How to get through the holiday season if you’re alone, anxious or just not feeling it…
There’s expectation as we race towards 2021.
The year that threw us all into a disarray of varying proportions is nearly over, and what better way to see it off than a week or so of getting into the festive spirit, seeing family and friends and putting 2020 to bed?
But what if you don’t feel like that at all, or actually don’t have that opportunity? This past year has been tough on so many levels, and has left many of us not quite feeling like ourselves; exhausted, apprehensive, concerned about finances and safeguarding our health. The newly coined “friendship fade” has also settled in, with our networks and the appetite for them significantly shrunken.
Licensed psychologist at Thrive Wellbeing Centre,Dr. Vassiliki Simoglou, shares her tips on how to get through the holiday season if you are alone, anxious, or just not feeling it….
Are you simply not in the mood this year?
Then don’t force yourself to get in the mood. Feel whatever you feel like feeling, and embrace those different feelings – you’ve been through a lot these last 12 months. Be compassionate towards yourself and reassure yourself that it’s OK to not feel what you’re supposed to or expected to feel.
Are you scared of going out?
Pick less crowded places, expose yourself gradually and increase your tolerance. Acknowledge and embrace your fear and be honest with yourself – what is it really about? Is it COVID-related anxiety or is it an increasing desire to self-isolate? Figuring out what this avoidance really means can help you make more informed choices.
Is travel not an option for you?
Transform this inability into an opportunity to travel “inwards” and embark on an inner journey, either of self-discovery or personal development. Expand your knowledge, try different activities or practice new skills. Start the course you always wanted, read the books you never had time to read, create meaningful habits with yourself or your family, or take up a new hobby.
Do you worry about finances?
Whilst Dubai is an expensive place to live, there are some wonderful things to do that are free. There’s Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary, walks in Al Fahidi, various craft and festive markets across the city and then there’s the beach and the parks, always free and always there for contemplation and perspective.
Are you suffering from “friendship fade”?
The pandemic has affected spontaneity in our social interactions, in terms of their number as well as their frequency. “Zoom fatigue” has surely set in, but if you are feeling that your face-to-face interactions have dropped, then resume the online ones! Yes, friendships flourish with actual interaction, and whilst online platforms don’t feel the same, they do give us the opportunity to be and feel connected.
Have you got no one to spend time with?
Invest in the most important relationship in your life – the relationship with yourself. Practice self-care, journal in order to structure your thoughts and give them consistency, connect with loved ones who might live abroad, and create opportunities for yourself to meet new people. Most importantly, go ahead and do all those things you hesitate to do because you have no one to enjoy them with. Still, go ahead and do them – you never know who you might meet…
The holiday season is always about new beginnings. This year’s holiday season, in particular, symbolizes the end of an extremely challenging year for humanity and the transition into the new – a New Year that encompasses a new “me”, new resolutions, and new hopes and expectations. Embrace the holiday blues and find ways to make this transition genuinely meaningful for you.
If you’re reading this, then you are probably looking for some answers as to why can’t you sleep. Any age can experience sleepless nights and insomnia, and often, this can be traced back to external life stressors like work, personal issues, or illness. Unfortunately, around the age of 40, we have another equation to factor in: menopause.
Menopause can send in what feels like a speeding train, derailing any blissful sleep pattern you ever had. Difficulty sleeping and sometimes insomnia can leave you tossing and turning, waking up at 3am with your mind racing or in a pool of sweat. Not a pretty picture, I know, but it happens.
These are among some of the earliest signs of perimenopause. 61% of women suffer from sleep problems during menopause because of hormonal fluctuations, according to the Sleep Foundation – so you are not alone in counting sheep. Let’s take a step back and explore why getting a good night’s sleep is important to staying fit and healthy in our 40s.
If you are a night owl and don’t go to bed early, here are a few reasons why working on your sleep hygiene and hitting the sack earlier, especially as we head into our 40s, is so important. You can see that stage 3 is deep sleep. This is where all the good stuff happens. All the repair and regeneration occur here because we produce the majority of our HGH (Human Growth Hormone), which:
helps fat burning (if this is not a reason to go to bed, I don’t know what is)
stimulates tissue growth to help build muscle
Most of your body’s HGH secretion happens between 11pm and 1am. Getting to bed early to take advantage of this production, especially during menopausal years, is a big plus in aiding repair and regeneration.
Other Reasons to Rewire Your Sleep Patterns
Sleep well, and your body’s circadian rhythm helps regulate healthy hormone production
Hormone levels fluctuate during sleep stages
Melatonin promotes high-quality sleep
Growth hormone, produced during a good night’s sleep, supports bone and muscle health
Good sleep reduces our cortisol stress hormone levels
Good sleep regulates healthy leptin and ghrelin levels – our appetite hormones – which stops us from overeating
Why Menopause Affects Our Sleep
Two words: declining hormones. For starters, the role of estrogen is as follows:
Increases our deep sleep (REM) and helps in serotonin metabolism. It also decreases how long it takes us to fall asleep.
Estrogen also decreases the number of times you wake up during the night.
Increases total sleep time and quality.
Helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol to stabilise sleep.
Helps regulate the internal thermostat and body temperature, so the decline in estrogen can lead to hot flashes and disruptive night sweats.
Women also produced less melatonin, the key hormone for regulating sleep and helping the body cool down to trigger optimal sleep. As for the role of progesterone? It helps control stress and helps us relax. The decline makes it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep.
The level of stress hormones like cortisol (which women already struggle to keep in check) can stay elevated at night. Short sleep slows this decline of cortisol down, messes with your moods, and plays havoc with your insulin resistance, leading to increased abdominal fat storage – which we don’t need at this stage of life!
Who would’ve thought that, at the age of 40, we need to learn how to sleep again?
Sleep is essential and needs a multipronged approach to taking back control and reaping from all its health benefits. Putting some sleep hygiene habits in place and learning to manage the challenges presented should be on top of your priority list. Let’s start with these basic strategies that create new habits for a good night’s sleep.
Re-train: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It might be hard at first, but you will adapt. Getting yourself into a routine is crucial to start improving your sleep.
Keep your head cool: Hot flushes and hormonal mayhem are the culprits for a bad night’s sleep. Simple things you can do straight away:
Keep the room temperature as cool as you can manage.
Wear light clothing or none and light sheets that you can kick off.
