Taking It Slow

As a general rule, I don’t take photos whilst I run. There are two reasons for this. The first and main reason is because I am rather competitive by nature, not with other people, but with past versions of myself. I don’t want to waste time by stopping to snap a good view, no matter how breathtaking, as I’m always trying to run as fast as possible and beat previous personal records. The second (minor) reason is just because I’m not very good at taking photos! I don’t take the time to adjust the settings or compose a good scene, as in the rest of my life, I rush to get it done and be on my way.

But this morning, I went for a run and I knew it would be slow. I’ve had a month off training due to illness and every time I’ve attempted to run in the last few weeks my lungs have felt like they’re going to give up in protest at the cheek of me making them work. I also did a rather brutal leg day yesterday and my glutes are angry with DOMS. So this morning I set off in the beautiful Spring sunshine with a brilliant blue sky above me and took my time. I just ran 4.5 miles around the country lanes nearby but it was so restorative. My lungs worked and because I wasn’t racing myself I didn’t beat myself up when I stopped to walk up some particularly steep hills (even with the knowledge that I usually run up them). I even stopped to take a picture of the rolling Devon hills with Dartmoor looming in the distance.

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People often react with a mixture of horror and bemusement when they find out how much training I do (5/6 days a week of running or in the gym) but for me, it’s my time away from the kids, just for me to re-set. It’s my medicine for mental health, my quiet headspace to think and just be me. After 50 minutes running in the gorgeous fresh air this morning, I feel ready for whatever the day throws at me, whether that be warring brothers or a particularly hefty workload. And this morning I feel like I also finally took on board everyone’s advice to slow down.

In life I am prone to trying to do everything quickly. Sometimes this is in the fitness side of things, trying to lift ridiculously heavy weights without building up to them or trying to launch into a crow pose or handstand without all the conditioning and beginner progressions necessary to lay the groundwork. Sometimes this is in the house, doing a half-assed job of washing up or other housework just to get it over with. Sometimes this is in my role as a parent, rushing bedtime or games with the kids, simply because of parenting-fatigue or an inability to be in the moment when there is a never-ending to-do list. Sometimes this is in my self-care, not taking enough time to rest because I’m anxious to get back to my busy schedule.

But after having been ill for the best part of a month, I have had to slow down. My body wouldn’t let me rush anything! And actually, I think I’ve come out the other side hopefully a little wiser for it. Which is why, when I came in from my run this morning with an urge to write, instead of putting it to one side to pack lunches, do home ed and process registration forms for work, I decided to sit down with a cup of tea and share my ramblings with whoever might be reading this instead.

Sometimes there are deadlines that have to be stuck to and sometimes you do need to hurry. But a lot of the time, it’s all in our heads. We can probably take five and slow down without any horrendous consequences. So I’d encourage you if, like me, you’re prone to rushing, to take it slow today. Even if it’s just taking a few minutes to sit in the sun and soak up the rays before getting back to the grindstone, you’ll feel better for it. (Or if time, family and work allows, do what we did yesterday and spend several hours lounging on the beach enjoying the spring sunshine and the water gently lapping the shore – bliss. See, I told you I’m learning!)

Sophia Jumping!

This photo is courtesy of the talented and most lovely Elsie

 

 

 

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Guilt

At this very moment, I should be in the woods at Exeter Forest School, running my first ever session as a Forest School Leader. Instead, I am sat under our biggest, cosiest blanket with a large cup of tea feeling rather sorry for myself. I’ve been ill for close to two weeks now and feel like I might finally be on the tail end of it but certainly not well enough to run a session without coughing and spluttering over the unfortunate parents and children in attendance. I feel so cheesy saying this, but my proverbial village has, once again, leapt into action to assist. A dear friend (who I now owe so many childcare favours to it’s ridiculous) is having Eli at the group and for the afternoon and Dan has gone to deposit the big two with her as well so she can take them to the older group where they attend by themselves. I have a whole day to rest and hopefully finally recuperate after an incredibly busy two weeks where I have just kept going when perhaps I should have declared a few more movie (or to assuage my home ed conscience, documentaries) and sofa days for the kids.

