Grounding, Happiness, health coaching, Mental health, Personal Development, Physical Wellness, Sleep, Spirituality

What I’ve Learnt from Five Years of Meditating – Moms who Meditate

What i have learnt from five years of practicing meditation2

My husband and I are always game for a challenge, and last month when my car was stolen, we saw it as a fun opportunity to try and get by with one car for a month. We enjoy challenges like this.  It definitely has been interesting and challenged us in many ways, most notably logistically.  You become an expert at logistics when you have 5 people going in 5 directions and one car between all of you, and you’re trying to get back into work after a year’s mat leave and you’re both kind of spontaneous people.   But I digress.  That’s another blog post entirely.

The reason I mentioned this though, is because it provides a bit of background for why I have had so much time for meditation lately:  I’ve been taking an hour-long train ride to work and am back on the meditation train (pun intended.)

Each time I get on the train, I excitedly open my favourite app, Insight.  I first downloaded the Insight meditation app last year and it was the third app I tried after Headspace, which I still love and use for my kids, and Calm, which I didn’t love.  Calm just didn’t catch on for me.

I enjoy the fun of hunting for and saving new meditations with different voices, approaches, topics and lengths.  Insight is like the facebook of meditation where you can follow people, and do meditations based on how much time you have, topics or even styles. You can follow people, or save individual meditations. I have a stash of meditations saved in my bookmark folder, and I choose them based on what I need.

Lately I’ve needed to ground myself and simply feel peaceful amidst a ton of chaos in external life.  In July I returned to work after a year on mat leave, had my car stolen, been diagnosed with a disease and had a major surgery.  So, it’s not surprising I’ve felt the need to pause.   What marked a major change for me in July, after years of meditating, is my first thought when I considered what I needed was – yes – meditation.  This is a shift.

I have moved from I should do meditation (and then remember here and there) to I am craving meditation (and make it a daily practice) 

(please note this is not a sponsored post, I genuinely love this app and it’s part of my daily habits, which makes it worthy of a mention, in this mama’s pursuit of an elevated life.)

I’ve been practicing (and exploring) meditation on and off since 2013 when I had my first baby and attended a mama meditation workshop.  From there, I was hooked, though I should have known it would be my jam way back in my hot yoga days, when I LIVED for savasana and spent the hour looking forward to that divine rest at the end 😉

As I shift into a daily practice that is now a habit that I crave, there’s a few things I’ve realized.  So I bring to you, the things I have learnt from five years of practicing meditation.

-You have to find the style.  I am picky about voices.  I hate bells and “unexpected sounds” in meditation.  I like deeper voices.   In the early stages, find what seems to resonate with you and soothe you.  We all resonate with different energies and that includes the energy that a voice projects, or the sound waves in a meditation recording.

-There are many styles of meditation:  Music or sound-based (like crystal bowls) walking meditation, nature meditation, guided meditation, mantra meditation, breathing meditation, even swimming meditation. As you go down the meditation road, you have no choice but to try them all on for size, find out what you like and don’t like and take note of the ones that seem to get you into a pretty deep state.  I discovered 2 years into the process, that I loved guided meditations.  These seem to be my jam.  I loved savasana back in my hot yoga days but found the silence too long for my untrained brain.  I still find long silences hard.

-It does get easier to get into a deep meditative brain state with practice, but you have to use it or lose it.  If I have meditated consistently (daily) for a good week, I’ll get into a deeper state faster.  If I haven’t done it in a while, it will actually take 2 or 3 separate meditation sessions to ‘get back’ to that zoned out state.

-Meditation opens up your intuition and creative brain.  In times of regular meditative practice I find myself much more creative, full of good ideas and able to think outside of the box.  There’s extensive neuroscience that supports this theory.  If you want a super interesting googling session, type “meditation “flow state” “creativity” “intuition” in that little google box and prepare to be fascinated (and probably up reading until 1am.)

-It is very  (we are talking profoundly) true that meditation enhances your ability to take a gentle approach to all of the events in your life, and it cultivates a kinder, gentler, quieter version of self-talk.  Meditation cultivates your ability to pause, take a step back, notice what is happening and be able to practice peace and non-attachment.  You find that you begin to treat yourself kindly and gently, as you do the events around you.

Meditation cultivates your outside observer, or spiritual side.  The eternal part of your soul that is watching the human experience unfolding before you (that is your life as you know it) with a knowing smile.  This is one of the main reasons I am so thankful that I discovered meditation.  It has been an amazing tool in tough times.  It has been a key in mental resilience and my eternal positivity.  It has let me handle some wild rides in this adventure called life.  I’ve used it a lot in the last little few years, particularly the most profound moments.

I did one in 2016, before saying goodbye to my father in law who was on life support in the ICU.   It helped me say goodbye with peace and love, without attaching myself to the human drama going on around me that was not of my own.  I was able to think and act with clarity and honour my emotions in the days following, without attaching to them or judging them.

I also went into meditation the night my mum passed away in hospice in 2013.  In that state, I was able to feel the moment her soul departed and sat up, waiting for the nurse to enter to let us know.   I’ll always see that as a special gift and one of the profound moments that led me deeper into exploring meditation and the spiritual side of things.    If you engage with the meditation journey, and stick with it, you will have a few profound moments.  These will be the proof that your mind wants. These will also be the truth that your soul has always known (that your brain may have ignored for a while.)

-Meditation has been the best tool for helping me ‘reset’ when I shift into a different environment or role. Meditating on the train this past week has helped me leave my work behind, re-ground, become peaceful and set a blank slate for the next part of my day:  Returning home a present and mindful parent for the kids (and not preparing dinner in a panicky get-it-down rush.) I do some of these exercises with coaching clients, particularly if they walk into the room with their energy and emotions from earlier events in the day.  Together we clear the space, the energy and their minds before engaging in coaching.

-Meditation before bed has helped with my nightmares.  I’ve always had an extremely creative imagination which makes for some absolutely wild nighttime dreams, many of which have been quite scary.  I go through phases of nightmares, especially when I feel my mental health backsliding a bit or my healthy lifestyle habits slipping.  Meditation seems to help before bed and prevent the wild and wacky nightmares.  I can’t explain why, but once again, I’m sure a bunch of googling and scientific research will reveal that!

If you’ve been fascinated by it, honestly give it a go.  You can’ t just lie on the floor and meditate with kids running around, so some tips from this mama to other mamas:

Sneak it in when you are putting your kids down, try the headspace app or a children’s meditation but go along with it as well as you lie by your kids.  you’re doing a great thing for them too!

Get over worrying about other people. If you do it at work, you’ll be somewhere with your eyes closed, and someone will look at you while you have your eyes closed.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s increasingly commonplace.   Remember that 15 minute break you never take?  Yes…  you know where I am going with that.

Take 10 minutes in on your commute before you “enter” the next stage of your day.  Or, even the next role in your day, ie: from employee, to mom.  From mom, to wife.  From awake, to asleep. It’s a really nice way to transition.  Meditation doesn’t just “clean the slate” of your mind and thinking patterns, it truly does reset your body, your posture and the energy you bring to your next interaction.

The next time you can’t sleep or have a toss and turn night, take 10 minutes and do one, I strongly recommend “bone deep sleep” (link below.)

To get you started, here are a few of my favourite guided meditations on the Insight app, as well as a link to the Mindful Kids youtube channel which has the most AMAZING relaxing music for the kids. We have two favourite videos from this channel which I’ve screen shotted for you (click on the picture and it will take you there.)

 

Insight App – My Current Favourites:

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Jennifer Piercy’s Bone Deep Sleep – A short Yoga Nidra Meditation for sleep

Youtube: My Current Music Favourites / Kids Favourites

This one in the evening or quiet time, the imagery is lovely to play on our tv in the background.

