A recent study about baby infant formula not meeting the health requirements the companies claimed they provided shows that many normal aspects of parenting are being pathologised, viewed as or seeming to be somehow medically or psychologically abnormal.
This leads parents, in particular mothers, to feel guilty that they're not doing well enough, that they're failing, that they are falling short.
Do you very find yourself getting caught up in comparing yourself to your friends’/your colleagues' beautiful holiday, great job, well-behaved children, bigger, cleaner, immaculate house, ability to juggle so many plates with ease etc etc? Well, you are not alone. We all do it!
Research has shown that we naturally compare our own performance to that of others. We adjust how we see ourselves based on whether we see ourselves in cooperation (which makes us feel good) with others or in competition (which makes us feel bad).
‘What kind of mother feels grief and sadness after having a child? This is what, Helen, a therapy and coaching client of mine, said to me in our sessions a few months after becoming a mother.
Helen was about to return to work after a few months on maternity leave. She was a successful training and development senior manager used to running a large team. She had dedicated herself to her career prior to motherhood. When she became a mother, things changed, but not how she had expected.
You wake up in the morning and straight away, your mind goes into overdrive: ‘I can’t believe what she said to me!, ‘she must think I am a really bad mum’, ‘how dare she criticise me;, ‘I should be a better mum’ and on it goes.
You feel angry at this woman who said something to you and the more you replay what she said in your mind, the angrier you get. The anger gets reignited every time you think about it and when one of your children ask you for something, you snap at them. This, you are sure, confirms that you are a bad mum. And then the loop grows even bigger.
A common theme in my clinical practice is the extent to which mothers are afraid to express what a shock motherhood has been, and might still be years on, to them. Amongst the things they fear expressing are: the fact that they struggle with motherhood (mothers are supposed to enjoy it), that they feel competing emotions about it (mothers are supposed to feel happy and joyful), the limitations that it places on their lives, time, freedom, careers (mothers are supposed to sacrifice themselves, their needs, dreams and careers to their children), the impact it has on their sense of self (mothers are supposed to find motherhood easy and not be changed by it) and their place in the world (mothers are supposed to put their children first at all times at and do so with a smile on their faces), the extent to which it creates social isolation and loneliness ()mothers are supposed to feel entirely fulfilled by motherhood and need nothing or nobody outside motherhood) and how it limits their options to define who they want to be (mothers are supposed to be satisfied in their role as mother and not want anything more for themselves). Women have internalised the rigid ideal mother stereotype so deeply that they are scared to express any dissatisfaction with motherhood (beyond being sleep-deprived and overly busy). They internalise this conflict, which can fuel mental overload and mental health issues.
None of these issues take place in a vacuum. They occur in a social and cultural context that makes it very difficult for women/mothers to express openly that motherhood is a struggle and to recognise that the struggle is real and that they are not alone in experiencing it.
Awareness is always the first step to change. Awareness involves an understanding of the wider social and cultural context within which the role and rules of motherhood operate (see blog post on motherhood as identity shift/crisis). It also involves an understanding of the ways in which struggles such as these show up as anxiety, stress, self doubt, anger and how these operate (see blog post on understanding anxiety, for starters).
As stress and anxiety are physical and mental processes, you may find the following strategies helpful to minimise stress and anxiety in your daily life.
1. Be aware that anxiety is a learned behaviour
When you feel any of those old unwanted sensations, look around and reassure yourself that there are no dangers and take your mind to somewhere relaxing. This recording will do that. The more you do this, the easier it will be for your mind to switch to calmer thoughts and for unpleasant sensations in the body to ease.
2. Move the body/Exercise for 30 minutes per day - PREFERABLY outside
It has been proven that exercise is an effective strategy for overcoming stress and anxiety. It also has a significant effect on your wellbeing and happiness. Exercise needn't be the gym. A walk, a dance in the loungeroom, active gardening etc can be hugely beneficial forms of exercise/movement.
3. Get plenty of sleep
Good quality sleep is essential for a healthy mind and body. Insufficient sleep can have a detrimental effect on your mood. Sleep deprivation increases anxiety and stress levels. It makes it more difficult to think clearly and rationally and can increase negative thinking.
4. Eat healthy meals - choose nutritious foods, and limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake
As stress and anxiety are physiological, stimulants such as sugar, coffee, alcohol etc may have a significant impact on stress levels and sleep quality.
5. Focus on the good, joyful stuff in your life
Building a set of neural pathways so that your brain begins to default to feelings of joy/calm and relaxation comes from training your mind to go to nice places and good feelings. It requires repeated practice. As you repeatedly train your brain to focus on good feelings (through this recording, for example), it will notice them more and more often. So whenever you notice yourself feeling particularly good, take a moment to acknowledge how good it feels and simply say out loud: “I feel good!”.
