to wear more sunscreen – though you probably should.
I wasn’t even going to blog about this situation because it turned out to be completely nothing at all. But on reflection, I realised there was still a message here. Beyond the sunscreen wearing.
It’s about that sinking feeling. All those little questions.
The ones we push aside on a daily basis. The ones we do battle with. The ones we engage with and make bigger than they really are – either by ruminating, or procrastinating or catastrophising.
Now I’m not a doomsday prepper. I’m honestly not a pessimist person. I’m not one to dwell on drama (at least not since my angsty early 20s) and I’m not a hypochondriac. And I teach mindfulness and anxiety management for a living.
But even I’m not immune to worrying thoughts. To doubt and fear and rumination.
Because I’m human. And I have a brain whose sole purpose is to keep me alive.
That’s it. That’s what our brain’s number one priority is – at every moment of the day.
And it’s the reason the brain finds drama, and worry, and anxiety everywhere you look.
Back in the caveman days, our brains needed to be on point to keep us alive. Was that rustle just the wind, or is there a sabre tooth tiger about to pounce on us. Our ancient brain sees danger before anything else. In fact, our ancient brain can register danger before it even receives the visual message from our eyeballs. True story. The brain has a faster processor than your latest iMac.
But there’s not too many sabre tooth tigers around these days. And a brain hardwired for danger, in a world without sabre-tooth tigers is like a woman searching for an outfit on the day before laundry day – desperate. “Maybe this outift could work…” equals “Maybe this could kill us…”
Thanks brain. Thanks for all the worry. Thanks for all the jumping to conclusions. Thanks for all the ruminating. Thanks for telling us that everything you don’t understand in our modern world is going to destroy us.
This is stress. This is why we “get stressed”.
Because our brains are hardwired to see the danger, to register the negative, to identify threats – and to figure out what to do with them.
The point I want to convey here is that these thoughts are always going to crop up. Whether it be about a changing mole, an unknown pap smear result, a potentially philandering husband, a not home by curfew teenager, a potentially bankrupting business deal. Our brains will always, always jump to worst case scenario by default. It’s an unconscious reflex.
Now there’s certainly some thoughts we can’t ignore. And a rapidly changing mole is one of them. But really, I should have done it sooner, before the thoughts had so much time to weasel there way into my psyche.
And of course, there are people out there who are going through something a whole lot more serious than my little mole freak-out.
I don’t mean to be flippant here. What I mean to highlight is just how unhelpful our thoughts can be. Even for those people going through the tough stuff.
The majority of those niggly negative thoughts really aren’t helpful. In fact, they distract us and take energy away from the practical stuff we need to be doing to address any situations we’ve got happening in our lives.
So it’s up to us to add the conscious thought back in there when the negative insta-thoughts pop up. We might not be able to control when those little thoughts crop up and pop in. But we can have a control over how we react to them.
Do we engage with them, tangling ourselves up in knots?
Do we expend all out energy pushing them away and trying desperately to cover them up with something else?
Or do we acknowledge them. Let them be there. With the awareness that our brain but them there to keep us alive, whether or not the danger is real or imagined?
Dealing with our thoughts can be tricky, but as I mentioned earlier in this post – if we don’t deal with them, they can tie us up in knots physically and emotionally. Which is why stress is so detrimental to our health. And which is why I’ve spent the past few years building more mindfulness into my life, and supporting other women to do the same through my work. It’s the one thing I’ve found works the best for the niggly little thoughts.
Give it a go, it might surprise you. I’ve included a link to a free five minute mindfulness meditation here for you to try. Let me know how you go!
Until next time, keep well and let your brain know who’s boss.
Whenever I talk to mothers (and fathers) about toilet training toddlers I always start with the suggestion that learning how to go to the toilet is a REALLY big task! Sure, we now do it on autopilot (most of us at least), but let’s look at all the steps involved in being able to successfully do a wee in the toilet:
- You have to be aware of the urge to urinate
- You have to recognise that urge in enough time to allow you to make it to the toilet
- You have to find your way to the nearest bathroom
- You have to be able to remove your clothing and underwear
- You have to be able to shift your body weight onto and off of the toilet
- You have to have the neural control required to release the urine from your bladder
- You have to have the ability to sense when your bladder is fully empty
- You have to have the manual handling skills to tear the toilet paper from the roll and wipe your perineum
- You have to be able to stand up from a seated position
- You have to be able to re-dress yourself
- You have to be able to remember to flush the toilet and wash your hands.
Phew! It’s no wonder toddlers take a while to get the hang of it! Ask my three-year old – she’ll tell you!
Learning to wee? There’s more to it than you think.