Put a fan near your head to keep the pituitary gland (temperature regulator) in your head cool.
Take a cold shower before bed.
Put a cork in it: If you have a tipple at the end of the day to wind down or make you drop off quicker, it’s a temporary fix. It lessens the quality of sleep you have.
It shortens your REM cycle.
Can increase hot sweats.
Makes you restless.
Your liver is working overtime to get rid of the toxins.
Calm – dark – quiet: Create a calm, relaxed environment in the bedroom. Soften the lights, light some candles, spray the pillow, or use a diffuser with essential oils like camomile, lavender, and ylang-ylang.
The production of melatonin starts around 9pm. This is when you want to start reducing the bright lights around you. Avoid watching TV or looking at your phone one hour before bedtime. Create a new habit: read a book with low blue light.
Stimulation from all the light and noise stimulates the brain and suppresses melatonin production. Block all the switches that have a light attached to them. Make the bedroom as dark as possible.
Coffee fix: Reduce your caffeine intake before bedtime. Try to avoid it after 2pm, allowing it to be removed from your system, which can stick around for about six hours (depending on the size of your pick-me-up). Need something to drink at night? Try drinking cold cherry tart juice instead; this aids sleep.
Sugar baby: Reduce or quit your sugars and starchy carbs three hours before bedtime. Eating this type of food will disturb your insulin production, which will then compete with the production of your sleep hormones.
Eat early to sleep more: We do not want our digestive system to work overtime during the night by trying to digest large, heavy foods that we have eaten so close to bedtime. This has an impact on all the other systems in the body, including the parasympathetic (calming) system.
Also, if you suffer from night sweats – your body temperature naturally increases around 8pm. This is in sync with our 24-hour circadian rhythm.
Try reducing your protein intake late at night. Protein is a thermogenic food (produces heat when metabolised), the last thing you want if you are suffering from hot flashes. It increases your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
However, protein must be a staple in maintaining muscle mass during menopause, so it shouldn’t be eliminated from the diet. Eat light and at a reasonable time, so you avoid bloating, reflux, and overall fullness.
Try something like a banana, oatmeal, or other foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid needed to make serotonin and melatonin, the chemicals that make us sleepy.
Exercise: Exercising at the right time and intensity is crucial to a good night’s sleep. Exercising late at night and too near bedtime can keep some people awake, especially if they are stressed and cortisol is already at an all-time high. Try to experiment with different training sessions. Introduce yoga and meditation to your daily routine.
Take a breath: When you relax in your nice cool dark room, try some deep breathing exercises before settling into sleep. This calms the mind, lowers blood pressure, removes the body’s stress, and helps you sleep tight.
Wakey wakey: Wake up in the morning, take a walk, get natural sunlight into your eyes, or sit and have a coffee outside (no sunglasses). You don’t have to look directly at the sun – just sit and enjoy a peaceful moment or two with open eyes. This helps with the production of our happy hormone, serotonin.
I am a big fan of measuring things, and love this quote: “You can’t change what you don’t measure.” If you are having trouble sleeping, here is a tool you can use to monitor your sleep.
There are plenty of wearable trackers and smartwatches that you can use to monitor your sleep. I personally use Whoop because it helps me understand the recovery and sleep needed for training. I also found it got me into a daily routine of going to bed to get the right amount of sleep that I need to perform well, and it taps into my physiology. I also find that these work well and allow you to monitor and see the results of the significant changes you make.
Elsewhere, montmorency cherry tart juice concentrated is high in sleep-promoting chemical melatonin and enhances your melatonin production. It is also rich in antioxidants and polyphenols. Drink a nice ice-cold glass 30 minutes before bed. Additionally, there are plenty of supplements on the market. I suggest you research them or chat with your GP before taking them. I can only recommend the ones I take, which are the good old magnesium.
Remember, adopting new healthy sleeping habits and kicking out the old ones can be hard, but don’t stress about it. Go at your own pace. Don’t be too tough on yourself as you work towards your goal of better sleep health. Changing habits requires taking small steps and repeating them many times over until they feel second nature. If you try changing everything all at once, you’ll probably have a lower chance of success. If you only adopt or improve two of the healthy sleep habits listed above, that’s a big step to better sleep – and with time, you will get there and sleep tight!
Sharon James is a woman’s health and well-being coach, specialising in menopause wellness. Connect with her via Instagram, Facebook, or email.
Is It Postpartum Depression or Postpartum Anxiety?
Understand the differences – and how to tackle it.
Postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression share many symptoms and very often accompany each other. The extensive range of thoughts, emotions, and behaviours it can encompass means that it is not one size fits all. The good news is that these conditions can be navigated with the right treatment that’s unique to you. Some of the common symptoms can be found here. Please note that the symptoms documented are not exhaustive nor always present. Let’s now delve into what anxiety and depression are.
I refer to anxiety as the body and mind going into fight or flight mode. This can include worrying, feeling stressed about the future, and panicking. Depression is the low seemingly never-ending hum of sadness, lethargy, and darkness – often accompanied by thoughts of the past or feeling stuck. They are like the yin and yang of mood disorders. Both are equally exhausting and debilitating, especially when you have a new child to care for. Awareness and acknowledgment of how you are feeling are key to tackling it.
If there is any part of you that feels there is something amiss following the arrival of your new child, then please do not disregard it. Seek some support whether that is from your healthcare provider, doctor, partner, family, friends, therapist, coach, or counsellor. Maternal anxiety and depression can impact families, regardless of whether it is their first child or not. Circumstances such as finances, childcare, career, and social expectations can all contribute. Previous mood disorders should also be taken into account as some emotions, thoughts, or behaviours may be triggered during this time.
Sharing your thoughts and concerns with family and friends can be difficult as fear of judgement, opinion, or advice may prevent full transparency. During my own experience of postpartum depression, I did not fully share how I was feeling with my family and friends, and as I was living overseas and did not want to worry them or appear like I was not coping. It’s in cases like this where having an impartial listening ear and creating an arsenal of practical tips and tools to look after yourself can prove to be invaluable. It was following my own experience of postpartum depression and anxiety, when my son was born in 2017, that I decided to study as a coach and offer support to other families.
