Family

Self Care

Radical Self Care

The power of putting yourself first for health and wellness (without the guilt!)

self careSelf care is something that many people find hard. We are taught to put ourselves last in many cases, constantly attending to the needs of others before ourselves. Women in particular, and mothers even more so, often find it very hard to prioritise their needs and give themselves the care and attention that they need to feel happy and healthy. So many women tell me they feel guilty if they take time for themselves or spend money on themselves. As if everyone else’s needs are more important than their own. The truth is, everyone is equally valuable, worthwhile and deserving. No-one’s needs, wants or desires are more important than our own.

The practice of self care is simply a way of loving and caring for ourselves as though we matter – at least as much as anyone else!  Over-giving, over-achieving and over-striving are all examples of habits that erode our ability to practice self care.  Getting stuck in the doing and busyness of life, we feel overwhelmed and burnt out and our health can suffer on many levels. Getting a balance between the doing and the being, our outer life and inner life, and our need for work, rest and play is an essential foundation of health.

When we get out of balance we often experience physical, mental or emotional symptoms. I like to see these symptoms as calling cards or signals from our body or higher self as part of our early warning system. Something is out of whack in our life and needs to change to allow our body to return to health and vitality.  It could be anything from changing our diet, our sleep habits, our exercise routine, an unhealthy relationship or our job. Attending to any of these things that need to change means that we can shift the focus in our life back to what is right for us.  Indeed, all of these things are in fact a form of self care.

To truly care for ourselves, means we take the time and energy to give ourselves what we need to be happy and healthy on every level. If we gave ourselves the same level of love and care and nurture we give to our loved ones, I believe we would probably all be a lot happier!  When we fill our own cup so to speak, we then have plenty to give to others. More importantly, we can give freely without feeling depleted or tired and we can let go of any subtle feelings of resentment or the feeling of being a martyr or victim in our life.

 

do not disturbMany of us start the day by checking emails and text messages or looking at the latest news headlines or following the facebook feeds of others. In many cases, this habit gives our attention and energy to other people’s “stuff”. We might be inspired or learn something from some of the information we come across, but in many cases we are just distracting ourselves from attending to ourselves and establishing the inner focus we need to create the life we actually want.

There are always other people’s agendas invading our own, but by being more aware and more discerning about what we allow in is an important self care tool. It is all too easy to lose focus or get derailed by other people's opinions, behaviours and habits. We need to learn how to stop doing things we don't want to do and be more conscious of the way we often do things that don't really serve us just to please or receive acceptance from others.  Taking the time to reflect on our underlying habits and beliefs will often bring more awareness and free us from these self imposed limitations that block our success or happiness.

Bookending Our Days

bookendsIt is very powerful to have a self reflection practice that we can engage in – both at the beginning and at the end of our day. I like to call this bookending, as it gives structure and support and serves as a container for all that happens in between our day, much like bookends hold up our books and stop them from falling over.  Our days are often filled with so much busyness and activities and plenty of doing, doing, doing. Many of us certainly do enough that we could fill the pages of a book in any given day!

 

Giving ourselves space to pause and reflect on what we wish to have happen each day at the outset and then reflect on what actually happened at the close of the day, is a lovely way of bringing more conscious awareness into our life. We start to be a more active participant in our life, rather than feeling like life is something that is happening to us, that we have little control over. Any of the self care practices detailed in the download below can be used as bookends for our day.

 

time outThe self care download sheet I have put together (see below) outlines a range of activities we can engage in to practice self care. I recommend that you choose one or two self care practices at a time, selecting ones that appeal to you and explore what they offer. Give the particular methods a try and stick to them for at least two weeks and monitor to see how it is working for you. It is good to reflect on how they have helped you feel more connected and nourished, so please consider the questions at the end of the sheet to help build more awareness and momentum.

 

So in conclusion, remember that we are always told on aircraft to attach the oxygen mask to ourselves before assisting others. So this is a perfect analogy to remember when considering the importance of self care, as we are no good to anyone if we fall in a heap from exhaustion, sickness or burn out!

 

Get My Guide to Self Care Strategies - click below to download

Self Care Strategies

 

 

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Harmful Effects of Screen Time

Kids and Media Use:  How Much is Too Much?