Mindful Kids Meditation Music Channel

 

This one for bed time (it relaxes all of us, not just the kids!)

Mindful Kids Youtube Channel
The Mindful Kids Youtube Channel – meditative bedtime music. Relaxation music for toddlers and young children. Meditation music.
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Grounding, Happiness, Lifestyle, Personal Development, Sleep, Spirituality

How to Have a Great Maternity Leave: Try Yoga Nidra (or meditation)

This past weekend, I drove back from the mountains, across snow-blown highways, to arrive in Calgary at 9am.  Why?  Because I had a unique opportunity.

For the last few years, I have dabbled in taking meditation workshops of all shapes, sizes and lengths.

I have also experimented with a few meditation apps (I’ll talk about these later in the post.)  I love that there is plenty of science and fascinating research to back up the benefits of meditation, but I also love the spiritual side.  It appeals to both sides of me…the academic, but also the student of metaphysics.

I first discovered meditation when I started going to Yoga in my 20s as an employee at Lululemon.  It was there that I realized that I was really just there for the savasana (the delicious part at the end of a yoga class when you get to just lie on your back with your eyes closed and chill.)

Once I learnt that savasana at the end of yoga classes,  was basically “meditation,” I sought out opportunities to take workshops. I LOVED the feeling of being so relaxed and could feel the benefits last for days afterward.

I attended a few meditation workshops run by Jane Sponiar for new mothers held at the Holistic Institute of Health and Fertility, where I was taking Mum and Baby Yoga.   I enjoyed these workshops, because she introduced us to different types of meditations in totally normal english language, without too much of the new age lingo.

There were visual meditations, guided meditations, walking meditations and traditional seated meditations.

It is important to try different styles of meditation because just as with workouts, there are different ‘flavours’ of meditation that appeal to different people.  Some people can sit and go straight into silent meditation and quiet the mind (I can do this when my life is fairly well balanced, but I struggle with it when I get too busy, or my back is particularly bad.)

My *very* visual and creative monkey brain loves a good guided meditation, where the teacher gives us visual images to focus on.  It gets things somewhat under control and relaxes me, and then I find it easier to enter the silence and reduced brain activity that accompanies a meditation.

Visual meditation techniques have been so helpful, in fact, that I wound up using visual meditations during my next two labours.  I’d visualize myself on a surfboard, paddling up and over a large wave just before it crests. Just like this image below. It timed perfectly with each contraction, which lasted about 30 seconds.

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Though it didn’t eliminate the pain of each contraction, meditation passed the time by quickly and kept me calm.  I also had a few tracks that I played that helped me stay in a super relaxed place in the early stages of labour.  These were:

https://soundcloud.com/paddo-cosmo/healing-earth-edit-healing?in=caricar/sets/sleep 

and this one:

 

So back to my story, why did I drive to Calgary at 6am?

I had the opportunity to attend a Yoga Nidra Immersion workshop put on by the otherworldly Tanis Fishman, founder of the School of Sankalpa.

As with all things meant to be, the dots connected when I walked into the room at Yoga Passage and thought ‘huh, she looks so familiar!’.

I realized with a jolt, that out of all of the random yoga classes I had done over the past 8 years, the most meaningful ones were taught by this lady in front of me. The universe is crafty like that.  This is synchronicity at its finest.  Meaningful coincidences.

What was it about this workshop that appealed to me?

Yoga Nidra is a type of meditation that is also known as “yogic sleep.”  By guiding participants (most often through a body scan and visual meditation process) the brain enters a different state of consciousness.  It is a strange place that sits in the gossamer folds between wakefulness and sleep.  It is a place of profound, and deep relaxation.  You definitely don’t get there and stay there for the full Yoga Nidra (in our case these were 45 minute sessions x 4.) . You sort of flow in and out of consciousness and sleep, but you get a feel for the strange place in between as you transition in and out.

If you are familiar with metaphysical / new age stuff, lucid dreaming, or psychic channeling, it all happens in this stage. In the yoga interpretation, this stage is when we access our deepest subconscious and where our soul resides. For those of you scientifically inclined, I highly recommend reading this article on brain states that Tanis has obviously well researched.  Her resources section on her site is incredible, by the way.  The website for the Headspace Meditation app also has an extensive science library, which you can peruse here. 

The nice thing about Yoga Nidra and Meditation is that it has so much research backing it, and it was really nice to see quite a few professors from the University there that I recognized!

Each month, there are more and more research articles expounding the physiological and neuropsychological processes (and benefits.) Meditation also benefits us outside of the actual act (see article: meditation and has extensive residual effects, ) 

As a regular practitioner of meditation, I can honestly say that meditation, in general, has helped me in some ways, in other ways not so much. So here’s my opinion of it:

It has helped me hugely in becoming a fairly grounded, easy going person. I still struggle with anxiety in my body, but my mind and emotions are lovely calm domains for me.   (My body is still something I am trying to figure out – why my body carries anxiety.) . I tend to look at my life as existing in three domains, mind, body and spirit/soul.

I find it very easy to become clear-headed and focused in emergency situations, and am much better able to regulate myself emotionally day-to-day, which has been super helpful for staying calm when my toddlers are in that lovely intense toddler mode (I have a fiery high energy Scorpio and an earthy, stubborn Taurus.) I use meditation with the kids now and it has really helped our quiet times.  They ask for their 5-minute Headspace meditation on the app *every* night.

I still struggle with sadness though, when I am fatigued. Meditation has not helped this. In my case, I think this comes down to some issues with neurotransmitters (serotonin.)   Taking an SSRI has really improved how I am doing overall, which combined with meditation has been a key to mental wellness for me!   Both address causes of anxiety and depression at the root level – thinking patterns and levels of neurotransmitters.

Note: If I could address the restlessness of my spirit which is trying to figure out its purpose here,  and physical pain of my body, I’d be absolutely solid.  

Meditation has also benefitted me by giving me an opportunity to downregulate my nervous system, which in post-partum wants to be jacked up and on high alert.  This is probably a totally normal postpartum leftover from paleolithic days.  That is straight up biology and the reptilian brain wanting to protect its offspring.  The problem is, it causes the most crushing anxiety and stress in those early newborn days!  Meditation has been a great way to be able to observe, and become aware of anxious thoughts, instead of unconsciously engaged with them.  Jane Sponiar once described it as standing alongside a busy road.  When the anxious thoughts about your or your baby appear, it’s like a car zooming past on the road.  Do you get into every single car and go along for the ride, or do you stay on the sidewalk and just watch the cars drive by?  Meditation gives you the ability to stay on the sidewalk, observe and acknowledge the thought, and then choose to engage with it or not. Anxious thoughts still happen, don’t get me wrong, but they don’t own you and you don’t physiologically or emotionally respond to them as often.  It becomes a choice rather than a habit.  

With my first born, if she made the slightest snuffle down the hall in her crib, my body would just panic and shoot adrenaline out everywhere like a firework show.  I struggled with sleep and had some anxiety about walking alongside hills and cliffs with the stroller (I still have this actually, it’s my random fear I have with my kids.)

With my third baby born this past summer (after a good 3 years of regular meditation under my belt)  I haven’t struggled with this at all. I can fall asleep anywhere, I don’t feel high strung and panicky, just sadness if I am experiencing discomfort.  I practice naps and meditation intentionally as ways to downregulate my nervous system.

There are other ways such as baths, exercise, etc. and these are all wonderful techniques too!  Personally, naps and meditation are my jam, because they give my brain a break and are deeply restorative. As for the new mama danger filter? I experienced the nervousness around a cliff in Kau’ai this past December and the panic set in.  It was a bad moment for me, but I at least saw it coming and engaged with it consciously, because I did genuinely feel like the danger level was out of my comfort zone. I just wish I didn’t get so emotionally distraught over it and become irrational yelly mc yellerson with my husband!  (note to self: more work needed in this area.)