However, my primary emotion today is guilt. Guilt that I’m letting down work by not being able to run the session. Guilt that my friend is helping out and looking after my kids again, especially when she’s not feeling 100% herself. Guilt that I’m probably not going to be particularly productive even though there are things that need to be done (work, cleaning…etc). Guilt (ridiculously) that once again this week, I won’t reach my step count for the day. When I sat down to write this I was thinking mainly about what some term ‘mother’s guilt’. The guilt that means you feel like you are constantly failing those around you. That you don’t have enough to give to your kids to fulfill what they need. That there isn’t enough of you to go around. That your house is a mess. That you can’t find the work-life-fun balance. That you have goals and projects left unfinished. That you shout, nag and lecture. That maybe your priorities aren’t where they should be. That sometimes you take more from your friends and family than you give.

But then I realised that guilt is not exclusive to motherhood. Guilt is something that lots of us are plagued with. Most of that list above could apply to all of us, regardless of whether we have kids or not. And we could add more. Guilt that we’re not doing more in the fight against climate change would be one for me. For someone else it might be guilt that they skipped the gym. Guilt that they let down a friend. Guilt that they pay someone to clean their home. Guilt that they don’t cook their meals from scratch. Guilt that they got a promotion over a colleague. Everyone feels guilty for a myriad of different reasons.

Clearly, guilt that we feel because of something we’ve actually done (deliberate or not) that we know has affected someone negatively (physically or mentally) is a different category. It’s right to feel remorse and to try and make amends. But I’m talking about the guilt that so many of us feel unnecessarily.  Guilt that we essentially make up for things that we don’t need to feel remorseful, shameful or sad about.

I’m struggling to think of anything positive that comes out of this kind of guilt. Acknowledging a fault or weakness and acting on it to promote positive change is one thing. But endlessly beating yourself up about stuff, valid or not, is useful to no-one. I know that if the situation was reversed, I would do the same thing for a friend or family member in need. I know that I would cover sessions for a colleague if I could. But it doesn’t stop me feeling bad about being the one needing the help right now.

I don’t know what the answer is and I realise this may come across as a somewhat woe-is-me post which is not my intention. Rather, I wanted to start a conversation about unecessary guilt. About why we feel it, about why we shouldn’t let ourselves get so caught up in such a negative feeling. It’s not something we talk about a lot I think.  A quick google produces a wealth of articles from people much more equipped to talk about this than me. And a few things stood out to me particularly as helpful ways to break the cycle of self-flagellation caused by needless guilt.

Firstly, as I mentioned above, engage in a spot of role reversal. Imagine what you’d say or do to a friend or family member saying what you’re feeling. Chances are you’d reassure them that their guilt isn’t based in anything real and advise that they need to be kinder to themselves. Which leads nicely to the second point which is to make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and actually look at what you do. Look to see if there is any evidence to back up your guilt, I bet there isn’t! Practice a little bit of self-gratitude. Make a list if you need to of all the things you accomplish. But acknowledge what you do and try and be at peace that this is enough.

Finally, practice some self-care. I know this is a bit of a buzz topic at the moment but there’s a reason for that. You can’t give from an empty glass and we live in a world where we try to do much more than is practically possible for any one person. Our villages are  broken and dispersed and people often don’t have the support they need. I’m going to drag out a parenting phrase that I have quoted many times before, bestowed on me from a very wise friend ‘your child is your mirror’. If you are overworked, stressed and brimming with negative emotions, your child(ren) will feed off this and reflect it back to you. If you take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, just for you, you will be calmer and happier and your children will absorb this positive energy and that makes for a more peaceful household all round (if only in attitude and emotion rather than actual volume. Even when happy, my kids are loud.)

Funnily enough, as I came to the conlusion of this post, a message pinged up from the friend who has my kids today saying simply (in response to my apologies and thanks)

Don’t feel guilty! It’s lovely having a village”

And whilst I know not everyone out there is lucky enough to have a village in place like I do, I think the take home is the same. Don’t feel guilty. We don’t need to haul any extra baggage around with us if it’s not needed. And if you don’t have a village, why not try and make one? Social media is great at connecting people, find some other folk who are village-less and start building a group based on friendship, support and community. And when you’ve got it, accept offers of help when you’re struggling, gratefully and guiltlessly.

 

 

Taking Time For You

I’m aware that I’m in danger of this sounding something like a self-help column this week but I want to write about self-care and about taking time to nurture yourself. With Mother’s Day just gone, it seems like a timely reminder that Mum’s (and indeed everyone) need a bit of a break regularly, not just once a year in an avalanche of flowers, homemade cards and breakfast in bed. But we are not passive in this, we need to claim space and time for ourselves.