School holidays are fast approaching again! Many parents (and kids!) look forward to less routine, no school lunches and rushed mornings! Hopefully the spring weather will draw kids outside to play in nature and at the beach - but many children I see in my clinic tend to spend their holidays stuck behind screens. Without the 'school night' curfews, often it is a free for all when it comes to kids and screen time during holidays.

So are screens (TV, computers, mobile devices) harmful and should we be limiting our children’s time in front of them?  Normally when we look at holistic health we include all manner of things - from diet and lifestyle to family history and individual health history.   I always ask children (or their parents) about not only their food diet but also their media diet. Just like food, media experiences must be ‘digested’ and fully understood and essentially ‘made our own’.  In the same way rich food can disagree with sensitive stomachs, screen experiences that are too rich or too abundant can overstimulate and disagree with sensitive brains and emotions.  Children do not have the capacity to process in a rational or logical manner screen experiences the way that adults can.  Their developing brains and emotional immaturity put them in a vulnerable position, where too much too soon can leave a lasting impression.

sad childThere has been a big interest in the past few years into how the brain is affected by the increasing screen time that many children are now experiencing. In fact, some argue much of the fear, anxiety and depression that is becoming so prevalent in today’s children is merely reflecting overstimulation and premature exposure to media influences. Some children in my clinic who suffer nightmares, phobias and anxiety often report being scared when watching a movie or a computer game.  Many other children do not understand where their fears and anxieties come from. They are possibly a build up of many different experiences that are poorly digested and appear as behavioural issues, emotional lability or sleep disorders. Parents always report bad behaviour or restlessness after screen time – yet often feel powerless to limit their children’s time.

We all know about the modern ‘explosion’ in children with Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorders (ADD/ADHD) and autism. Much research is being done and possible causes have been identified – most being related to environmental issues.  These include diverse things from food additives to vaccinations and media exposure. Other researchers are examining the way the brain is changing in children after being exposed to screens.  The instant gratification offered by computers and continuous snippets of information bombarding our brains from surfing the web to SMS messages and emails is literally changing the way the brain is connected and operates.

mediaThe virtual world is very different from the real world. Screens do not readily explore metaphor, abstract concepts or logical narrative. They do not encourage long attention spans or imagination.  Is it any wonder that so many of our kids can’t concentrate or sit still for very long – their brains are programmed from a young age to do the opposite. Screen experiences are always processed in the moment, with very little capacity for follow-up or consequences.  For example when a game allows you to shoot someone, you don’t have to deal with the consequences of that death.  Then if you happen to ‘die’, well you just start over. Susan Greenwood is a leading UK researcher in neuroscience and has observed a real shift in brain function.

"In the current generation if they've been exposed, as most western people have, to screen culture, they will have a shorter attention span and an emphasis of process over content. This means that these young people don't necessarily spend time evaluating the meaning of things and are perhaps rather impulsive and live in the moment, demanding a high degree of sensory stimulation, as opposed to the ability to reflect and think about abstract things."

girl natureIf you need some inspiration to create a new low screen time environment at home, you should check out Susan Maushart’s book, “The Winter of our Disconnect”. It provides a fascinating look behind the scenes at a single mother and her three teenager’s experience of going screen free. Like most teenagers, they were heavy users of online social networking, mobile phones, TV, digital music and computer games.  The book documents many of the issues and withdrawal symptoms that she and her kids had with letting go of their myriad devices.  But the interesting part is how they adapted and how they came to appreciate other things in life.  Her son took up saxophone and her daughters started cooking – and they spent lots of time together as a family.  Without screens to escape to, mealtimes were lingered over and became a time to connect as a family and dusty old board games were given a new lease of life.

A truly holistic view of a child’s health must incorporate their diet, their home life dynamic, screen time and their school and social life.  All these things will impact on a child’s physical and emotional health.  In my view, limiting screen exposure is a responsibility few parents are willing to embrace. Yet, a childhood rich in real life experiences with people, places and the natural world is a gift that will pay dividends.  So consider having a family media holiday – even one day a week - and enjoy the many rewards of connecting with each other rather than a screen.

You may also want to check out my video webinar on the effects of wifi and mobiles on health.