Other benefits of meditation?  Lucid dreaming and channeling. I now get messages or images on the regular.  I just don’t know what the hell most of them mean so I Just write them down in a journal, and hope they’ll make sense one day!

This is why the Yoga Nidra immersion this past weekend was particularly profound for me. I got several visions both directed to myself and others in the room.  I’ll write about them in another post for those who are of the spiritual/new age persuasion.

One other thing I wanted to mention with Yoga Nidra and why it is so amazing for you is that it puts the brain into a different state where it produces different waves – alpha waves.

When else does our brain get to hang out in that lovely place between wakefulness and sleep?  There are few opportunities for the brain to have space and time to produce alpha waves (this is what it produces during yoga nidra or meditation.)

I totally recommend you google alpha brain waves.  It is fascinating, and again, backed up by lots of science and evidence so it’s not woo-woo stuff.  Alpha waves are associated with creativity, strokes of genius, ideas, and solutions.  Studies on athletes have shown that they have a big burst of alpha waves in moments of peak performance.  This is also a state in which the brain is highly suggestive, and messages go right down into the deeper subconscious – which is why when you do meditation or yoga nidra, you can layer in affirmative mantras or messages, and instructors often do.

At the Yoga Nidra immersion, we were given four opportunities to go into Yoga Nidra (each one lasting 45 minutes which let me tell you, felt more like TEN minutes) and we were asked to set an intention for ourselves that we want for this year.

This is called a “Sankalpa.”

My personal Sankalpa was “I continue to come closer to discovering how I am meant to serve people.”  This sounds a bit vague, but it means that I want to figure out my purpose here.

I am a bit of a multi-passionate, with diverse interests but I haven’t landed on what I feel I can really do to serve other people – and I think it drives my anxiety to some extent because I feel like I am not living up to my potential, truth be told.  Most days I feel scattered and distributed among many interests, and feel like my effectiveness is diluted. Even though I LOVE everything that I do, I become paralyzed by the abundance of things I enjoy doing and let me tell you, it has been impossible figuring out what my niches are as a professional coach because I enjoy every type of client! 

With the Sankalpa chosen, we were guided into deep relaxation and alpha brain state with visual imagery (imagining things) or body scanning (scanning through your body relaxing each part.)   We were asked to silently state our Sankalpa to kind of “plant” it in our brain – or plant it in the universe – whichever you prefer to believe 🙂  Super interesting stuff, no?

Another wonderful thing that we did during the full day immersion, is we bought a journal along.  After each Nidra, most of us got up, wiped the drool off our faces ( you really do float in and out of consciousness, many people slept, some snored!) and recorded any thoughts, impressions, images that we had.  My first 2 out of the 4 yoga nidras there was a whole bunch of channeling going on.  3rd and 4th were profoundly relaxing and honestly, truly the “yogic sleep” for me where my body just wanted to relax and chill.  And chill it did.  I don’t think I fully slept, but I came out of those feeling deeply restored.  They say that one Yoga Nidra session is equivalent to several hours sleep.

So what did I get through in the 1st and 2nd Yoga Nidras?  In the first Nidra, the most profound thing was that I smelt my favourite childhood flower, hyacinth *very* strongly in the room, and saw a purple one in my minds’ eye.

During the second Nidra. I was feeling quite sad and was thinking of loneliness and isolation.  Lately, I haven’t seen much of friends as we all become busy with toddlers, various nap times, organized activities/sports, and some entering preschool. I spend a lot of time wondering if, with kids starting preschool and kindergarten, that all of our friendship circles will shift again, or if it’s just a temporary thing?  It is ever so different from the lovely days of first mat leave when we’d all hang out with our beautiful new babies, exploring the city together and creating memories.

Despite our best efforts, it’s just impossible to get schedules to align.  I’ve thought lately that it is a lonely period of time for us mamas when we are in the under-5 age range with our kids.  I kind of got on this thinking track in the second nidra, then slowly began to float in and out of sleep.  It was then that my mum showed up in my mind’s eye (I didn’t see an image of her but just felt her presence and kind of like a telepathic message that appeared in my mind.)

I felt her appear to my side and she actually admonished me kind of firmly with “you are NEVER alone!” (interestingly she was never this firm in real life, so it was weird that she was like this on Saturday) and there was then a span of time when it very, very obviously felt like she was standing right beside me.  It was interesting, and reassuring, and definitely the most obvious way she has shown up since she passed.  It was a lovely gift.

Other things that happened: Tanis was seated beside me for one of the Nidras when it was led by a different instructor.  I started seeing pictures of geometric black and white patterns, much like those rustic rugs you see or in native American art.  I also saw a crows’ head. Funnily enough on Tanis’ website, she has lots of geometric figures. I haven’t googled geometric figures yet but that will come at some point, as I see them alot.  I am sure that will lead me down another google rabbit hole of learning, late at night 🙂

These are all interesting things, for sure,  but I am not yet developed enough to connect meaning to a lot of the things I see/smell/feel (such as the hyacinth flower, wtf does that mean?)  As a personal reflection, I think the first stage of development is that you are more aware and notice things, pick up on images, sensations or messages – but then truly developing your psychic skills, is a matter of actually being able to understand the meaning of them.  That’s where I’d like to go eventually.

But for now, it was simply cool and interesting and good entries for my journal.  It’s fascinating even as a scientific, totally rational observer, to see what your brain comes up with in its most relaxed state.  The journalling was fantastic as rarely are we able to jot meditation impressions down, before they fade into the mists of the brain.

The only way I can describe this fading away, it is that it is very similar to a great dream.  You wake up, luxuriating in the memories of that dream, but within 5 minutes, it fades away into the deep recesses of your consciousness and you forget all about it.  It is the same with the things that come to you during meditation.

So what is my plan going forward? To continue trying to journal a few impressions I get during meditation *if*I get any, and to continue to enjoy the luxurious “bubble bath for the brain” that is meditation.  I’ll also be trying to get back to some restorative or yin yoga during which there are lots of lovely opportunities for deep relaxation and yoga nidra.

If you are curious, there are many fantastic apps,

For the children we use the Headspace app and the 5 minute “sleep” meditation for the kiddos.

For myself, I have been absolutely loving the free app Insight Timer, which is like a facebook of meditations! In particular, there is a meditation called “bone deep sleep” which I have YET to make it through, because I’m always fast asleep half way through!

If you are curious about Tanis, do visit her extensive resources page on her website, and she also has a few free yoga nidra videos on her youtube channel here!    there are tons of Yoga Nidra videos on Youtube but they do honestly vary in quality, and there’s a lot of shitty ones on there, trust me, I’ve tried a lot 🙂 I’d mostly recommend her channel or the free Insight App and choose one that is highly rated by users.

I hope this has piqued your curiousity about Yoga Nidra and/or meditation, it may be the most wonderful thing you discover in this, your Great Maternity Leave.

 

xo.

Carina

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Club, Happiness, Life Hacks, Nutrition, Sleep

Bulletproof Coffee for Moms – How to Manage New Parent Sleep Deprivation and Brain Fog.

Bulletproof coffee has revolutionized mornings for this tired mama of three.  But what on earth is it? It sounds rather rugged and hardcore, doesn’t it?  Don’t be intimidated.

It is quite simply a way of preparing your coffee with a few extra products and a blender.  It has changed my morning game completely.  I am also finding it a wonderful tool as I follow weight watchers and shed the weight from my babies, particularly on days where I intermittently fast (12-16 hours between dinner and breakfast.)

Here on my third maternity leave in 4 years, I am well acquainted with the trenches of sleep deprivation and rough nights. I hear you mama!  Currently I have a 4, 2 and six month old in the house.