6. Shift your focus
Shift your focus onto something else for a few moments. It can be a good way to fend off any sudden symptoms of anxiety. It can allow you to step back from the situation.
Practise any one of the techniques below for a few minutes and you will find that sudden symptoms will dissipate.
Select the technique you prefer:
7. Listen to a relaxation recording such as that on this website. It is designed to help your mind and body calm down and will retrain your nervous system to slow down.
Since my last post on anxiety, the clients I see online and other people I have been speaking to have been reporting that their anxiety increases when the news comes on, when they talk about COVID-19, when they think about their elderly relatives who are vulnerable with underlying conditions etc etc etc. Whilst we live in very uncertain times and it is natural to feel some degree of anxiety and worry, understanding what is going on is, as ever, the best way to start regaining control. So, over the next few days and weeks, I will be posting about anxiety and what you can do about it.
So, what is anxiety? Anxiety is a natural process that is intended to ensure your survival in the face of danger. Let’s face it, if we are faced with a lion that is eyeing us up for lunch, we do want to have a warning mechanism that tells us, without our having to do anything, that danger is present and we need to fight the danger or run away from it (the fight or flight response).
So, when faced with danger, the amygdala (the fear centre of the brain) triggers an all-systems alarm that places our bodies into a state of high alert within a split second of perceiving the threat. This state of high alert comes with a set of physiological, behavioural and psychological reactions that occur all at once. Within seconds of perceiving a threat, our bloodstream is flooded with adrenaline (epinephrine) and causes physiological changes. You may notice your heart rate increasing, your breathing getting shallow and more rapid (some people can experience chest pain or discomfort), your skin gets cooler and your muscles tense as blood is redirected away from non-vital areas to vital ones in readiness for action (running or fighting), your pupils dilates (for better vision), you sweat more (to keep you cool in case you need to run or fight), you may shake or tremble, feel dizzy and nauseous and your immune system and pain response are suppressed (to keep the body moving even if it is injured). Hence why some people can walk on broken limbs or accomplish incredible feats in that state). All non-essential bodily functions are interrupted. As digestion stops, your mouth goes dry as saliva production stops and your bowels and bladder may need to be emptied.
Behaviourally, there tends to be three may responses: fight, flight or freeze. And these tend to be instantaneous. The urges that comes with these reactions can be an intense desire to run away or one of aggression or milder versions such as yelling, snapping and pacing.
Psychologically and emotionally, you experience fear, worry and apprehension and repetitive, negative thinking. Worry is useful if it leads you to problem-solve and do what you can do about the thing that worries you. It is not useful, if it allows the negative thinking to spiral out of control into fear about everything going wrong. Taking action towards solving the problem, in whatever small way, helps worry and anxiety abate, especially if you find that you are not able to think straight. Indeed, critical thinking takes a back seat as the amygdala does not want you rationalising and thinking how beautiful that lion is when it is about to eat you alive. All systems go towards survival!
Anxiety is fear. Fear of the unknown. It is usually a fear about the future, about something that hasn’t happened yet. The kicker is that the alarm can be sounded even if there is not an actual threat to our safety, as the brain does not distinguish between an actual danger and a perceived one (many people have felt these very symptoms when going for job interviews, thinking about the next meeting with the boss or when sat at the computer worrying about that presentation they had to give). Think of it as a car alarm going off when no one is trying to steal the car!
The key thing to remember is that all these symptoms and reactions are normal. This is important, as the fear of the symptoms themselves can actually cause more anxiety. Of course, you may want to be checked by a medical doctor to be sure there is no underlying conditions, if these symptoms are highly disruptive. However, if they appear and worsen when you are watching the news, talking about the pandemic and the like, worrying about the future, then know that these sensations are normal and will not harm you.
It is also useful to know that the amygdala that kicked off this whole alarm system within a split second of perceiving the threat is also responsible for storing memories of the threat so that it can trigger the alarm whenever the threat is perceived again. In uncertain times such as these, our brains are trying to make sense of a big unknown and alert us to a possible threat (yes, there is a danger but many of us are not at risk of immediate mortal danger). So, when we watch the news again and again and feed our brains the doom and gloom, we reinforce the pattern. Avoiding the temptation to feed our brains doom and gloom, which fuels the cycle by providing it with more juice (adrenaline) is a positive step. The news (especially TV and other visual news) is designed to be sensationalist and create big reactions. Changing the physical reactions by moving the body (go for a walk, dance, garden, take deep breaths (more on that in a later post) etc) can also help switch us out of those symptoms. Identifying specifically what you are worried about and acting on it can also help you to begin to regain control.