I now provide a safe space to talk and give oxygen to the thoughts and concerns faced by those impacted by the arrival of a new child within their household. During those first 18 months of my son’s life, I would often have a feeling in my stomach that I likened to the feeling you get when running late for something that is really important – that was anxiety. It’s extremely common to experience a level of anxiety when bringing a new child into your home, and it’s not something that only affects birth mothers, but also fathers, partners, adoptive parents, foster parents, step-parents, siblings, and anyone within the household. Here are some indicators of anxiety and depression as they present physically, emotionally, and behaviourally:
Anxiety can present itself physically as:
Restlessness (the same feeling can be experienced if your caffeine intake is high, so aim to reduce it if this rings true to you)
Brain fog (finding it difficult to focus or being forgetful)
Anxiety can present itself in behaviours such as:
Avoidance of people or places
Checking things over and over again
Being overly cautious about situations or care for your baby (for example, extreme worry about your baby being in someone else’s care)
Like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety can be influenced by various factors – emotional, physical, social, biological, financial – as well as any previous mental health issues.
Anxiety is often a F.E.A.R-based emotion:
This is manifested in thoughts anticipating that something negative is going to happen.The following are some examples:
“I can’t leave the baby with anyone else in case there is an accident and my baby gets hurt or injured.” “What if someone hurts or attacks my baby?” “I am worried someone may try to take my baby.”
These concerns can be valid, but if they’re becoming intrusive, obsessive, or irrational, then it’s best to discuss it with a professional who can provide you with tools to gain a balanced perspective as this can become unhealthy for your and your baby’s well-being. An example of a useful tool is the ‘Thoughts on Trial’ worksheet that can be found in the Stepping Into Parenthood online programme. It’s designed to challenge negative thoughts by putting them on ‘trial’ as if in a courtroom. You become the defence, prosecutor, and judge, and thereby encourage multiple perspectives. Writing your thoughts down will also ’empty’ your head and give you the benefit of being objective.
Depression can present itself physically as:
Depression can present itself emotionally as:
Feeling sad, hopeless
Depression can present itself in behaviours such as:
Avoiding social interaction
Using alcohol or drugs
A word I often would use at the time of my postpartum depression was ‘disconnected’. I felt like I was watching myself, but not truly experiencing my life with my gorgeous baby boy. Thankfully, I received some support from a life coach, which began my healing journey that was the catalyst for me paying it forward and helping other families. I strongly believe that treatment lies within the individual and, in ensuring that, they are meeting their own human needs.
Medical treatment such as antidepressants should also be discussed with your doctor. Again, every person is unique and therefore so is the treatment. A collaboration of medicine and personal development was how I was able to help myself. Whilst I no longer require medication, I am grateful for the ‘springboard’ it provided at the time. Unfortunately, there can still be a stigma surrounding medication – which needs to be changed. If you are diabetic, you take insulin. If you have a headache, you take aspirin.
Likewise, if you are struggling mentally, please talk to your doctor and educate yourself on the options available to you. Researching on the internet can be overwhelming. Trying different methods without success can leave you feeling hopeless, and they may not be the right treatments for you. That is why there is power to be found in simplicity. Introducing small changes is much easier to sustain (particularly if you are already feeling overwhelmed) and therefore more likely to have a long-lasting impact.
For the last four years, I have implemented and worked on creating changes like having a simple morning routine, focusing on time-management and scheduling, meal-planning, being aware of external stimulants and their impact (such as what I read, watch, and listen to – this can also mean reducing social media), creating boundaries with the people I spend my time with, prioritising relaxation and exercise, and peppering my day with things that bring me joy. There are many ways to incite joy by using your senses. You can connect with nature, eat foods that nurture your body, listen to uplifting music or podcasts, and shower or bathe with your favourite scents.
Opening the narrative on expectation can also prove to be useful in restoring some calm. Often, we push ourselves to be and do everything, and scrolling through social media does not always help as it promotes a world where people appear to have it all together when in reality they don’t. Like a TV show or a movie, much of what you see is either fictitious, staged, or simply a highlight from their life – not the full picture. As Theodore Roosevelt put it, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Do not compare your life to that of others, as everyone parents differently, so turn down the volume on the opinions of others.
The expectation of other members of the household is also something that should be discussed – ideally before the arrival of the new baby as a means to reduce anxiety. Delegation of the day-to-day running of the home can also release pressure, create inclusivity, and provide a sense of control and significance for everyone involved whilst providing a safe and happy environment for the new arrival. Look at budgets, chores, cooking, and outsourcing. Form flexible routines and mindfulness, and shift your focus to gratitude, joy, and happiness – this will leave less space for anxiety and depression.
Maternal mental health – like all mental health – has been impacted by the covid-19 pandemic, leaving mothers with a baby in isolation at a time when support is essential. At such times as ever, the internet is a double-edge sword. When looking for resources, information, and support, you can be just a click away from a vital lifeline. However, it can also heighten overwhelming feelings and confusion as the information can be conflicting and inaccurate.
As the world reconnects, take a moment and reconnect with yourself first. Understanding what makes you tick is the key to unlocking the best practices for you to navigate any anxiety or depression you may be experiencing. And remember, you are not alone. There is support. And you are doing a great job!
Few things in life are as misunderstood as grief – not only is it immensely personal and often complicated by several factors, but everyone’s response to grief is also likely to be different. Factor in that bereaved people pressure themselves to ‘get over’ their loss and move on with life (only to discover that grief does not flow in a smooth, linear fashion), and you’re looking at a reality that affects us all, but isn’t addressed nearly enough.
“The natural reaction that a person has to loss, grief involves the emotional as well as the physical, cognitive, behavioural, and spiritual responses to loss,” says Ronette Anna Zaaiman, a Clinical Psychologist at The LightHouse Arabia. The community mental health and wellness institution houses Raymee Grief Center that’s run by expert clinicians and grief specialists, and offers free-of-charge services to both individuals and groups. Here, Zaaiman delves into how this grief support centre can help you cope with loss and what we all should know about the always painful – and often confusing – grieving process.
Grief brings with it both physical and emotional symptoms.
“Common physical reactions to grief include a hollow feeling in your stomach, tightness or heaviness in your chest or throat, increased sensitivity to stimuli such as noises or bright lights, decreased energy, and breathlessness as well as nausea and digestive problems. The most common emotional reactions, meanwhile, are sadness, anger, guilt, anxiety, helplessness, loneliness, shock, relief, and numbness.”