With each successive baby, the odds have become increasingly low that I will get a full night sleep, or even go into the restorative deep cycles of sleep, because my senses are on full alert for any sniffle the baby makes.

I’ve always loved coffee but after reading the books Bulletproof and Headstrong by Dave Asprey, a successful tech entrepreneur who then went on a years-long quest to optimize his energy, focus and cognitive ability (as well as lose weight and gain vitality.) He is the ultimate example of self-experimentation and because of this, his book is full of candid anecdotes, the latest research and little gems of information to optimize ones energy.

These are the books on Amazon where you can choose paperback (or) kindle.

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One of the biggest things I took from his books was upgrading my morning coffee, to a Bulletproof Coffee and I absolutely mean it, this has completely changed my morning game as a busy mama of little crazy ones.

Preparing my coffee as a bulletproof coffee solves the following problems:

  • Remove the caffeine jitters and anxiety that comes with (lots) of cups
  • Prolong the sweet, sweet feeling of energy and feeling alert / awake
  • Rebuild my connective tissue and heal my gut
  • Provide the ability to intermittent fast with maximum results
  • Removes the need to have breakfast (linked with the above bullet)
  • Maximize ketones in the blood for fat burning

It is no secret that coffee is a bit of a crutch in this temporary exhausting stage of life, but the best part is that, like wine, coffee is one of the great pleasures of life and zero fucks are given when you are in the midst of it with little ones.

We are really lucky in our household, that my husband micro-roasts organic coffee (if you are curious, his website is Five’21 Roasters) so we always have it on hand.

I first heard about Bulletproof coffee in the CrossFit community, but I didn’t have a clear understanding of it, and thought it was a passing trend 5 years ago – until relatively recently when I finally downloaded Headstrong to my Kindle.  I read the book after getting sick (and tired) after childbirth and was really getting frustrated with my post partum brain fog.

Following the protocols in the book has helped me a ton in the areas it promises to.

So anyways, read it, it’s a solid read.   Highly recommended.

So now, let’s get into Bulletproof coffees.

What is a bulletproof coffee?  There are two answers which is why it is confusing at first glance on the interwebs.

1.) It is a way of preparing your regular cup of coffee that releases the maximum benefits of coffee and adds a few “super powers” to it (see bullets above.)

2.) It is also the name of a brand, started by Dave Asprey, who wrote the book “Bulletproof” that espoused the benefits of a Bulletproof coffee.  I use these products and love them.

Personally, I prepare my coffee in the bulletproof way, but also use the bulletproof products.  

What goes into a Bulletproof coffee?
1.)  Coffee
2.) Grass-fed Butter OR Ghee OR if like me you prefer non-dairy, I use a chunk of Cocoa Butter – I like the Bulletproof one best.
*I put upgraded collagen protein in as well, but this is optional additional product.
Budget note:  It is expensive to buy all of these products (they last ages though) so if you have to get one thing, just get the brain octane oil and then grassfed butter from your local grocery store!
How do you make a Bulletproof Coffee?
Put it ALL into a blender. That’s it!  You’ll get a creamy, frothy, satisfying coffee.
We use a Vitamix, but any blender works great.  As a side note though, Vitamix next to my coffee machine and instapot is one of the best things we ever, ever spent money on.
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Where do you buy Bulletproof Products? 
Here in Calgary, I first found  (and bought) them at Community Natural Foods, and some cafes do them now, my favourite being the Bulletproof at Wild + Raw Superfood and Juice Bar in Kensington, but the best prices for these products is definitely on Amazon.
Here are the products on Amazon, if you happen to purchase them through these links, I earn a small commission that goes directly to this blog 🙂
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Brain Octane (MCT Oil)
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 Cacao Butter (non dairy)
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Upgraded Collagen
 + Any grassfed high quality butter from your grocery store.
 SUMMARY OF THIS POST:  
Your regular ‘ol cup of coffee does this:
  • Wakes you the f*ck up

Basically, a bulletproof coffee does this:

  • Wakes you the f*ck up
  • Helps fix the gut lining (butyrate in butter)
  • Maximize antioxidants (coffee is a rich source of polyphenols) 
  • Prolongs the caffeine alertness & prevents fatigue (Brain octane oil)
  • Helps energy & vitality ( Brain octane oil is a fantastic fuel for your brain & the mitochondria)
  • Helps feed the cells lining the gut and the cells that make up your connective tissues (collagen)
  • Staves off hunger (protein in the collagen and fat in the butter / cocoabutter / brain octane) 
  • May help fat loss (if used as part of an intermittent fasting protocol, the MCT oil in the bulletproof can help release more ketones into your blood, promoting fat burning as an energy source.)
 I borrowed an infographic from my husband’s coffee store that explains the benefits of bulletproof really well and breaks down what each ingredient does.

 

Happiness, Learning, Life Hacks, Lifestyle, Personal Development, Physical Wellness, Productivity, Sleep, The Projects

What I’ve Learnt from 200+ Hours of the Tim Ferriss and School of Greatness Podcasts

Podcasts can be a new mum’s best friend.

They are intellectual stimulation and a sense of connection and engagement in what can be a lonely and isolating time.  Today I share the podcasts that changed my life and daily practices for the better.

I discovered podcasts on my second maternity leave, and fell in love with the Tim Ferriss and School of Greatness podcasts.

The range of interviewees and topics discussed was food for my brain, which had recently departed the world of adulting and intellectual conversation, and had entered the rather lonely world of maternity leave.  Podcasts were my intellectual stimulation and each one left me scrambling to record ideas, inspiration, quotes and notes.

One of my fondest memories from mat leave was walking (and then training for a 10k) with these podcasts going in my earbuds. I can’t list off specific guests (guess I’ll blame the brain fog) but I can certainly tell you that each podcast left me completely jazzed up.  No matter the topic, I came away feeling engaged.

Despite not remembering the names of more than a handful of guests, I have absorbed a lot of information, and my daily practices have shifted.  Some were intentional and planned out, others I believe have occurred in a strange process of osmosis.  Here are the 15 ways in which podcasts have changed me.  These are all practices that I aspire to and have worked on in the past year or so.

The 15 game-changers that I learnt and applied from the School of Greatness and Tim Ferriss Podcasts:

The biggest reward of meditation is not immediate.

Meditation is a practice that is performed in the present moment, and connects you with exactly that.  However, its most rewarding application is not the practice itself.  It is the ability to apply the results of a regular practice to times of stress and chaos.

Meditation takes many forms.  If it hasn’t stuck with you, try out different styles.  Lie in the sun and visualize the rays penetrating through the skin’s layers.  Listen to a relaxing song without vocals.  Pull up a youtube video and listen to it with earphones on.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR57rug8NsM   Download the headspace or flowy app.

START AND END EACH DAY WITH AN INTENTIONAL RITUAL THAT CAPSTONES THE DAY.

Here is my daily greens juice, blasted in the vitamix blender then drained through a mesh sieve.  https://www.vitamix.com/Recipes/Ginger-Greens-Juice/C-Series/Variable-Speed/Classic-64-Ounce here is my go-to. Minus celery. I don’t like celery.

Other capstones I’ll employ in the morning:  Running.  A great cup of coffee.  Loud music in the car.   In the evening:  Foam rolling hip flexors (strangely relaxing) and licorice root or adaptogen teas.

 

FILTER YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA TO THAT WHICH ALIGNS WITH WHO YOU ARE, AND WHO YOU ASPIRE TO BE.

Filter out the noise that distracts you from your goals, and leaves you scrolling aimlessly, looking for something that catches your attention.

Spend a day reducing the accounts you follow to 30% of what you once did.  Pick only those that a.) are your family or friends b.) represent a life or mindset you are working toward.

STOP READING YOUR EMAIL FIRST THING IN THE MORNING.

