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The bleary-eyed banshee’s guide to keeping love alive

Romantic loveLast week, in the midst of mess, sick kids, sleep deprivation and more work than I could handle, I turned into a bleary-eyed banshee.

“You’re not hearing me,” I screeched at my husband. “Sometimes I feel like we’re talking different languages.”

He walked away. He does that.

It wasn’t our finest moment.

I said we were talking different languages, but it wasn’t so much that. It was that we hadn’t been talking about anything lately, aside from kids, finances, household chores, groceries, bills, work.

Our relationship, the big-fat-romantic-love-of-our-lives relationship, had lost its place on both our to-do lists.

Love. If it’s ‘meant to be’ it should be easy, right?

I don’t think so. The idea that romantic love should happen effortlessly is a big pile of poo rolled in Hollywood glitter. Every other aspect of your life — a fulfilling career, happy kids, friendships, healthy meals and a decluttered home — doesn’t just happen by itself, so why should your most important relationship?

It’s time to put some effort in. I’m no expert, but here are four little love ‘tweaks’ that are helping us help get the ‘elation’ back in our relationship.

Figure out your love language (and theirs)
Gary Chapman, love guru and all-round good guy, says there are five emotional love languages. According to Gaz, each of us has a dominant ‘love language’ and if you and your partner are talking different languages, that’s going to bring out the banshee in anyone.

You may feel most loved when your partner tells you how amazing and beautiful you are (words of affirmation). He may feel most loved when you initiate a midday quickie (physical touch). Doing something that doesn’t come naturally to you is a greater expression of love. And what you give, you get back (hopefully in your own love language).

Nurture your relationship by changing habits
Changing a few simple habits can make a huge difference to your relationship. Try and eat dinner together a few times a week (not in front of the telly), go on a date or plan a weekend away.

Ditch the dull routine if you can. Go roller-skating. Paragliding. No cash? A beach walk in winter or a picnic in the hills will work just as well.

Lower your expectations and find the positives
I’ve said it before, expectations are bullshit. When you expect others to act in a certain way, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Your expectations are not top of their lists. Theirs are not at the top of yours. Instead of what makes you want to tear your hair out, think about what you love about your partner. Write it down. Now show your partner your list.

Talk, talk then talk some more
You make time to talk about shopping, washing, childcare/school, money, work. So make the time to talk about your dreams, share your visions, communicate your plans, the things you love, the stuff that needs work. Tell your partner what makes you happy (and what you love about them) loudly and often.

Let’s face it — it’s not Hollywood. Relationships are hard work. But they’re usually worth a bit of effort.

So banish your inner banshee, stay in the room, get over the small stuff and put that big-fat-romantic-love-of-your-life relationship back where it belongs — at the top of your to-do list.

Want more Wellbeing bites morsels? Sign up to follow this blog by email and in return you’ll get a happy inbox and my undying love. 

Image from www.gratisography.com

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Why second-hand stress is contagious and how to avoid cracking it

Second hand stress contagiousEver had gastro? It’s officially my least favourite highly contagious illness. My house has been in the throws of it for the past five days and no one has escaped its gut wrenching grasp, (including my poor in-laws who had travelled interstate to spend time with their darling grandkids…)

I knew we were all going to get sick. You knock about with people with gastro; you get gastro. You hang about with people who have a cold; you’re going to get a cold.

But did you know that stress is just as contagious? And can make you much sicker?

A recent study by St Louis University in the US has found that simply being around another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make you stress out. And the more you genuinely care about the stressed out person, the more likely you are to ‘catch’ their stress.

Apparently three-quarters of us are already stressed. And stress is worse for your health and wellbeing than a tantruming 2-year-old with gastro. It takes over, making your body put off essential processes like wound healing, digestion and immunity. Stay stressed for long enough and we’re talking heart attacks, strokes and depression.

How to avoid catching second-hand stress

1. Identify stress-head warning signs

How do you feel when you start to get stressed? How does your body react? Shortness of breath? A pounding headache? Losing your shit at your nearest and dearest? Figure it out. Then you can start to….