There are many misconceptions around grief.
“Grief within itself exists in a paradox of being something we will all experience in our life, yet being something that we know little about and avoid speaking of. As a result, individuals often find themselves confused and overwhelmed in their experiences of grief. Although nothing can truly prepare us for grieving the loss of a loved one as everyone’s journey through grief looks different, misconceptions can leave us feeling isolated and like we’re completely losing ourselves to grief. One of the misconceptions is that acceptance is the final stage of grief – we often consider ‘acceptance’ as an indication that we’ve ‘moved on’. This view can invalidate our grief process, and overly simplifies the impact of the loss on our lives. Rather than acceptance, adjustment and learning to live alongside our grief becomes our goal.
Another misconception is that being ‘strong’ means overcoming your grief. Oftentimes, individuals do not allow themselves to feel the emotions and process the thoughts that come about as a result of grief. Messages we may have been taught growing up – that we ‘must be strong’ – result in these feelings often being equated with ‘being weak’. This view can greatly invalidate and hinder one’s grief journey. There is immense strength in creating space for yourself and honouring the feelings that come with grief. Lastly, it’s untrue that grieving someone always involves deep sadness and crying; grief is as unique as a fingerprint and each person’s experience is different. Some may cry, others may not. There is no right or wrong way to grieve.”
There are ways to cope effectively with your pain.
“Have realistic expectations of yourself. Give yourself grace in this unpredictable process. There will be moments that you feel good, and moments that are particularly hard – give yourself permission to feel everything you feel. When we do not allow our feelings, they will find different avenues of expression, such as through tension in our shoulders, headaches, or even anxiety, depression, and physical health problems. Have healthy outlets for your emotions instead.
This may involve sharing with a trusted friend or family member, writing in a journal, prayer, meditation, crying, joining a grief support group, or individual psychotherapy. It’s also vital to take care of your physical health. When grief-stricken, it may be difficult to maintain everyday healthy routines around eating, sleeping, and exercise. Try to ensure that you eat regular healthy meals, stay hydrated, get enough sleep, and engage with some physical movement each day. Avoid using substances such as alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings.”
The five stages of grief are often misunderstood.
“The five stages of grief, as developed by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, has been very helpful in opening up the conversation about grief. This theory, which predominantly focuses on patients with a terminal illness, may be misleading in giving the impression of a chronological order and a particular endpoint to grieving the loss of a loved one.
Meanwhile, William Worden has proposed four tasks of grieving, which is helpful in giving grievers a sense of what they may expect to experience going forward and involves ‘tasks’ – something that can guide them in engaging with their own grief journey. In this theory, it is also emphasised that these tasks can co-exist, and one may move back and forth between negotiating them. They are: having to come to terms with the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain of grief, adjusting to an environment with the deceased missing, and finding an enduring connection with the deceased whilst embarking on a new life.”
Grief does not have a timeline.
“We do not forget or ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one. Grief does change form over time, though – the intensity of the feelings and the frequency of big grief waves tend to decrease with time. The depths of our grief is an expression of the depth of our love. It is through honouring our grief and the multitude of emotions we feel that we can facilitate our own healing.”
Raymee Grief Center provides plenty of support.
“We are honoured to offer a range of free-of-cost grief support groups for the community. We also offer a one-off individual grief consultation session that’s free of charge and serves as a gateway to our grief support groups. The grief support groups we offer include the Motherless Daughters, Partner Loss, Little Lifetimes, Surviving After Loss to Suicide, and Adult Grief Support Group. Most of these services are currently offered online. If you are interested, please contact us by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 04 380 2088. We believe no one needs to grieve alone. We are here to help.”
Are You Constantly Worrying about Your To-Do List?
It’s time to address that invisible emotional burden.
Have you brought the washing in?
Is dinner for today and tomorrow planned?
Do you remember that you’ve run out of milk?
Do you know when the kids’ next vaccine is due?
Of course you do! You see, us women are extraordinary human beings. Not only do we do everything that men do on a day-to-day basis, but we also do a million more things. Most of these tasks are invisible – they include things like the mental shopping list that is updated on an automatic basis. We know exactly what ingredient in the fridge has been used up, what needs to be bought right away, what needs to be purchased soon, and what household items can be added to the next big shopping trip. We know when the detergent is about to run out. We know which washing powder to buy because the other one causes our child to have rashes. We know what each child likes in their lunch box. How one child only wants cucumbers, and how it needs to be peeled or they won’t eat it. Or how our other child only eats a tuna wrap for lunch with popcorn for snacks. Keep in mind, the first child hates tuna, so you need to be careful not to mix up the lunch boxes.
Exhausted just reading that? I bet. This is what goes on in the mind of a woman – especially mothers – every single day! In essence, it is our invisible emotional burden that is the main differentiator between women and men. Of course, this doesn’t happen all the time, but you would be hard-pressed to find it the other way round. You see, it is not just running the household that us women take on – it’s the extras. It’s all the little things, like remembering what day the kids have library to make sure to put their library books in their bag or remembering that it’s World Book Day and making sure the kids have their outfits planned.
Let’s delve into a simple example of what it’s like each day. The school sends you an e-mail a week or two in advance that it’s World Book Day. Mum, who is most likely the only parent who actually opened this e-mail, makes a note in her diary or marks the day in her head. Mum then asks the child what character said child would like to go as. Mum makes a note of this mentally. Mum then needs to arrange how to put that outfit together so that her child looks as close to that character as possible. Mum needs see if what they have at home is sufficient enough for the outfit. If not, then mum needs to either order it online or go to a shop and buy it. Once mum has bought the outfit, she then needs to check into her mental calendar to ensure she gets the outfit out on the day of World Book Day. Funnily enough, on the last World Book Day, one of my son’s friends came into school in his PE uniform. I asked my son why he didn’t dress up, and he said his dad forgot to dress him up for the day.
Here’s another true story for you and, as hilarious as it is, I was not laughing when it actually happened. My husband said he’d pick up the kids from school one day. Can you can see where I am going with this? I thought, ‘Great! I can get on with some work then.’ We spoke at 1pm and on the phone and he confirmed that he would pick them up. I looked at my phone at 2:40pm – they need to be picked up at 3:05pm and I thought, ‘Shall I call to remind him? Nah, of course he would remember.’ Clearly, I was in an optimistic mood that day. Come 3:12pm, I get a call from the after-school club. As it rang, I looked at my phone. No. Surely not. Yup, he forgot to pick up the kids from school. I called my husband and asked where he was. Let’s be honest, it was more of a shriek than a question with some expletives thrown in. Naturally, he was in a meeting and forgot.