 

Coping With Motherhood

 

New mothers all around the world are given the same job description which looks something like this:
  • Must be able to multi-task 24 hours a day, cope with no sleep and expect no pay. No prior training is available. Job satisfaction is anticipated to be high.”

Motherhood-imageCertainly new motherhood brings with it unprecedented joy but also a fair share of anxiety and exhaustion. With so much to learn from feeding, changing nappies and sleep cues to settling and interpreting crying, mothers often look outside themselves for answers. Yet despite our information age of internet and chat forums, as mothers we should also remember that we possess good instincts and intuition that ought to be listened to. So many mothers go against their instincts when they choose to follow some of the modern parenting styles such as controlled crying and teaching early independence. When we really stop to listen to what we need and what our children need, there is no need for experts because we already know the answers. Even so, the road to being a relaxed and confident mother often starts rocky and has many pitfalls.

Postnatal depression is common these days as mothers struggle to meet their own and society’s expectations.   The myth of the superwoman who can have it all – a successful career, happy children, a healthy relationship and personal intimacy has been questioned more and more in recent years. We now know that this is hard to achieve or sustain and rarely brings the quality of life that we want. Most mothers (and fathers) crave more time with their kids and more meaningful relationships with their partners and loved ones. When this fails to be achieved it can bring about depression and anxiety.

mother overwhelmOther causes of postnatal depression are birth dissatisfaction or trauma, not having any support from family or friends and hormonal imbalance. Another risk factor for postnatal depression and anxiety which affects most new mothers is simple sleep deprivation. Babies are born very dependent on their mothers for their wellbeing and survival.  Unlike most species, humans are born with an immature physical and mental capacity and they take the longest to mature to adulthood.  This means that babies and children depend on their parents (or caregivers) completely for food, clothing, shelter, warmth, hygiene and emotional security.   These needs are most intense and physically demanding in the early days and often lead to exhaustion.

Babies need to be fed regularly as their tiny tummies don’t hold much. Humans are a ‘cached’ species – meaning that we have evolved carrying our babies and feeding them regularly. The composition of breastmilk is designed for this close relationship with mother and baby. It is high in lactose (milk sugar) and relatively low in protein and fat. This means that babies really need to feed regularly as breastmilk is quickly broken down.   This contrasts with ruminant mammals such as cows whose milk is much higher in protein and allows the offspring to have much longer stretches between milk feeds and they grow quickly to maturity over a year or two.

Being up feeding a tiny baby in the night means a full night’s sleep is uncommon for mothers in the first 6-12 months.   Breastfeeding does offer some help by way of hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin that promote calm and connection. After breastfeeding mothers tend to sleep deeper and more soundly until the next feed, so even though their sleep is interrupted it is still refreshing. Even so, night after night does add up and most mothers end up feeling tired and emotional at least some of the time.

timeout natureLooking after ourselves really well is essential to prevent exhaustion and depression.   This means making sure you eat a healthy, nutritious diet to provide nutrients for physical and mental wellness and stamina.   If depression or anxiety is apparent then herbal and nutritional remedies can be safe and effective, even while breastfeeding.  Mothers of all ages need to take time out for themselves regularly. Even just a short walk, a long bath or the occasional massage can really help with our ability to cope with the demands of motherhood. Ensuring you have a nap in the day occasionally can really help to recharge your mind and body.

Baby’s thrive on gentle rhythms and predictability and are easily upset by overstimulation and too many activities. As parents we need to welcome this time of quietness and stillness and learn to say ‘no’ to unnecessary engagements. Slowing down and not over-committing to social engagements is a good idea. Trying to let some days unfold at their own pace will bring a sense of calm and peace for you and your baby.

Last of all, build a community of likeminded friends and ask for help from family where possible. Support makes all the difference – so don’t try to do it all on your own!

 

 

 

A Soulful Christmas

Christmas is a special time of year, but for many people the meaning has been lost and it has just become over commercialised with a frenzy of present buying, eating and drinking and little else. Creating a soulful Christmas in your family can involve many things - from making special foods and crafts, to sharing stories and heartfelt gift-giving.