It’s easy in life, especially as a parent (but not exclusively to those with small folk), to get so bogged down in the day-to-day tasks that need doing and meeting the needs of everyone around us that we forget about our own needs. Self-care is the buzz term for this but really, it just means remembering that you are a human with your own needs and wants and recognising that it’s not selfish to take some time to meet them. Mother’s especially can be prone to playing (unintentionally) the role of martyr, running themselves ragged looking after those in their lives and getting all their work done, constantly juggling tasks and appointments in order to keep their families ticking over. But the problem with this is that more often than not, we end up feeling burnt out, tired and resentful.

Luckily, the solution is not a hard one. Self-care doesn’t mean jetting off for an all inclusive spa-weekend once a month (although once in a while wouldn’t go amiss!) Rather, it means adopting a practice of remembering every day, to honour yourself by doing something that’s just for you. That might be taking the time to go for a run or to an exercise class, to sit down with a tea and a book or trashy Netflix show for an hour, it might be choosing to take some extra time to prepare a nutritious meal to better fuel your body, it might be simply going to bed early rather than spending an extra two hours tidying and tying up the loose ends of the day.

And the thing is, if we regularly make time to honour ourselves, we’ll find tension dissipating in other areas of our lives. We’ll have more patience and energy to deal with the demands that life throws at us. It’s not selfish to take time for ourselves. It’s not selfish to say no to a request to play by the kids or to turn down extra hours at work. It’s OK to put ourselves first once in a while. I remember reading something Dr Sears had written when Sophia was just a toddler, he wrote that the sun does not rise and set on one member of the family but rather that everyone in the family were of equal importance. He wrote that sometimes one person’s needs will be more pressing than others but that in the grand scheme of things, a family should equally look after each other.

I’ve come a long way in the way of self-care and now make sure I take time daily to do something for me (usually go to the gym or eat separately from the kids so I can eat something yummy I know they won’t touch!) and the difference is noticeable. I find that I shout less and that as a general rule, our house is calmer. I’m not going to lie, we still have stressful, grouchy days but there are less of them. So if you had a lovely Mother’s Day but wished you were given the opportunity to focus on yourself a little more, don’t wait another year. Adopt an attitude of daily self-care and take some time (even if it’s just 10 minutes) for yourself, you won’t regret it!

Back in the Game

After three weeks of no running due to an ankle injury, I’m finally back to pounding the pavements and continuing training for my impending marathon (which, I just spotted, is only 13 weeks away – yikes!) I feel relieved to be able to run again with no pain although a little frustrated with the dip in my stamina and speed from having had the enforced break. Although I stayed active and continued to lift weights during that time, just three weeks of no running has caused a bit of a setback. Still, nothing insurmountable so onwards and upwards is the goal.

It got me thinking though about how, when nothing is going wrong, I (and I’m guessing others) tend to take our bodies for granted. During this time of recovery, I’ve been doing my best to get more sleep, drink more water, consciously spend time outdoors and to choose healthy options to fuel myself. Although I’m always aware of these things in the back of my mind, it’s taken an injury to make me try and be more consistent in my approach to caring for my body. If I don’t let it rest, feed it properly or move enough…how can I expect it to perform at optimum capacity?

In an era where we are more busy than ever, I dare suggest that a lot of us skimp on the self-care in order to fit more and more into our schedules. Choosing the pre-packaged, unhealthy meal, staying up until gone midnight to fit in just a few more tasks, forgetting to get outside and breath fresh air, even if just for a few minutes. It’s so easy to just keep pushing and pushing our bodies, giving them no consideration or maintenance in order to fit everything in. Until that is, something goes wrong. Then everything grinds to a halt and we have to cut out everything and painstakingly start from scratch in repairing our physical vessels that carry us from A to B. Much easier to maintain something from the get go than try and repair it once it’s on its last legs (metaphorically of course).

So I may be back in the game with my running but I’m trying to carry the lessons I’ve learnt from the last few weeks with me; sleep more, eat well, drink lots of water, go outside. And most importantly, to remember that I don’t have to do everything. It’s ok to say no to things, to go to bed early and try again tomorrow. It is absolutely fantastic that there are so many opportunities available to us these days but (carrying on from last week), we don’t have to take them all. It’s ok to go slow, to rest or concentrate on doing whatever your body needs you to do in order to be revitalised and ready for the next challenge.