2. Avoid your second-hand stress triggers
Does walking into your workplace make your heart start beating like a nineties house track? Do certain people make you anxious? Do over-tired kids make you want to pull your hair out? Avoid these situations whenever you can. If you can’t, seriously consider changing jobs or swapping kids (joking about the kids). Alternatively, you could…

3. Think carefully about the company you choose
If you’re around stressed people a lot, think about why you are surrounding yourself with people who feel bad about themselves, or who allow others to make them feel bad about themselves. It’s not a flaw to be stressed, but you don’ t need to immerse yourself of the misery of others. If you’re having a hard time disconnecting, shift your attention to those you care about, who care about you, and who have a positive outlook on life.

4. Look after your health
If you’re anything like me, when you’re stressed you tend to stop exercising, reach for the comfort food (and the wine bottle) and stop doing all the stuff you know is good for you, like yoga and meditation. Then you spend countless hours berating yourself for how shit you are. Instead of that try to…

5. Be mindful about your mindset
Talk to yourself with encouragement and love. Stop being your own worst enemy. Practise mediation, breathe, walk. Be grateful for what you have. Think about what makes you happy and do it.

Like most contagious illnesses, stress can cause acute pain and suffering. But you don’t need to let it get the better of you long term. Only you can choose how to react to stressful situations. Only you can choose how you are affected by others’ stress.

Choose happiness instead. It’s as contagious as stress. And it’s much easier on your gut.

Like this post? Oh I do hope so! Show your love by following Wellbeing bites by email. Your loveliness is my happiness. Let’s spread it around…

Cracking under stress photo by Bernard Goldbach

A flawed friend’s guide to fabulous friendships

FriendshipIn my hazy, heady teens and twenties, when money equalled fun and weekends meant hangovers and lie ins, my friends were my world. Who I was, where I went, what I liked, bought, drank and ate was defined by my mates.

Then life moved into a new orbit. I got a steady job, bought a house, had a baby. The world turned on its axis. My friends moved further away. They got married and had babies too. Everyone was juggling. Time and money became limited.

A couple of weeks ago, I realised that it had been months since I’d connected, really connected, with some of my closest friends.

Sure, things change. People move on. Some friendships aren’t forever and that’s OK. But the thought that I wasn’t making my friends a priority was a shock.

I was losing them. And losing out.

The positive effect friendship has on health and wellbeing is well documented. Those with a close circle of friends (not Facebook friends — real-life friends) are happier, less stressed, and less likely to form addictive habits. Studies have even shown that those with good friendships live longer.

I know it’s not always easy to fit friends into our busy lives. But like anything worth having, friendship takes hard work. This is what I’ve learned recently.

Be smart, be brutal and choose your friends wisely
You can’t be friends with everyone, and you can’t maintain every friendship you have ever had. It’s not mean — it’s reality. You’re busy. You’ve got no time to fuck about, so surround yourself with people who make you feel good — who you admire, respect and love and who feel the same way about you.

Don’t try and find the time: make the time
When confronted with my crapness recently, I cried “time-poor”. But it’s not good enough. Everyone’s busy. If you say “I’ll try and make time”, time will pass and weeks will pass and months will pass. And eventually your friendship will pass. So connect now. Make time. At the risk of sounding like a commercial, you’re both worth it.

Accept your friends just the way they are
Some of your friends will always be late. Some of them may be terrible listeners. But the latecomers may be the best listeners, and the bad listeners may be the ones that always come through for you in a crisis. We are all flawed. Perfectly flawed. Accept and embrace your friends’ shortcomings and celebrate their strengths. Unless you are perfect, you can be pretty sure they’re doing the same for you.

Look for the best in your friends, and tell them when you see it
Tell your friends you love them. That they are great friends/parents/children/grandparents/cooks/artists/listeners. Be each others’ cheerleaders. Make the time your have together fun and positive. Keep the whining to a minimum and the laughter (and wine) flowing.