Over the years I moved away from the Christian and Catholic traditions of my roots to explore my own spirituality.  I read widely and studied a range of traditions from Buddhism to yoga and new age ideas. It took me many years to feel that I had a cohesive and personal understanding of spirituality and along the way realized that most traditions have the same message at their core anyway. Honouring the beauty of the natural world,  the cycles of nature and the seasons has always been meaningful to me and so has been incorporated into our spiritual tradition. So at Christmas we like to include lots of nature time, making presents and cards, baking special festive foods, singing carols, playing music and reading books.

 

I have reconciled the Christian message over the years as well, so we incorporate Advent into our Christmas preparation.  Advent starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas and is a great way to build anticipation and a bit of reverence into the lead-up to Christmas. While I am not a 'practicing Christian', I am happy to celebrate the birth of Jesus, who in essence was a special person who came to earth to bring humanity a message of love, hope and kindness.  These are qualities that we want to foster in our kids – so celebrating his birth (much as we do with celebrating Buddha’s birthday) is to honour the highest qualities in us all.

So we have a simple nativity scene that grows each week as Mary and Joseph make their way on the rocky road to Bethlehem.  The first week is the when the mineral kingdom of rocks and crystals is honoured and we add that to the table. The second week we bring in the plant kingdom and the children love finding special gifts from nature to add to the scene. Sometimes things magically appear which keeps them excited and interested. The third week of advent is when the animals arrive! Here the sheep appear in the fields and the ox appears in the stable. Finally in the last week the humans appear – with the shepherds and the kings.  The slow building of the scene each week is something I recommend, as it is a living process that build anticipation and interest.

The backdrop is a simple design which starts out with just the one guiding star, but each night we stick a small silver star into the sky – so by Christmas eve the sky is filled with lots of little stars. Also by Christmas Eve, Mary and Joseph have finally made it to the stable after their long journey. Everything is in place, we just have to wait until the baby is born.

 

Albert Einstein once said "If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."

With this in mind, I thought I would share some of my favourite Christmas books and stories for the kids. Making Christmas a soulful time can involve many things, and reading is one of our family's treasured past times.  We have a special box of Christmas books that we store away and get out with the Christmas decorations. The kids have a great time going through them, and each year we normally add one or two new ones. We also like to tell the story of Saint Nicholas as well, to give the Santa Claus character more meaning.   We keep the gifts from Father Christmas very special and magical and fairly minimal rather than junky and abundant.

 

So here are some of my favourite books. Some of them are a little hard to get at the moment, but you can possibly find them secondhand.


NB: If you click on any of these links and purchase from Book Depository, a small commission will be earnt, all of which will be donated to the charity I support, Permaculture Research Institute - giving resources and skills to poor communities around the world to enable self sufficiency, health and happiness.

 

So I hope this gives you some inspiration for a more soulful Christmas in your family this year! Wishing you a very merry Christmas!  
Karen 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

Gratitude Musings

Coming home in the evening from a very long day teaching and supervising students in Brisbane, I am always tired and somewhat drained.

The traffic, the polluted city air in the Valley, the mental stimulus of a long working day, then the long drive home….

But when I get out of the car I am always called to stop for a moment before going inside.  I breathe in the fresh evening air on the mountain where I live.  I smell the scent of some night blooming flowers in the garden. My eyes are drawn upwards to the night sky and the spectacular star laden world above me.  I see the constant glow of the moon, the night light that brings a perennial comfort. I notice the phase she is in and then I breathe again a little more deeply and I take in the dark silence of night. I am reminded by all these things, about my place in the world, my dependence on nature for my sustenance. My work that helps to nourish and support others to find better health and wellbeing. The gift of my family and friends.

From this place of gratitude and reverence, I enter my home once again. I bask in the simple comfort of a hot shower and warm nourishing foods and I am renewed and restored once again.

Sometimes the simplest things can bring the greatest gratitude.

 

 

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To me Karen is an absolute angel! I highly recommend Karen to anyone who is going through the whole ‘roller coaster’ journey of IVF. It was so lovely to actually have someone that actually listened to me, it was in 2010 when we decided we would give IVF one last go before having a break. Karen put me on a super tonic which I call her ‘magic potion’ and after a few weeks in taking this my FSH levels dropped dramatically and this was my lucky month and my dream had finally came true. I always feel so positive every time I leave Karen’s rooms, I’m so glad that I found her I can never thank her enough for my positive out come!
Megan Wolarczuk
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