Now, I truly believe that he failed to remember and, of course, did not do it intentionally, but the point here is that a mother does not forget. Women do not forget. We remember what needs to be done all the time. And yes, sometimes we do let a ball fall. We are both extraordinary and human. We are not robots. We are not meant to be perfect. Yes, we put that pressure on ourselves on top of carrying this invisible burden. Yet, we are so hard on ourselves. That is why I am such an advocate for women to be their own best friends. Just look at how much you did today! Look at all the things you have achieved, so if the ball falls, that’s fine. Do not give yourself a hard time. Going into why it is that women have the pleasure of carrying the emotional burden is a whole other article – or even a whole other book – but for now, the point I am trying to make is how extraordinary us women are.
We are magnificent. Never tell yourself otherwise.
Noona Nafousi is a leading life coach based in Dubai, offering workshops to both corporations and individuals as well as conducting one-on-one coaching sessions.
Postpartum depression is not discussed enough and is way more common than statistics reflect. But what is postpartum depression? It is the terminology used for an episode of depression experienced by parents following the birth of a child. Postnatal depression, although often used in the same context, is in reference to feelings of depression associated with the baby.
Postpartum psychosis should be considered if symptoms present include hallucinations, paranoia, hyperactivity, or if the mother seems delusional. Medical intervention, hospitalisation, and administration of appropriate medication for the safety and well-being of the mother and baby are required in these circumstances. It’s estimated that this affects one in every 1,000 birth mothers.
Postpartum depression is not a reflection of you as a parent and can be navigated with the right information and support. Keep in mind that this isn’t just something that affects mums – even fathers can be affected. Let’s delve into the emotional and physical changes that impact birth mothers following the birth of a child to understand more.
Day 1 to 3 = The Baby Pinks
Elevated hormones during pregnancy drop after birth and may result in tearfulness, feeling overwhelmed, irritability, and sensitivity. The baby pinks can also present on the other end of the spectrum as feeling euphoric, overly thrilled, and having difficulty sleeping due to not wanting to miss any time with the baby.
Day 3 to 90 = The Baby Blues
Tearfulness, anxiety, fear, insomnia, and feeling emotional are experienced at this stage. It affects at least 60% of birth mothers.
Day 90 to the First Two Years = Postpartum/Postnatal Depression
Anxiety, lack of joy, loss of interest in social activities, lack of interest in sex, difficulty in concentrating, changes in appetite, and feelings of disassociation characterise this stage. Please be aware that these are simply guidelines, and individual cases may vary in symptoms and timeframes. There are many factors that can contribute to parents experiencing postpartum depression, although the exact cause is still unknown. Some of them include:
Feeling that one’s own expectations of themselves as a parent are not being met
Loneliness and isolation
Less time for family and friends
Separation from work colleagues and social activities
My Journey with PPD
During the 18 months that I suffered from PPD when my son was born in 2017, I was extremely teary. I am a pretty emotional person normally, but this was on a different level! In the early days, I assumed the hormones were just wreaking havoc and it would all calm down. The fear of being judged or labelled as ‘not coping’ and my inner voice (which was lying!) telling me I was not being an amazing mum meant that many of those tears were cried behind closed doors.
When finally making the decision to talk to a counsellor over a Zoom call following a heart-to-heart with a friend, I repeatedly used the word ‘disconnected’. I described this sensation as “watching my life unfold in front of me, but not always feeling present”. My body language portrayed my feelings as I kept touching my head. When asked why I was doing this, I said, “Because it feels like my head is going to explode.”
The longer these feelings and thoughts plagued me, the more ‘shame’ I felt. After waiting so long to have our son (we tried for three years and I was 40 when I fell pregnant), here I was, wasting all of this time feeling sorry for myself. This train of thought did not help one bit, of course, but contributed to the spiral of depression instead. I was confused as we had so badly wanted to have our baby and the research I often came across referred to symptoms such as “difficulty emotionally connecting with the baby”. This could not be further from the truth!
If anything, I felt such overwhelming love and connection with my son that it made me question my own abilities and confidence in being the best mother I could be. I now understand that rather than not connecting with my baby, it was in fact some much-needed connection with myself that was required. Like so many other people who have experienced this, I did not fully acknowledge the issues I was facing. It was not a consistent feeling and, therefore, I believed that it was all getting better – until that dark cloud would descend upon me again.
Circumstances played a hand, too. Living overseas saw us begin this new chapter without the proximity of our families and, whilst supported through video calls and messages, it was not the same as the physical connection and ease of simply ‘popping in for a coffee and a chat’. The Zoom call with the counsellor was the catalyst I needed to begin the journey to showing up as the mum I knew I really was.
Around the same time, a friend of mine who was a life coach was hosting a retreat close to our home, and I decided that it may be beneficial for me to attend. Little did I know that it would change the trajectory of not only my personal life but also my professional life. Having that space, tools, and learning new things would lead me to a pivotal moment whilst sitting by the water with my son a few days later. I remembered to breathe!
It was at that moment I decided to study as a coach and provide much-needed support for other families. A trip to the doctor saw me begin to take antidepressants to ‘springboard’ me to a place of being able to get back on my feet. I hold no judgment over taking medication. However, I strongly believe that the answers do not lie solely within that pill. Creating a toolkit of habits, behaviours, and awareness of your own needs should go hand in hand with a prescription.
The last three years have seen me furthering my education and training in Life Coaching and Post Natal Depression Awareness, creating an online programme called Stepping Into Parenthood. Most importantly, I’ve implemented all I have learned to create a support system for my own mental health, where I no longer need medication and have the ability to navigate the down days.
Normalising Talking About PPD
It is now my mission to share my learnings, raise awareness, normalise talking about the challenges of being a parent, and provide a safe space for anyone who needs it to talk. Giving oxygen to the thoughts and emotions that occur after bringing a child into the world, to me, is one of the best ways to provide self-care.
