By Ali Handley
This month is about placing a spotlight on mental health. In Australia we bring particular focus on R U OK Day. I love the simplicity of this campaign. None of us need to be an expert in the mental health field, but by simply asking the question and starting the conversation we are able to offer much needed support to those close to us. It’s about listening, not solving. It’s about sharing, not judging and it’s about showing up for someone who might be struggling. As mamas our own mental health is often put down the bottom of a very long list and young families can be demanding, often leaving very little “you” time. Here are my favourite ways to take care of my mental health and create some space for me to just be me.
I know starting with this might seem very cliche but that is not my intention. I wanted to start with the one that has had the greatest impact on my mental health. I think I’m someone who has always been in my head. I can be quite hard on myself and have struggled with a constant inner voice. My brother brought awareness to the futility of this voice once by simply stating “I was the narrator and the listener in the conversation and it had no impact on what would happen other than turning me inside out.” So it started there – with simple awareness. I then dipped my toe into the world of meditation via the mindfullness app Headspace – they were simple 10 minute daily practices. In 2017 I lost a baby at 18 weeks and I was devastated. It took me about 12 months to grieve and process the loss and during that time I did the Vedic Meditation course with an incredible teacher, and fellow mother Jess Osie. The impact was instant. I felt a long needed unraveling of stress and past trauma. I soon after fell pregnant with Teddy, my rainbow baby and continued to practice throughout my pregnancy, into postpartum, the opening of Bodylove in Woollahra and I like to say it is the glue that keeps me together. It is my non-negotiable and I get up oh so early every morning to start the day with my mediation.
Long before there was meditation there was always movement. Daily movement is my ultimate, even if it is just a Quick Burn in a stolen moment during my day, it is absolutely my mood regulator. I am a better person, boss and importantly Mama when I carve out time for me to move. I was just away on holidays and I loved jumping on the platform everyday and moving. Working out being taught by yourself isn’t as weird as it sounds I promise – I hand on heart loved it! Pilates has been my world when it comes to movement, I will never ever get bored with it but I know I need variety so starting this month, every Friday I will be learning to surf down at Bronte Beach with one of my best friends – Look out, kooks incoming!
Do you ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Maybe you slept badly, maybe you have a big day ahead or maybe you had one too many wines. Cold shower it! I was introduced to cold therapy last year during lock down and now just like my mediation I look forward to it! I turn the faucet to cold for the last 30 seconds of my shower and just go for it. Breathing slowly, mouth closed, in and out the nose as I get the back, front, under arms and finally the head under! You feel energized, refreshed and it has many other wellness benefits including immunity, stress relief, increased circulation and decreased muscle soreness.
As a Pilates instructor I thought I knew how to breathe – we cue it 100’s of times a day. The power of focused nasal breath work though is something completely different and a practice I have now ingrained into the Bodylove method, bookending the start and finish of all the workouts. Most of us live in a heightened state, over stressed, in fight or flight. Simply by closing the eyes, the mouth and taking slow, guided breaths in and out the nose we are able to nourish our overworked nervous systems. We can transition them from the rush of the sympathetic state into something more calm, centered and grounded. This is called the parasympathetic state and it can be achieved in around 8 rounds of breath. The impact can be huge and is a massive stress reliever. Best part – it is free and can be done easily anywhere, anytime.
Find your tribe
I’ve always been an advocate of a “problem shared is a problem halved” and get a huge amount of advice, love and support from my friendship group. I have been very lucky to be surrounded by women who are more like sisters to me and we like to say we mum together – sharing the challenges and the joy. This was not always the way for me. I was first a mum in New York, having both Lyla and Henry there. I knew no one who was a mum. Winters were long, cold and so I forced myself to get out of my comfort zone, hit up the local play center, literally every morning for two hours rain, hail or snow storm and created a community, company and connection. It’s crucial when you have small children to try and get along to something on a regular basis – The Library, the playground, a music class. The people you meet don’t have to be your ride or die but you’ll find people who are going through similar things to you – sleep, feeding, tantrums and it’s just nice to share, listen and support each other.