The good news from all of this is that we know that anxiety is a learned response and what has been learnt can be changed!
Why age is no barrier to achieving your weight-loss goals: what clients say about the Virtual Gastric Band program
'To anyone wondering how to lose weight, you can, and I have done by following the 'Virtual Gastric Band’ with Dr Fabienne Chevalier. It is a very safe and sure way to weight loss. The benefits I have gained from this program is to finally be in control of my food intake and getting to do and enjoy more exercise. I am very happy with the first session and the following week, everything was perfect. I followed her directions. I found it very easy to follow and it was no effort. I’m eating smaller meals, 3 small meals and that’s enough. I lost 2.2kg in that first week."
Nora P., 76, Point Cook (testimonial provided after the first week of the program)
Follow-up testimonial at week 5 of the Virtual Gastric Band program
'Since starting this Virtual Gastric Band Program with Dr Fabienne, I have noticed myself becoming stronger in focusing on the positive things that I need to do to continue feeling the benefits of this program.
The benefits for me have been weight loss, a much more positive outlook on exercising, eating less, especially not eating sweets. I know I can continue doing this' (Nora, P. 76, Point Cook)
More testimonials here
You’ve tried them all; the two sticks of celery a day celebrity-endorsed fad diet, the too-good-to-be-true chocolate for breakfast diet, raw food on Thursdays, liquids for lunch, even diets dictated by the cycles of the moon. Yes, some of them make a difference for the first week, maybe even for a month or so, but rarely do they make a lasting impact on your weight. Is this because of you? Or are diets a flawed means of losing weight? Below are main reasons why diets fail.
Diets are too drastic
When you take up a diet, you want results as quickly as possible. This can mean you over-estimate your will power, under-estimate the power of a rumbling stomach, and opt for an extreme diet. Reducing your intake of food, often to the point where you don't actually eat enough for your body to function properly, will leave you feeling hungry, irritable, and more stressed. Even if you manage to resist the overbearing urges to eat, the stress caused by feeling hungry triggers your body’s in-built ‘survival mode’. This means your body perceives your reduced diet as a threat to your survival, and slows down your ability to lose weight.
Changing your diet shouldn’t make you feel worse. You should be feeling better; not only about the way you look, but better on the inside too. Starving yourself with a quick-fix two-week fast doesn’t make a lasting impact because it doesn’t do anything to challenge how you think about food. If anything, the cycle of relapsing that occurs with on-off dieting can reinforce your reliance on food as an emotional crutch.
Diets are hard work
It goes without saying that diets are restrictive. The food you like eating is forbidden, and the portions of food you’re allowed to eat are either too small or simply not enjoyable to eat. This means that your diet soon becomes a battleground between your cravings and your diminishing willpower. As soon as you add external emotional and social pressures into the mix, like a hard day at work or a meal out with friends, it’s very easy for you to relapse from your diet altogether.
A diet that you don’t enjoy is not sustainable. Sooner or later you’ll crack. Pursuing a healthier lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard work and it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy eating. Developing a better relationship with food and exploring why you eat is a much happier, healthier approach to long term weight-loss.
With diets, food has control over you
Whether its calorie counting, cheat days, or encouraging you to overeat a particular food or food group, traditional diets have a tendency to put food in the spotlight. In doing this, they programme your brain to think about food more, not less. This means more cravings, more eating, and less lweight loss.
A long term approach to weight-loss should remove food from its pedestal. The Virtual Gastric Band uses clinical hypnosis to convince the brain that the stomach feels full after smaller portions. This means that you can still eat what you want when you want to, but you’re satisfied with less because you have changed the way you think about food.
If you’ve been struggling with diets, and are interested in finding out more about the Virtual Gastric Band, call today on 0456 903 628 for your free 15-minute telephone consultation to find out how the program can help you to become slimmer.
Weight off my mind! Australia's fattest man sheds 31 STONE through hypnotherapy. Read the story here
'(...) randomized, controlled trials of clinical hypnosis demonstrated the approach was significantly better than a "structured attention" therapy approach in postmenopausal women with frequent hot flashes and significantly better than no treatment in breast cancer survivors.'
'Randomized, double-blind, controlled trials--the gold standard for determining therapies' effectiveness--showed that a cognitive-behavioral therapy approach that combined relaxation techniques, sleep hygiene, and learning to take positive, healthy approaches to menopause challenges was significantly effective in reducing women's ratings of hot flash problems (although not their number).'
'The [North America Menopause Society(NAMS) ] panel recommends these two mind-body approaches.' See report here