It can be difficult to be truly honest with family and friends as their intentions to help with advice and opinions can add to the overwhelming feeling. That’s why having a coach, therapist, or counsellor is one of the best investments you can make for yourself. Yet, it’s unfortunate that this can still carry a stigma or feeling of embarrassment. Look at it this way.
When learning to drive, we all have a driving instructor to help us understand the workings of the car and the rules of the road. We then have to pass a test before being allowed to drive. Nothing like this is required to become a parent. When starting a job, there is usually a training period to learn how to do the job and what’s expected of you. Again, nothing like this is required to become a parent.
When playing sports, there is usually a coach to teach you best practices and support you as you learn. At one time in the UK, you were required to have a license if you wanted to own a TV! Of course, nothing like this is required to become a parent. What I am saying is that we need to normalise preparing to become a parent – both physically and mentally. The fundamental contributors to this chapter in your life are:
Being aware of your own human needs and how you can meet them.
Welcoming evolvement rather than the often discussed need to ‘spring back’, whether it is to pre-baby weight, career, or lifestyle. Of course, these make up your identity and it is important to have goals, but remember to be a little kinder to yourself. Allow some flexibility and reduce inner conflict by embracing this new version of yourself.
Personal development will help you to identify any inner work that needs to be addressed as well as strengthen your relationship with yourself – which, of course, will impact your relationships with your loved ones.
I now realise that my obsessive need to clean the house was to meet my driving human need for certainty. I am someone who is routine-orientated, systematic and does not do so well feeling out of control. Another massive contributor for me was that I was not meeting my own human need for growth. I naturally immersed myself in all things baby, and therefore stopped reading, listening, or watching anything that challenged or elated my own brain. When I began studying, it was like a big switch being turned on! Self-care makes you the best parent you can be for your child.
Can Casual Relationships Be Good for Mental Health?
A casual relationship can be applauded, cherished, criticised, envied, or considered taboo depending on the situation, social group, and public perception. Some people may carefully consider its advantages and disadvantages, while others take the idea of a casual relationship – well, more casually. For some, the humiliation connected with physical intimacy runs deep, while others dismiss it and enjoy the pleasure.
Though many people have strong feelings about whether it’s a good idea or not, these feelings tend to vary when life circumstances – and relationship statuses – change. Whether you prefer to go with the flow or delve into the details, it’s helpful to examine the cultural context and potential mental health impacts (both positive and negative) of a casual relationship when choosing whether it’s right for you.
Casual relationships are now more accessible than ever. There’s no shortage of people looking for a physical relationship, with the option of meeting potential partners both in-person and through various dating sites and apps. But that doesn’t mean these relationships are not without critique.
The Risks and Benefits
The pros and cons of a casual relationship are entirely dependent on the circumstance. People lament the prevalence of hook-ups – particularly the lack of commitment and emotional connection and the mental toll it takes. At the same time, however, it can have many advantages like sexual satisfaction, attractiveness, maybe even finding a future partner, and so on.
The disadvantages, which include emotional pain from desiring more or regretting it, are often attributable to your expectations and history of relationships. It would help if you evaluated whether you can embrace or reject any shame, negative sentiments, or trauma that you may have encountered.
It should be kept in mind that a casual relationship offers considerable health risks if you do not follow safe sex practices (including the possibility of STIs and pregnancy), thereby requiring caution and awareness. Individuals interested in a casual relationship should consider their wants and seek medical advice about safe sex practices. On the other hand, the emotional implications can be devastating, primarily if a casual relationship is used to bury or escape your feelings or hurt someone else’s.
Thus, it’s crucial to consider how likely you are to enjoy yourself as some societies are more accepting of or enthusiastic about casual sex, while others consider it taboo. There can also be a strong stigma attached to sexual agency and expression. But what if consenting hook-ups aren’t necessarily bad? What if you are told that a casual physical relationship can benefit your mental health? What if you didn’t have to let casual physical relationships ruin your mental health?
From experience, we know that many people enter these partnerships expecting to have fun. However, they may become disappointed, connected, deflated, and disturbed. Others may be pleasantly delighted by the experience and their capacity to enjoy a physical connection. Casual relationships therefore have the potential of a beneficial influence on most people’s mental well-being. What’s the key? The correct preparation and a respectful and compatible partner.
If your intentions for physical intimacy are to get even with a former partner or satisfy someone else, this could negatively influence your mental health. However, if your motivation is for pleasure or to explore yourself, you may be less likely to experience negative feelings afterwards. Exploring oneself may have beneficial effects on your mental health because physical contact releases ‘feel good’ hormones. Hence, if the deed is done with positive intentions, you will feel pleasure and self-satisfaction without any negative thoughts lingering in your mind.
Why Your Body Type Shouldn’t Dictate Your Self-Esteem
Loving yourself has no boundaries.
The body positivity movement has grown in popularity on social media over the last few years, aiming to increase self-esteem and promote general body acceptance. It encourages love and acceptance of the body to enhance body image. This differs from the body neutrality movement, which emphasises the body’s function over its outward appearance.
Body Image and Self-Destruction
Body image refers to how you see your body in your mind – not merely in mirrors or pictures. Body image is the sum of a person’s ideas and feelings about their physical appearance, including how it feels to move in their body, how they perceive their body form, and how they think about how they look. These beliefs regarding physical appearance are frequently linked to one’s sense of self-worth and capacity for self-love.
Sometimes, having a negative body image can ruin your self-esteem, thereby negatively impacting your general health. Media portrayals of unrealistically thin bodies as being beautiful feed our imaginations. Additionally, it gives individuals an erroneous impression because these are the body types praised by the media and deemed attractive.
We develop a mental image of ourselves as being petite, and we want that body type in order to be desirable and meet beauty standards. However, doing so could be harmful to oneself. People who follow strict diets to achieve this unrealistic body shape lose vital nutrients from their bodies. In the long run, this may lead to significant health conditions.
Body Image and Mental Health
Negative thoughts about your physical appearance don’t necessarily convert into negative thoughts about your overall self right away – but they can do so relatively quickly. Mental and emotional well-being can suffer as a result of this negativity. Low self-esteem – which can result in problematic habits like obsessive exercising, excessive dieting, or social withdrawal – is frequently a result of having a poor body image.
Low self-esteem can create anxiety and loneliness, raise your risk of depression, interfere with your relationships, and negatively affect your performance at work or school. A study of 563 women found that 40% of those with severe depressive illness or any anxiety condition had at least one incident of disordered eating, compared to 11% of those with no history of depression or anxiety.