So what’s my point here? Well, toileting is a really complicated task. There are several body systems and processes at play in mastering the cognitive and physical elements within it, and it also requires us to integrate those systems and processes to work together. Which is why it takes us so long to learn how to do it as toddlers – and why we tend to have so many accidents.
Frequently, I come across parents who are frustrated at how long it’s taking their child to toilet train. I find encouraging them to remember the enormity of this task – all 11 points listed above – helps shift their mindset around their child’s toilet training.
Which brings me to the topic of postnatal incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction.
This is a common issue impacting on many postnatal women. Most recently given the less confronting title of “leakage”, postnatal incontinence has the potential to dramatically impact on a woman’s life. It can lead to issues with embarrassment, low confidence and self esteem, it can lead to women ceasing or reducing their favourite social, recreational and sporting activities, it change how they see themselves as a woman. At the extreme end, it can lead to serious mental health conditions such as depression or social anxiety. It’s difficult to feel free, spontaneous, athletic or sexy when you’re worried your pelvic floor is going to let you down. There’s such a stigma about incontinence in our society that it’s rarely spoken about out loud, and when it is, it’s almost always spoken on in diminished terms “leakage”, “light bladder leakage”, “LBL”.
Just like toilet training a toddler, dealing with adult incontinence also requires us to step back and look at a range of body systems and processes. Unfortunately the common understanding by the general public is that this issue is just related to weak pelvic floor muscles, which is not entirely true. Certainly the functional capacity of the pelvic floor musculature has a huge role in regaining and maintaining continence. But what else is there to consider?
Our overall posture: How we stand or sit throughout the day impacts on the length and function of our body’s postural muscles – many of which have connections with the pelvis and the pelvic floor muscles. Imbalanced postural muscles can impact the way our pelvic floor muscles function.
How we breathe: did you know the diaphragm (the muscle under your lungs) is designed to work in unison with the pelvic floor? To maintain good ‘intra-abdominal pressure’ they should work together – when the diaphragm contracts downwards the pelvic floor should relax downwards. When the diaphragm relaxes up, the pelvic floor should lift up. By the time we reach adulthood so many of us have developed poor breathing patterns, and we’ve lost our ability to breathe properly, or connect our breath with our pelvic floor.
What we eat and drink: A common tactic used by many women to address incontinence is to simply reduce their fluid intake. This is a huge no-no as it means the bladder becomes used to only holding small amounts of urine. Over time, it can lose it’s capacity to stretch to it’s previous size. To maintain good continence, we want the bladder musculature as functional as possible. Also, were you aware that caffeine is a stimulant for the bladder? Sometimes eliminating coffee from our diet can be a big piece of the puzzle.
Our habits: Going to the loo ‘just in case’, or because your friends are; ‘holding on’ because you want to avoid public toilets while away from the house; how about running the tap while you pee to avoid the embarrassment of someone hearing your stream on urine? We women have terrible habits when it comes to toileting – but honestly, it’s probably not our fault, it’s something we have drilled into us from an early age as young girls. The problem is, when our toilet habits become habitual or situational, it means we lose that important mind-body connection between our brain and our bladder. When we lose that connection, we lose the trust in our own bodies, and that has a huge impact on continence.
Poor toileting habits early in life can lead to continence issues down the track.
Our mental health: It’s a two way street – continence issues can increase the likelihood of mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, but these conditions can also impact the prevalence of continence issues. When we experience depression, anxiety or social phobia, our habits and lifestyles change – which means that every one of those four areas listed above can be impacted. It changes our posture, our breathing, our nutrition and our habits. All of which can lead to pelvic floor difficulties.
Did someone say vicious cycle?
So you can see that treating pelvic floor issues is about so much more than just strengthening those pelvic floor muscles. The list above is by no means exhaustive either. But it’s enough evidence to be able to say that addressing incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction requires a truly holistic view of the individual involved.
The good news is there’s so many wonderful health practitioners out there who can support you if you need help with this area. incontinence is not something you have to live with. It can be treated, but for best treatment, you need someone who is going to look at the whole you – not just your pelvic floor. Search around for a Women’s Health OT (like me), or a Women’s Health physiotherapist, those of us who specialise in this area know that taking an integrated approach is the best, and only, answer.
Until next time, be well.
Cheers, Sarah xx
ps. If you want to know more about how to restore your pelvic floor function after having a baby, make sure you check out my Body Mind Baby postnatal wellbeing program. This 10 week online program covers a wide range of physical and emotional challenges faced by new mothers – with information and simple, practical strategies you can implement in your everyday life to positively impact your wellbeing – you can check it out here.