Love yourself so others can see that you won’t accept anything less
Lead by example. If you are loving and kind to yourself, you will attract people who are loving and kind. It’s simple law of attraction stuff (c’mon, we’ve all read The Secret). Self love is the key to loving relationships. Open the door.

So be flawed. Be fabulous. But be a fucking good friend. It’s what makes the world go round.

I’m glad you’re my friend drawing by sam brown, explodingdog.

Why ‘mindful parenting’ might not be as dumb as it sounds

mindful parenting2Before I start, let’s get one thing straight. I am not a ‘mummy blogger’. I’m a writer. Who blogs. And I am also a mum.

But a few parent-related things happened to me this week that bridged that gap between what I blog about (mental health and wellbeing) and being a mum:

  1. My four-year-old had a meltdown because I was too busy to watch him build his Lego helicopter for the 15th time that day.
  2. I read this quote: “Meditation teaches us that there is no greater joy than putting the happiness of others before oneself. There is no greater opportunity to practice this than in parenthood.” NO, I inner yelled. No! Don’t make me feel shit for putting my happiness at the top of the list! I’ve just started to be ok with that.
  3. I read an article on ‘mindful parenting’ — a term that initially got my back up. Does that mean that I’m currently a ‘mindless’ parent? But then I read the article. And it made a lot of sense…

Mindful parenting. Crap name. Great concept.

Mindful parenting often gets a bad rap (probably because the crap name makes it sound judgemental). But mindful parenting is simply about focusing awareness in the present moment — enjoying the journey rather than focusing on the destination. I say “simply”, but it’s when you have a toddler and a preschooler tearing the place up, practising mindful parenting is also bloody hard work.

As you can probably tell, I’m no mindful parenting expert. But here are a few tips that have helped me not put my kids on eBay this week (and have made my kids a bit happier too).

1. Be in the moment
Your life is only lived in moments. Your kids’ lives are the same. By giving your children your full presence, you’re indicating that they are important right now. I know you’re busy, so schedule in some time each day to be fully present with your small person.

2. Stop multitasking
Turn off the TV. Put the smartphone or iPad away. Get rid of distractions. And try listening rather than talking, especially when your little angels are being little shits. It’s amazing what you can learn (and what you can diffuse before it turns into an explosive tantrum — for either of you).

3. Try to see the world through their eyes
What’s important to my four-year-old: Lego, Octonauts, the park, lollies. What’s important to me: my work, meditation, a tidy house, not being late. They may have your genes but they don’t share your dreams. Being aware of this allows you to take a moment to view a situation from their perspective, and gain some.

4. Practise what you preach
Your kids look to you for an example of how to live. If you don’t place great importance on self care, self love and mindfulness, they won’t think these things are important either. Take time for yourself. Meditate. Relax. Do things that make you happy. Follow your dreams. Surround yourself with loving people. When your own tank is full, you have so much more to give.

5. Remember you don’t have to be perfect
There is no such thing as a perfect parent. You will screw up sometimes. Don’t beat yourself up. Your kids need you to be human. Move on, forgive yourself. Your children will get over it in seconds, so say sorry, give them a hug and follow their example.

One last point: if it doesn’t work for you and your kids, don’t do it.
This is crucial. There’s so much judgement in parenting. So many opportunities to feel bad. Some people think mindful parenting is setting parents up for failure. Some think its “ancient wisdom”. Whatever. It’s your life. It’s your family. You know best.

Right, if you don’t mind, I’m late to watch a Lego helicopter being built. I’ll be back next week and I promise I’ll be back to more ‘blogger’ and less ‘mum’…

If you like this post (or at least like the usual Wellbeing bites blog fodder), please take a moment to follow WB by email. That would be just marvellous. 

Great expectations — and why releasing them is the key to happiness

Releasing great expectations NonnettaI’ve been expecting. Expecting my kids to behave perfectly. Expecting my hard work to be praised and rewarded. Expecting my efforts to be noticed. Expecting my blog to be shared and liked and followed. Expecting my friends and family to care about ‘my stuff’ as much as I do.