8 Ways to Achieve a Healthier Body Image
Here are a few habits you can develop for a better lifestyle:
Instead of trying to control your body shape, eat and move in a way that makes your brain and body happy.
Be in the company of supportive friends and relatives. Unfollow anyone on social media that shames others for their bodies and favours one body type over another.
Consider your feelings and the source of your emotions when you have negative thoughts about your appearance. Do you feel tense? Anxious? What’s happening?
Take care of yourself and constantly remind yourself that you deserve kindness and love.
Dress in comfortable clothing that fits the way you want it to.
Consult with friends and family for help.
Never evaluate yourself against others.
Recognise when you think negatively about someone else’s body and change it to good thoughts.
The Benefits of Body Positivity
Let’s face it, we have all assessed a particular part of our body at some point in our life as not being good enough when we looked in the mirror. However, you risk developing a distorted body image if you start dwelling on your apparent imperfections. Your mental health might be harmed by a desire to be thinner, shorter, or taller. And that’s why body positivity is important.
1. It strengthens mental health.
Your mental health is impacted by how you feel about your physical appearance, which influences your self-esteem. The difficulty with negative thinking is that once you begin to contemplate one aspect of your life, it becomes much simpler to do so for other factors.
The next time you think negatively about your physique, take a moment to assess your emotional and mental state. Are you currently feeling stressed or overwhelmed? If so, what aspect of your life – and why – is making me feel this way? Work on the answers to these questions to build up your mental health.
2. It puts social media beauty standards to the test.
Viewing a barrage of flawlessly sculpted male and female bodies when scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter has become the norm. These idealised yet unrealistic representations now define the ideal body. Be cautious when seeing such photos online.
Social media content is not always accurate. In truth, many images are edited and tweaked to make subjects appear younger and leaner. To transform their bodies in the hopes of being accepted, many men and women end up paying for body modification surgery. Understanding this and accepting yourself for who you are is a brave disavowal of social media standards.
3. It encourages self-love.
We live in a world that is fixated on the body and thrives on unrealistic ideas of what the ideal body should look like. Unsurprisingly, many people are led to believe that they should be embarrassed by their bodies. They embark on a lifelong quest to ‘repair’ themselves rather than learn to appreciate and accept themselves as they are. Accepting one’s body is a bold act of self-love. It extends past what the outside can see. Never believe that you need to alter a part of who you are to fit in.
Overthinking, also known as rumination, is when you repeatedly concentrate on the same thought or scenario to the point where it interferes with your everyday life. Overthinking is widespread and affects many of us. According to Forbes, 73% of people aged 25 to 35, as well as 52 percent of people aged 45 to 55, are regular overthinkers.
There are two types of overthinking: dwelling on the past and fretting about the future. If we overthink everything in our life, it becomes a habit or self-soothing behaviour that we adopt in situations where a solution is required. Overthinking can even make things worse. You may feel ‘stuck’ or unable to take any action if you’re battling with your own thoughts. It can be hard to focus on anything else or remove certain thoughts from your mind. You may feel as if you’re trapped in a maze of thoughts, each one leading to the next – thus creating a chain of unpleasant thoughts.
It’s critical to recognise when you’re overthinking so that you can use the correct tools and techniques to combat negative thoughts and prevent an unhealthy pattern from forming. Interestingly, though, if used the right way, overthinking can help us manifest our biggest dreams. The way it’s normalised today, however, isn’t the best approach.
While not always the case, overthinking has been connected to sadness. That being said, not all overthinking is unhealthy. In the short term, having many thoughts about an issue can actually motivate you to eliminate negatives and become prepared to overcome hurdles. When you’re apprehensive about a big work presentation, for example, the stress can motivate you to put your best foot forward. You may put in a lot of effort on the project and leave home a little early on the day of the presentation to make sure you arrive on time.
However, overthinking becomes unhealthy when it keeps you from taking action or interferes with your daily life and well-being. Stress can also make it more difficult for you to focus and remember things, making work, housekeeping, and other daily duties more challenging. These duties will take longer if you are stressed, which might lead to even more stress.
Overthinking and Poor Sleep
Why do we stay up thinking all night? Overthinking at night happens primarily as the brain processes what occurred during the day at night. This happens as we don’t have the space to digest our ideas throughout the day because our days are now filled with several things that involve taking in large amounts of information.
In many cases, we spend hours overthinking at night about a situation we faced in the past or worrying about the future. It keeps us awake and disrupts our sleep cycle in the process. Thus, by interfering with our natural sleep cycle, overthinking can have a negative impact on our overall health and well-being, too.
Figuring Out the Cause of Overthinking
Many people believe that overthinking is a struggle, but most of the time, it’s not actually a struggle – rather one of the symptoms of a struggle that we are unwilling to address. It’s the fear of not resolving a problem that causes us to overthink things.
This usually stems from not being used to resolving issues and lacking the courage to do it. We use overthinking as a coping mechanism to avoid dealing with the situation at hand and, as a result, when it comes to resolving the conflict, we tend to overthink it.
Is It a Disease or a Symptom?
Overthinking can cause troubled mental health and, as such, must be treated right away to minimise its effects on our lives and physical health. It’s a warning sign that something’s awry, a signal that the underlying issue is lurking underneath the surface.
It can also be a symptom that can indicate depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental struggles. The best approach to combat it is to seek therapy and professional help, and acquire the necessary tools and techniques because if left untreated, it will begin to cause far more problems than anticipated.
Three Ways to Avoid Overthinking
1. Keep track of patterns and triggers.
A little mindfulness and focus can help you get a handle on your overthinking. Keep a journal and jot down particular instances where you found yourself overthinking or worrying. After some practice, you’ll start to see patterns and anticipate overthinking triggers. This will assist you in developing a coping strategy for when you know you may overthink.
2. Seek professional assistance.
When you overthink all the time to such an extent that it interferes with your everyday activities, you should seek expert help. As this usually indicates a mental struggle, professional assistance is required in order to be treated.
3. Make your thinking more challenging.
You don’t have to believe everything your mind tells you – even if it feels that way. Overthinking can be stifled by challenging fears and ruminations, and viewing them objectively. Evaluate if a thought is rational, reasonable, or useful. There are moments when I, too, begin to overthink and the negative thoughts begin to creep in. As humans, our default response is to be aware of the negative so as to protect ourselves from it. Being mindful of the fact that we have spotted it and can now work on it, rather than allowing it to take over our minds is the key.