Today, I slipped up.  I opened my email to a hate message from a troll type on kickstarter.  It was rude, insulting and discouraging.  That is how I started my day today.  No Bueno.

In the first hour of your day, you are rebooting your brain and setting your energy for the day.  Fill it with good things and good energy.

LEARNING IS A LIFELONG PURSUIT.

 

Be curious.  Google.  (But then look into proper research.)  All of the interviewees followed paths of curiosity, whether it made sense at the time or not.

YOU MUST ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO 1.) REFLECT UPON, 2.) ENJOY IN THE MOMENT, AND 3.) LOOK FORWARD TO IN THE FUTURE. SANDWICH YOUR DAY BETWEEN GREAT MEMORIES AND INSPIRING GOALS.

My mum was one of the happiest, most engaged human beings I had the pleasure of knowing.  Her biggest rule was always have something you are looking forward to.  Listening to these two podcasts, every.single.guest lights up while they are talking about a project.  You can hear it in their voice, even if you can’t see them.

TREAT SLEEP WITH THE SAME PRIORITY THAT YOU GIVE AN IMPORTANT BUSINESS MEETING IN YOUR CALENDAR, IF NOT MORE.

WHILE WE’RE ON THAT TOPIC, GO TO BED EARLY AND GET UP EARLY.

BE PICKY ABOUT WHO YOU SURROUND YOURSELF WITH. REALIZE IT IS A CHOICE.

Surround yourself with game changers, inspirations, teachers, mentors and happy people.  If you are part of their lives, their stories will become your stories, and vice versa.

FOR ACCESS TO CREATIVITY, ENTER THE STATE OF FLOW ONCE PER DAY.

The flow state lights up the brain and promotes creativity.

KEEP A JOURNAL FOR THOUGHTS WORTH SAVING, BUT ALSO TO PUT ASIDE UNHELPFUL THOUGHTS WHILE COMPLETING A TASK.

SOME OF YOUR BEST IDEAS WILL COME WHEN YOU ARE DRIVING OR IN THE SHOWER.

SHIFT YOUR MINDSET AROUND HEALTH; BECOME THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER OF YOUR HEALTH AND BODY.

Your Doctor is a consultant in your health.  They can offer great advice and services – but it is up to you to do the day to day work.  Treat yourself (within reason) as a science experiment.  Try out different things. Find the unique combination of health practices that work for you.

CREATE A DAILY GRATITUDE PRACTICE.  INSTAGRAM PICTURE AND HASHTAG, JOURNAL ENTRY, FACEBOOK STATUS UPDATE – THE FORMAT DOESN’T MATTER.  THE REFLECTION DOES.

READ THE BOOKS THESE PEOPLE RECOMMEND (YES, THEIR OWN TOO) AND KEEP LISTENING TO PODCASTS!

Great books I’ve read as a result of these podcasts:

The Power of Habit

The Upside of Stress

I Know how She Does It

Outliers

The Myth of Stress

Finding Ultra

Grounding, Happiness, Personal Development, Sleep, The Projects

The Great Maternity Leave Projects: Give up Social Media for 1 Month

 

Why read this article?  Because it will help you to stop comparing and worrying on your maternity leave (about what others are doing and what their opinions are) and help to clear your mind.  You will feel liberated reading about this project I completed.

Reading time:  4 minutes

Before starting on a food diet at 6 months post-partum, I decided that I would try out a “technology diet” and go offline for 1 month.  Why?  It was challenging for me, lol.

I am drawn to little challenges like that.  But it had far more benefits than I realized.  And it was a fascinating social experiment.  Below, my experience.

There were many things that led to the digital detox decision.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

I once heard a quote that said “comparison is the thief of joy.”  The incoming feed on social media is literally a highlight reel of everyone’s lives.  Even the most self-confident, secure new mama is left wondering if she’s doing a good job, or left in a strange period of mourning the loss of her old life.

There’s a fine line between feeling inspired by someone’s great social media feed and feeling kinda crappy about it (when comparing our lives with theirs.)  

In those early days post-partum, we undergo a mourning process, thinking our old life is no longer accessible to us.  We stand at the living room window looking out at the world passing by in this strange, foggy stage.  We are in a rare moment between feeds and diaper changes, and wonder if it is going to be like this forever.

It shall not be! Trust me!

Think of that immediate post partum period as a 3-4 month detour in your life, where you are fully allowed to watch netflix in your pjs and cuddle a sleeping baby on your chest, and break all the rules, and realize everyone’s lives are continuing while yours is in this strange loop cycle inside the house.

By the way, read this light hearted article by the Pregnant Chicken so that you can get through the 4th trimester and feel 1000x better

The internet is beautiful; we have access to so much information.  But it is such a double edged sword.  It intensifies everything, access to information, incoming voices, incoming pressures from the outside world.

If there’s one thing I learnt on maternity leave, it is that there is intense social pressure online to be a part of any one particular style motherhood.  The group wants you to join them.

It’s almost like if you were walking down the street through a market and sellers were hawking their wares at you, waving things around.  It’s kind of the same on the internet with all of these different tribes of motherhood, hawking their styles and telling you to be this way or that way.  lol.

Why do we Let others’ Opinions on the Internet get to us?!

I got the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz for Christmas and reading it, he explains this phenomenon beautifully.

We are born a blank slate and have the capacity to learn quickly.  We are raised by our family, by a culture, by an education system.  We are inducted into a way of thinking, doing things, and judging people.  As a child we agreed with and believed all of the information passed on to us.

In adulthood that child is still within us; the child who that was punished for breaking the rules and rewarded for following them. There’s still that desire to make people happy, to follow their rules, to avoid negative judgement. To join the group. It’s the framework our brain developed within.

Do what we say. Approval.  Do not do what we say. Disapproval.

But we struggle with that, because adulthood is faaaar more complicated than childhood.

We realize that we can critically appraise and decide what is good and what is bad, because aside from a few major things, like, oh say, murder, theft, etc. the rest is up for negotiation.

Despite all of this, the outside world is streaming in.  A barage of noise that wants us to do things this way, wants us to do things that way.  Sleep training.  Great example.   This is good. That is bad.  Do things like us.  There are lots of methods and each method has its followers and passionate promoters.

The Internet’s In-Stream of Opinions

When we have our babies, we have the power and ability to receive information, then to decide what is right for us, but it’s hard when there’s 100 people standing in our ear yelling their opinions.  That’s what the internet can be like.

Think of it like this:  If you had ten people yelling ideas at you in a room, how would you be able to take a quiet moment, think clearly and decide?  

And because we have this  new, fragile human life, people are even more intense about what you should be doing.

With social media’s advertiser algorithms we are also hammered with exposure to parenting advice and material designed to expose us to the prevalent expectations and culture.  I don’t think it’s a sinister plot, it’s just that in any culture, there is a main dialogue, main way of doing things.

The Moment I Decided I Was Done.

At 33 years of age I decided I had enough training and life experience that I could listen to a variety of options, listen to my gut and then choose what was right for myself and my family.  I just needed time to think clearly.  Having parenting information coming at me from left right and centre on social media feeds, I decided it was enough.

It was time for an information detox and to follow just my gut for a month.

The Surprising Reactions from Others

I wasn’t prepared for the reactions I was getting.  “Is everything okay?”  “How are we going to stay in touch with you,”  “I’ll miss out on the children growing up,” “You must think you are special doing this” (ouch!) “How am I supposed to get a hold of you,” “did you delete me from Facebook?!” “What are you going to do if you need information?” “OMG did something really bad happen to you?!” “You’ll never be able to do it for 30 days.”  Whoa. WTF.

Some of them were surprise, some of them were strangely passive aggressive and some of them were curious.  It was amazing that such a simple action could cause all of these reactions.  Which made me want to rebel more 🙂

Do You Need a Detox?

