It was late at night in the middle of week two of my son’s life, he was crying at length and it was all getting to me. Can I cope with looking after him? How can I go to work and cope with this in the evenings? Mini-crisis.
The next day he slept all morning. So I did too. That afternoon I felt better. The fears I had the night before had eased. Perhaps I could cope after all.
Wait a minute, there was the embarrassing feeling that I’d seen this pattern before.
Often in the past, life would get intense, I’d feel out of control, I’d get anxious, lose confidence and then fear I was getting nowhere with projects, work and life. I’d start blaming it on myself and whatever was going on in my life.
I told myself I wasn’t skilled enough at this or that. That I hadn’t made the right career choices. I didn’t make enough money. Why wasn’t I more like so and so?
I’d beat myself up inside till I was a whimpering wreak. Only to realise later that I was just tired.
Over the years I’ve discovered that, outside of the obviously difficult things life throws at you – illness, grief and so on – much of my perceived woes and lack of creativity or confidence were often down to three very basic things. And as soon as I’d focused on them I’d feel much better.
So now I try to do a mental check of the following before I give myself a good talking to:
1. Am I eating well?
When things are busy, one of the first things to go is good eating habits.
It’s easier and quicker to reach for a sandwich or stick a pizza in the oven than cook properly or go for that salad. But I’ve discovered that the food I put in to my body directly relates to the energy I get out.
So I ask myself – am I eating a good balanced diet? Am I eating enough slow energy release foods to see me through the day? The idea being that under normal circumstances food alone should give me all the energy I need without the need to reach for the cake, chocolate, fizzy drinks etc.
This is what works for me:
Eat a ‘super-food’ breakfast – a bowl of porridge with nuts, seeds, banana and honey everyday helps wake me up. Plus, the slow-release energy from the grains and nuts keep me going all morning.
Eat often – my energy dips then crashes if I go for too long without food. I eat four to five ‘meals’ a day. The most helpful being a medium sized snack at 4:30pm which helps get me to dinner at 8pm without a major energy crash. Vital.
Avoid refined sugar – Refined sugar is a superficial energy fix that gives me a crash soon after I eat it. Since my aim to avoid energy crashes at all costs, I avoid or use honey to sweeten dishes.
Eat my greens before bed – plenty of veg of the colour green is said to help you sleep better. Anecdotally, this is true in my experience.
2. Am I sleeping well?
Baby early morning cry-athons aside, I find it all too easy to stay up later and later each night of the week, yet having to get up at the same time each morning for work. It’s all too easy to just keep on losing sleep and be exhausted by friday.
And being a parent of a young child, this is one of the most difficult things to control. But there are two things that are really helping me:
Meditate before bed – A ten minute meditate really helps me relax and clean the slate in preparation for a deep sleep. It may sound hippy but mediation is just a way to relax your mind. This can be a simple as imagining writing what happened in the day on a sheet of paper then mentally putting it away. Stopping those thoughts buzzing around my head helps me sleep more deeply and restfully, making the absolute most of the limited sleep I’m getting at the minute.
Use ear plugs – I grew up in the countryside where it’s silent at night, so living in central London makes it hard to sleep with all the ambient noise. After years of light sleeping I tried earplugs. Much better. I use them when I’m not ‘on-shift’ with our little one and am camped out on the living room sofa.
3. Am I exercising?
I’ve always found that regular exercise makes it easier to focus and do more in a day. Plus exercise helps me moderate my moods, keeping me from getting too low and helping me deal with stress.
It oxygenates my brain, apparently making me actually smarter for the period of time when it happens. And I do often find that during the heightened state I experience while exercising new ideas or solutions to problems pop into my head.
For me, running is my key exercise:
It’s a great way to get immersed in the outdoors – I don’t need a gym or any equipment, I can do it while traveling and to top it off – it’s free.
I can easily find 30 minute before work in the morning, or in the eve, to nip out and back – I run twice a week, in the mornings in winter and in the evenings in summer.
There is very little impact on baby schedules – I can often slip out for a 30 minute run from my door to the park and back while Lisa is feeding our son.
I’m always surprised how often these three basic questions work
Despite myself, if I focus on eating well, doing a little exercise or trying to get better quality sleep often either changes how I feel completely, gives me a new perspective or eases the negative feelings about a difficult problem that I’m beating myself up about.
Feeling shitty? Answer these first: Am I sleeping well? Am I eating well? Am I exercising?
They have a permanent place as a reminder on my fridge door.