Considering May is Mental Health Awareness Month, the topic of stress – and how to tackle it – feels more timely than ever. But what if conventional solutions aren’t cutting it? After all, yoga isn’t for everyone, some people aren’t comfortable with the idea of therapy, and talking a long walk in scorching temperatures is hardly appealing. Enter: seven unique ways to destress in Dubai, one for each day of the week.
Artistic talent is not a prerequisite to give art psychotherapy a try – it’s the process of making the artwork, not the end result, that matters. And because therapy of this sort is carried out by a qualified art psychotherapist, it’s used for both diagnostic and treatment purposes. Not only does art psychotherapy alleviate stress and foster self-awareness, but it also addresses issues that verbal psychotherapy cannot reach.
Like art psychotherapy, drum therapy entails no verbal communication, yet promotes healing and self-expression – especially when done in a drumming circle. This is because rhythmic activities readjust one’s focus and boost self-esteem, thereby calming the anxious mind. In fact, techniques of this sort have been employed for thousands of years to promote healing, especially as it’s safe and suited to all ages.
Don’t underestimate the stress-busting benefits of aquatic R&R, especially when it comes to floating in a highly concentrated solution of epsom salt (magnesium sulphate) in a private cabin or pod, with the water temperature set between 35.5°C and 35.8°C. As for why it works? Magnesium has been proven to reduce stress hormone – formally known as cortisol – levels, making sensory deprivation of this sort practically foolproof.
Hypnosis is one of the least understood techniques when it comes to stress management, but don’t let that deter you from keeping an open mind towards this ancient practice. And if you’re not quite ready to give self-hypnosis a try, guided hypnosis comes highly recommended as a trained expert will walk you through a powerful visualisation exercise in order to both let go of stress and regain control.
Do you really need a reason for this one? Well, it’s cheaper than therapy, for starters. It’s also designed to help participants release pent-up rage by smashing everything in sight – vases, plates, old printers, and old-school TVs included – in a judgment-free space. Perhaps that explains why 60% of the customers at The Smash Room are women? And while experts continue to study this area for more conclusive evidence, several psychologists say the act of smashing releases endorphins (a.k.a. happy hormones), even steering their clients in this direction.
Crunchy, new age-y techniques are admittedly not for everyone, but the ancient practice of sound healing certainly deserves a spot on this list. It brings together percussive instruments like gongs, triangles, tuning forks, and Tibetan singing bowls to help enter a theta state of very deep relaxation, thereby silencing the human mind through vibrations – a must-try if the stress is more chronic in nature.
Combining water and shiatsu results in – you guessed it – watsu, a practice that has long been used in South America. Taking place in a pool generally set at a temperature of 31ºC, a therapist will gently cradle, rock, and stretch you in a series of rotational movements, all of which lead to fuller breathing and muscle relaxation. Translation: lower stress levels, less anxiety, and sleeping more soundly than you have in ages.
What is victim mentality? The word ‘victim’ is thrown about a lot these days, but most people aren’t aware of how and when it should be used, and do not understand the impact it creates in our lives. Here, we’re going to delve into who a victim is to reduce all this confusion.
A victim, in this context, is a person who is at the receiving end of a bad incident or emotion when it comes to mental health. Not everyone is a victim till they allow themselves to be. You would have likely seen people give advice to take responsibility for our actions, no matter what the situation is. But most of us don’t know how to do it and what impact it can have.
How is this related to victim mentality? Consider this. Have you noticed that your life is circling the same path over and over again? Why is someone else always around you to trigger certain emotions – be it happiness or sadness? Why can’t you have a peaceful mind? Why is happiness always a short-term thing for you? If you have been thinking in this direction, congratulations! You are now one step closer to identifying the victim mentality in you and finding an answer to the problems that have been with you all your life.
How can victim mentality take over your entire life?
Let’s start with an example of victim mentality and how it turns into a cycle. If a friend hurts you and you are upset about it, you are now feeling sad because of someone else’s actions. This can cause you to feel like you were the victim of that incident. With the rise of this feeling, you are now giving your power to someone else. It’s like allowing them to be a trigger in your life. You give the other person the power to control your life.
Being a trigger, they can control your unconscious mind and make you think, do, or act as they like. By giving the conscious mind and thinking power away, you are entering a very scary path where this process repeat and become a pattern. It means that you’ll come across similar people who will trigger you and make you sad because that’s all that you know and are familiar with.
This is where you need to take responsibility for your actions. You have to tell yourself that you cannot react to another person and you must maintain control of your conscious mind. Now that we have decoded victim mentality, the same thinking can be applied to happiness, too. If you start relying on others for your happiness or the outside environment to make you happy, you are letting yourself be dependent on it – and not learning to be truly happy.
Whether it’s creating a cycle of sadness or depending externally for happiness, these habits can make life very difficult, very quickly. You cannot find long-term happiness or peace within yourself with such an approach as you’re letting yourself be a mere puppet. So what’s the solution? Believe that just as outside factors can control you, you can control the outside world, too.
If you can let your inner self control you – including your sadness, happiness, and all other emotions – then you will feel that the people around you cannot actually control your mood, especially with such intensity. You might still be sad or happy because of others, but they are no longer in control, and you know how to make yourself feel better.
How can you make yourself feel in control?
Changing your attitude is not going to happen overnight. You’ll have to undertake a lot of learning, unlearning, decoding, and adopting new habits while dropping older ones. All of this effort will help you in personal development and identifying a path that you can follow. Once these things align in your life, they become what many call coincidences and opportunities – though in reality, they are simply the results of your effort.
You have to realise that you are the power centre in this change. If you give your power away as a result of victim mentality, you’ll lose everything. In comparison, if you learn to control it, you can manipulate how you feel, what happens in your life, and how things align in your life – all of it will be in your control. The condition to gaining this power is to let go of victim mentality.
Therapy is one way to approach this as it helps you analyse your behaviour and thinking patterns and gives you the tools and techniques to change and decode them. You have to fight the situation. Let the conscious mind take control and utilise its creative and logical parts to make you believe that you deserve a really happy life – and before you know it, you’ll create it.