A good way to decide if you need a digital detox is to ask yourself how comfortable you are with the idea of giving up technology for a month.  If you can’t imagine it, you are precisely the one who would benefit 🙂 

Also ask yourself this.  Do you have a general overall mission or goal for 2016? If your brain seems foggy when you ask yourself this, perhaps you are overwhelmed in the stream of incoming ideas and information.

The Benefits of a Detox

So here’s what I gained from a month of digital detoxing

-I truly felt like I was released from the cacophony of noise on parenting, babies, how to be a parent, how to be a mum, etc.

-I learnt to follow my gut and develop my style

-It was much easier to think about and then execute on decisions. I didn’t waffle on things, because I wasn’t being subjected to 5+ different options.

-Truly, ignorance is bliss sometimes.

-I felt like I was liberated from the process of comparison and wondering if I was doing things right, how I could improve my life, how I was failing, etc.

(I know if I do it, others do it, so it was also a bit liberating knowing I wasn’t being judged(positively or negatively)  either.)

-I freed up my attention; I was much more focused and less distracted

-It was refreshing to see family or a friend and have them ask what is new, and be able to have an exciting conversation.  Having access to someone’s life on Facebook means that so often, points of conversation in real life (IRL) are removed because we already know “what is new.”

-Reduced time on social media once I “reconnected.”

A digital detox is also great for “re-balancing” especially if you love social media.  Without a detox, you incrementally spend a bit more time on it each day until all of a sudden it dominates your time.

Until one day you realize you are watching a dance video (that will provide no benefit to your day) while your kid is looking at the back of your phone waiting for you to take them out.  That was my “ah hah” moment.  

One Month to Recalibrate

With a one month detox, it is like hitting a reset button and re-calibrating.  All of a sudden, 10 minutes on Facebook after a month of nothing, is enough.  It is satisfying.  Pre-detox, 40 minutes on Facebook would feel like it was enough.

 

It is easier to undertake any action if you have some information that deepens your understanding of why it is beneficial. My blog post here is just a start.

Gain Knowledge

Check out some of these articles:

The NY Times ran a fascinating series called “Your Brain on Computers.”

Forbes – How to do a Digital Detox

Fast Company – What Really Happens to Your Brain and Body During a Digital Detox 

Fast Company’s article deals with the trail blazer behind Kovert Designs and her company’s funded digital detox for 35 individuals in Morocco – Kovert had Neuroscientists and other research professionals observe the individuals.  Plus, this woman is absolutely fascinating.

Essays, Happiness, Physical Wellness, Sleep

The Great Maternity Leave Essays: Treat Your Mental Health Like a Project!

 

Why read this article?  I talk about being high risk for post-partum depression (PPD), why the symptoms are not easy to pick up on until you have hindsight, the subtle barriers to getting help, what it’s like taking SSRIs and a multi-pronged approach that worked for me.

I had the most unbelievable, awesome experiences on both of my maternity leaves, but the first three months of my firstborn’s life, was rough. I think going through this fire is what made me so passionate about shaping a great maternity leave, because I came through from the other side.

A High Risk PPD Patient

Going into my first maternity leave, I knew that I was pretty high risk for post partum depression. If you checked off the box of shitty things that could possibly happen, I was probably on that box.

4 hospitalizations with hyperemesis (barfing brains out) till month 8, many ultrasounds for placenta positioning, many blood tests for low counts, I’d had anxiety on and off through my life, my Mum had just died and I was experiencing some PTSD symptoms, my husband was in firefighting academy and had to be 100% focused on that, and it was a surprise pregnancy I wasn’t ready for (I was still debating whether to have kids.)

Taking medication is still a hush hush subject. For the longest time I didn’t tell anyone, but now I am an open book!  So I am happy to discuss it here as my post on “taking care of mental health.”  I do believe you should treat your mental health as a multi-pronged project.  Look at it as a fun thing to tackle. A new challenge.

PPD is as unique as you are.

I had this idea in my head that I’d be crying all the time if I was PPD.  That was a really ignorant view looking back! I wish there was more dialogue about how unique it can be, depending on the person.

I still genuinely debate whether I had PPD or just the grief / PTSD piece – which is strange to my logical brain, because I quite clearly experienced some PPD symptoms in the first 3 months of my firstborn.

I had grinding insomnia.

I just about had a panic attack at night every time my baby made a sound.

I was managing some super intense anxiety:  Walking on icy pathways I couldn’t stop the image in my mind of what ifs.  What if  I accidentally fell and let go of my stroller and it went down the ridge? Once Trevor was walking innocently along the  grass at the edge of the ridge with the stroller and I just could not handle it.

I was crying my eyes out every day.

Why I Didn’t get Help Until Month 3

1.)  In in the moment you don’t realize how you are different. Have you ever heard the story about the frog in water, if you gradually raise the temperature to boiling, the frog won’t even know until it has been boiled.  I think of being “in the crux” of new motherhood as the same thing.   You are so busy and sleep deprived those early days, you just put it down to that.  That is why I am such an advocate of asking your partner to keep you in the loop about whether you are being yourself.  

Even now, from the other side, I can only compare maternity leaves with hindsight.  I did the same awesome things with both leaves, was truly happy,  had a ball, but my first mat leave, the first 3 months involved quite a lot of mental struggles until I took care of mental health and got myself to my family doctor, and found a great psychologist to work with.

2.) PPD is SUCH a silent disease.  Depression is called an invisible disease and that is so true.  This is an extreme example, but what made me so aware of the invisibility is my husband:  He deals with a lot of suicides in his work, both as a firefighter and when he worked in public emergency communications.  The extreme cases of suicide – most of them, nobody had any idea how much that person was struggling inside. There were no leadups, no warnings, no indications of just how much they were struggling.

An important thing to note is that you can have ANY ONE or FEW of the symptoms listed for PPD. Also in varying intensities.  Some of the things that made me sit up and take notice were:

Baby Blues + grief combined were just the most crippling sadness for me, my grief hit right in week 2 after having my baby.  Every day, like clockwork, by 4pm the exhaustion and sadness and overwhelm would hit me, and I would stand in the kitchen and cry.my.eyes.out.  I’m not much of a crier and there I was, hysterical, looking out the window in the kitchen, with this profound sense of feeling trapped.

Projects for my mental health:

I am really happy to say after that intial 3 month ride with my first born, I was able to figure out my mental health and literally treated it like a project.  Here are the things I did:

Low dose of SSRIs after multiple discussions with my Doctor.  

They not only treat symptoms, but they are also preventative if you are at risk.  My Dr had suggested them while my Mum was terminal but I was still in “business mode” – my emotions were locked down to deal with the realities at hand – so I resisted.  When the emotions finally processed post partum, I decided it was time.  The benefits of SSRIs for me, were profound.  My sleep returned to normal, and it made a huge difference in anxiety.  Being on them and feeling what it was like to feel relatively normal, made me realize what an anxious person I must have been all my life!  It also made a profound difference for me in my back pain, as I have a degenerative spine and herniated disks.  I was not expecting this, but living with a 3/10 pain level every day, as opposed to 7-8/10 is unbelievable.  I wasn’t expecting this but it’s a side benefit.

Prioritize sleep.

Holy smokes I cannot stress this enough.  If you are working on mental health it’s the FIRST thing you should do.  FIGHT for your right to have a full nights sleep after having your baby so you can recover from birth.  Your partner can sacrifice a nights’ sleep when you will be doing it for  months to come. The workout of giving birth – mentally and physically is comparable to nothing else. You are high on adrenaline, and the amazing human looking back at you, but you can’t let that trick you into thinking you don’t need recovery.  And when you do go to sleep, find a chillout song & headphones.  Mama high alert brain will shock you awake for every cute little snuffle and snort those newborns make.

It comes down to the individual partnership but you must find a way in which you can explain and convey the importance of sleep support to mental health.  I knew my mental health was so important that I used a pump so my husband could night feed – a few hours unbroken sleep was the difference between looking at everything positively the next day, versus noticing everything negative the next day.  It was also the difference betweeen sobbing at 3pm, or being ok at 3pm.

I am very lucky in that my husband does night shifts and he knows very well what it is like to go through a night shift.  He needs sleep.  And so he understands that I do too.  He also understands that driving a car is dangerous on that level of sleep deprivation – he goes to accidents where people are tired, and sees the consequences.  So that’s how we had mutual understanding.  Think about what would frame it well for your partner so they can understand.

Use Music

A song that has helped me when I’ve decided I am in desparate need of a mental-health-recovery sleep is Om Namo Bhagavate by Deva Premal. I listen to it all the time on a repeat loop and it’s like a warm hug.  The song itself is 7 minutes which is nice when you’re entering sleepytime.  It’s actually a sanskrit song and the intention behind Om Namo Bhagavate is that you envelope yourself in the energy of the song, rather than the words (which aren’t in English anyways, so that’s easy!)

Meditation and Relaxation with assistance

I took a guided visual meditation workshop run at a local clinic.  My busy brain liked the guided visualization rather than being left on its own to “quieten.”  One that always stuck with me from that workshop, was imagining myself at the bottom of a pond, with goldfish swimming around.  When an unhelpful thought appeared, the instructor guided us to blow out with our mouth a little, as if we were blowing out a bubble, then letting it rise up to the surface and pop  – and to imagine it swirling up to the surface of the pond.

Another beautiful tool is a specific type of yoga which is EASY for any level.  When I feel myself getting stressed / emotional, go to a session of restorative (yin) yoga. I look at this type of yoga, which is done on the floor and is very easy / chill, as my reset button. Bonus points if they do the Yoga Nidra which is called “yoga sleep” – a deep guided meditation or visualization of full body relaxation.

Took the MBTI and it was profound, it made me realize much of my anxiety comes from the sheer number of creative ideas and thinking I do.  Writing has been a game changer for me, as I get the thoughts out.

Find a great psychologist or counsellor

This is so much easier said than done.  It can take pouring your heart out over and over again to different people.  It can take $250 an hour if you don’t have coverage.

Just know you are worth it.  It costs $250 to go on a big grocery shop.

Your mental health and wellbeing are just as important as 6 bags of groceries.  Ok? 🙂 

I hope these ideas are helpful for you. As unique as PPD is, so are the tools that work for you.

Happiness, Life Hacks, Lifestyle, Lifestyle Design, Mental health, Physical Wellness, Sleep, The Fourth Trimester

Managing Sleep Deprivation with a Toddler and a Newborn. Ways to Hack your Fatigue from a Mom who’s been there.

Copy of Marielle Price (2)

I wanted to share with you some of the strategies and things I’ve learnt about being a sleep deprived mom, starting with the ‘simple’ strategies everybody tells you, including the psychologists, then I’ll dig a bit deeper and share my own experiences and things that have worked for me, when I am operating on little sleep. 

I take the view that life is a big, fun experiment.  I love learning, researching, collecting advice and then testing it out on myself.  Today, we chat about sleep. My god, I love sleep. Did I mention I have a 2 year old and a 5 month old?   I know sleep deprivation.

This is a topic I was maybe just a bit obsessed with in the trenches of newborn life, round 1 and now, round 2.

In my life, I’ve experienced every sleep type, from able to sleep through a nuclear war (my 20s) to almost losing my mind from insomnia during a stressful time in my life (late 20s.)

Now, in my early 30s?  Babies.  I share my life with small, sqwawky noctural bats.

Theearly weeks with a newborn are a blur.

I was so shattered, that I experienced my first real hallucination.  At 4am I stood in the kitchen watching the walls melt onto the floor.  And the ceilings?  Popcorn ceilings are f*cked when you are that tired.

With my firstborn, I cried at 4pm every day. I couldn’t execute on a quick decision like needing to take an alternate route home if there was a traffic jam.  No jokes.

When you experience varying levels of sleep duration and quality, you come to be an expert on your own body.  Everybody is affected differently by a lack of sleep, but it puts into somewhat of a primordial state where we regress into a version of ourselves that is not that different from our toddler.  Our prefrontal cortex shuts down and we go into primitive mode.

In my case, sleep deprivation makes me very clumsy, emotional and if I’m being honest, a bit grim. I can’t frame my mind positively and tend to notice the negatives.  I have a low ability to cope during the day when I am very, very low on sleep.  It’s scary. I don’t like feeling that down in the dumps. The effect is immediate and profound.

For this second maternity leave, I committed to studying, experimenting and understanding this thing called sleep. I may not get the quantity, but I am committed to getting more quality and am experiencing less energy deprivation than the first go-around.

Useful tips and tricks (that I actually tried.) 

I’ll go to the insomnia stage in my late 20s, because that is where I began playing with sleep hygiene. I was dealing with HUGE levels of stress.  BIG life events.  This was before babies, too.   I went to counseling, because I realized that I was going down a tunnel of bleak sleep deprivation and desperation very quickly.  I was miserable after a month or two of it.   With insomnia, the more tired you are, the less able you are to sleep, and then you develop a total psychological hangup about sleep because you are so desperate for it.   It was with a psychologist, that I learnt about sleep hygiene practices.  If you are wondering what they are, here is a list from the National Sleep Foundation.

At that point, I also got a prescription for sleeping pills and used a couple, a few nights in a row just to get some form of rest.  That gave me enough energy and a bit of mental improvement so that I could really start to work on the other pieces I list here.

I harnessed technology and monitored my sleep using an app.  (This article by Lifehacker has a great list of sleep tracking apps.) I absolutely love Sleep Cycle and over the long run, if you buy the pro version, you see some really interesting trends with your activity, sleep, even the moon cycles!

I took adaptogens (mostly in tea form,) limited screen time before bed and supplemented.  Melatonin before bed, as well as chamomile tea or licorice root. I played around with ashwaganda and valerian but it tasted like sawdust that had been pissed on, so that’s a no from me.

I installed blackout curtains and much to the chagrin of my husband, created a nice cold room to sleep in with several windows open every night.  HUGE improvement with these two techniques. *Edit:  another kid later, I can also say that heavier blankets are well, well worth the investment.  There is quite a lot of research proving that heavier weight blankets (you can buy weighted blankets on amazon btw) help with anxiety, calming and sleep.

I eventually got over this rough patch of insomnia.  It took about 6 months of dedicated sleep hygiene and some stress management in my daytime life.  Life improved considerably until I entered another sleepless stage of my life, 2013. My first born child. I’m going to be very honest when I say that I feared for my own emotional and mental wellbeing on little sleep. I just do.not.do.well.  And holy smokes, I did not do well the first few months.

I knew I would need to go beyond the sleep hygiene.

I could incorporate all of the great practices I’d learned to get a good quality sleep, but the reality was that there’d be days where I would simply have to survive on a few hours sleep.

I thought to myself, who would be an expert at dealing with sleep deprivation?  Answer? Soldiers.  Snipers. Special forces.  The brave men and women who have to complete intricate life-or-death operations and lightning-fast decisions on little to no sleep.

I began to research military publications on sleep management and techniques. There was a wealth of information from the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, pub med, the Armed Forces Journal, and of course, the many forums for men and women in uniform.

I’ll share some of the best tips I have found in my research.  In this post, I will only talk about things that worked for me, but I encourage you to do research of your own and try things out.

Experiment with different types of naps and timing

The experts say that 20-30 minutes is the sweet spot, but to be honest, if I’m sleep-deprived and needing a recovery nap, I’ll go in the 60-90 minute range.  Everybody is different, though the most common recommendations are shorter time periods.  It is also possible to have multiple short naps in cases of serious sleep deprivation.  Here is an interesting article about the multiple nap techniques of ocean sailboat racers.

If I know I’ve got a tough night ahead, and do a preparatory nap, I’ll go in the 20 minute range and do it on a couch, not in a bed.  You can also stockpile sleep (new research findings) if you have a few days where your partner or someone can cover you.  Eventually, if you don’t take care of yourself, you’ll turn out to be crying disaster and you will be forced to go to bed, so perhaps it is better you just ask now before you are voluntold because you’re a disaster 🙂

Notice I referred to two different types of naps.  We don’t hear about the preparatory nap, because most of us are taking recovery naps.  The recovery nap is a reactionary approach to sleep deprivation.  But what about a proactive approach? Replenishing the bank account before all the bills come out?

Throw off the external programming and shift your perspective:

If you spend time among members of the military or emergency services, you will notice that sleep and naps are treated with respect rather than derision.  Both services know that with critical decision making and other peoples’ lives on the line, they have to take care of themselves.

I found this perspective very interesting, because up to that point, I had found that napping is so often treated with derision in wider society and particularly among mother groups.  All of us can think of a time when napping has been framed in terms of “laziness” and “lacking motivation” or “ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Consider this:  

Tell a new Mum she needs to nap.  There is a 99.9% chance you’ll get an eye roll, a comment along the lines of “I wish I had time for that” or a wishful sigh. There’s that perspective.

Now, tell a cop who’s just gotten off a night shift that she needs to nap.  Totally different reaction.  They’ll probably agree.  And go nap.  They KNOW the crucial importance of taking care of themselves, their physical and mental capacity.

The day I stopped eye rolling and started treating my sleep with respect and priority, rather than buying into the other messaging, is the day I started really taking charge and ownership of my sleep and getting some recovery. It was no longer an afterthought. It was an absolute priority.  Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to nap. Don’t wait until the stars are aligned.  Stand up and tell your partner or family what you need. 

As mamas who are up multiple times a night, every night, are we not doing the same difficult work? Feeling the same fatigue? Pulling the same hours?   Without ANY recovery time?   Let’s treat ourselves with that respect and ask for the support and space to recover, from our partners as well.

Note:  If you find yourself reading this with a bit of an eye roll or resistance, ask yourself the honest question, why am I resisting this suggestion?  What beliefs am I holding that make me react this way to a blog article?  I always say to my coaching clients that when they can feel derision, resistance or an eye roll coming on, there’s a rich thing to explore right there, because it indicates a trigger or some sort of deeper held belief.

Don’t focus on how many hours per night you get

The reality with kids is that every night is different.  It is so up and down!  If you start focusing on the 7-8 hour per night goal, it becomes a fast-track to the negative practice of “score keeping” with your partner.  (I could write an entire article on score keeping – I’ll make a note to do that!)

A more effective approach is to focus on your overall sleep bank a few days at a time. Look at the accumulation of sleep over a few days, and incorporate the above practices of preparatory naps and replenishing your sleep bank account if you get any opportunity to.

It is easy to get obsessive about not getting 7-8 hours per night, but I can tell you, that the nights I’ve had a magical night and 10 hours of sleep, I’ve still felt just as exhausted the next day.  You only start to feel normal after a few days.  That’s why I take the 3-4 day approach.

1 day’s worth of monitoring is not an accurate gauage of how you are feeling.  I know my partner often expected me to be magically recovered if he gave me a full night’s coverage of the kids or a big nap…  it did help but it didn’t solve everything (which was frustrating for him)

Throw in intermittent or shorter-term activities

With sleep deprivation, the effects are much more intense and noticeable when you are engaged in longer, more continuous tasks involving coordination and mental processing. It uses the part of the brain that really doesn’t do well on lack of sleep.  You’re mostly running from an older, more emotional part of your brain.

This is why fatigue “hits” you when you are driving or trying to read or talk to someone.

Tip:  Sprinkle in some intermittent or quick activities that are physically-based to get away from hitting the wall. If you begin to notice that physical tasks (quick chores, etc.) are becoming impaired – for me this is being incredibly clumsy – take note.

I often wondered why I was such a disaster in the morning (dropping coffee beans all over the floor, knocking stuff over.)  It’s actually because the effects of sleep loss are most severe cognitively, and physically, before 9am.  So make that coffee.

Be wise with the caffeine

A lot of special ops seem to recommend that if you must rely on caffeine for an important operation (in our cases, social event that lasts beyond 9pm lol) it is a great technique to cut back on caffeine leading up to the event.  This is so that cup of coffee prior to going out will have a more intense effect.  Be careful though, don’t consume coffee 6 hours or sooner before your sleep. Another great tip is to put coconut oil or another fat (butter is great too) into your coffee to lengthen the boost of the coffee (fat prolongs the metabolism.)

SLLS

This tip was shared by an army veteran and went around social media for some time.  “Stop, look, listen, smell” was a technique that he used to maintain focus during operations, and is a great way to deal with the onslaught of fatigue.  This incorporates the mindfulness techniques of refocusing on the breath, the immediate environment and present moment.  Pausing and reconnecting with the body ,the eyes, the ears and the nose is a brilliant way to detatch – even momentarily –  from the mental story of “I am exhausted” and this hits the reset button.

Sit in the dark

Both of my babies had similar feeding patterns but I was way, way more messed up with my firstborn.  Looking back, I did several things to compromise the quality of sleep between feeds.

One of the most detrimental things to my sleep quality was my iphone screen.  As I laid there and fed my daughter her bottle, I’d scroll through instagram or whatever was at hand, trying to keep awake.

The light emitted from our electronic devices directly effects our melatonin and cortisol production, interfering with the circadian rhythm and our sleep cycles.

A link between screen time and time spent in REM sleep (the restorative sleep) was found.  And it wasn’t a positive link. The Atlantic Magazine provides a great snapshot of the latest research findings in this area.

Needless to say, no more iphone during the night feeds. I teeter on the edge of consciousness during the night feeds, in the dark and quiet room, and creep back to bed afterward.  I replaced blue light from my iphone with the soft glow of a himalayan salt lamp.

Know that music is life-changing

One of my biggest struggles with having a baby was the torture of not being able to fall asleep, even if I had someone helping out and covering the kiddos so I could have a few uninterrupted hours.

Every sound, whimper, snort, snuffle (babies are loud) I would wake up with a jolt of shock.  This isn’t just a new mum thing.  This is a light sleeper thing.  Oh god, it was torture.

Discovering the power of music has been a god-send.  Over the last 2 years and last two new humans joining our household, I have used one particular chill-out music track and incorporated it into my naps or sleep windows. Same song.  Every time.  It has just enough background / ambient noise to distract my brain from the noises of the household.

I strongly suspect this particular song has embedded itself in my brain as a sleep cue.

The research on music and the brain’s response to it is absolutely fascinating.  This article is worth reading, and allows you to sample a song that incorporates all of the elements researchers have found to assist with relaxation and sleep.

They describe it as “one of the most relaxing songs ever recorded” and provide a breakdown of the song and the reasons why the brain responds so well to the track.

Consider adding this song to your phone (in airport mode!) and putting it on repeat as you drift off, if you struggle with light sleeping and being jolted awake by household sounds.

These are just a few of the incredible tips and tricks I’ve learnt that have truly helped me survive the second go-round at managing with a newborn baby. Let me tell you, this second go-round has been much easier, and much less zombie-like.

I’d love to hear your own self-experimentation and discoveries when it comes to the pursuit of that gorgeous thing called a great night’s sleep. Or in my case a decent cumulative total over the space of a week 😉