My great expectations are starting to get the better of me. Because, of course, these expectations are rarely met.

That’s not because my kids are mean, my colleagues are nasty, my blog isn’t liked, or my friends and family are unsupportive. It’s just that when you expect others to act in a certain way, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. They have their own agendas, their own wants, their own expectations. Your expectations are not top of their lists.

Buddhists call this holding on to unrealistic expectations ‘the wanting mind’ or ‘the hungry ghost’. Unfulfilled expectations make for an unhappy life. When your expectations aren’t realised, you feel disappointed, resentful, angry, unsatisfied, unseen.

You become a hungry ghost.

Are your expectations haunting you? Here are five ways to release your expectations and make way for happiness.

1. Be mindful of your expectations

When you catch yourself expecting/wanting from others, or from a situation, stop. Ask why. Are you expecting others to validate your emotions? Have you supported that person in the past and expect them to do the same for you now? If you figure out why you’re expecting, it’s much easier to let the expectation go.

2. Separate your wants from your ‘shoulds’

Do your expectations reflect your true ‘wants’, or are they reflecting ‘shoulds’? Shoulds are expectations imposed by others. Do you expect recognition from others because what you’re doing is a ‘should’ not a ‘want’? Usually, if you’re doing what you really want, not what you feel you should, you won’t have expectations of others because you won’t need their validation or praise.

3. Put yourself in the shoes of others 

Are you perfect? Are you a mind reader? No. Neither are they. Remember that everyone is just doing their best, just like you. And your perfect may be their not-so-perfect. However, If your basic needs aren’t being met by the people you care about and you really feel let down, tell them. If you don’t communicate clearly, resentment will build up on both sides and may explode as anger if left unchecked.

4. Reframe and look for the positive

You expected to be fulfilled and praised at work. You expected your business to do better. You expected your kids to tidy up after themselves. You expected your partner to cook dinner. That’s the negative. What about the good stuff? Maybe your work pays well, which allows you to pursue your real passion. Maybe those business ‘failings’ have taught you how to succeed next time. Maybe your kids are messy but they sleep all night and tell you they love you every day. Maybe your partner had a shitty day and thought take-out might make a nice change. Reframing is a great first step to creating an attitude of gratitude.

5. Take back responsibility for your happiness

When you have great expectations of others, you give responsibility for you own happiness away. But you know no one else can make you happy. Own your actions. Own your emotions. Cheer yourself on. Love yourself more. Be proud of your achievements. Pat yourself on the back.

The solution is simple (not easy, but simple). As Leo Babauta from Zen Habits puts it: “Take your expectations, and throw them in the ocean.”

When you get rid of your great expectations, you free yourself up to enjoy things as they are instead of the way you think they should be. You’ll also make way for a great wave of happiness. Now all you’ve got to do is learn to ride it….

If you enjoyed this blog post, please share it or comment. Even better, sign up to follow Wellbeing bites by email (up on the right if you’re on a computer/iPad, or scroll down to after the posts if you’re on the mobile). No pressure. No expectations. It would just be very lovely. Thank you.

Great expectations image by Nonetta.

Sitting Pretty?

In my day job as a copywriter/editor, I spend most of the time sitting in front of a computer. Now as I’m eight months pregnant, and my bottom has been steadily increasing in size for some time now, I’m not so worried about the weight implications of my sedentary work culture. But consider the time us desk-bound folk spend sitting still at work, as well as while commuting, and the butt time really adds up – apparently the typical office worker is sedentary for 75 per cent of their working day. That can’t be good.

Many of us try and do a bit of exercise a few times a week, but after a busy day, most of us will just want to collapse in front of the TV. According to a study by researchers including Dr David Dunstan from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute earlier this year, four or more hours a day of television increases your  risk of death from heart disease by 80 per cent, and risk of death from all causes by 46 per cent compared with people that watch just two hours a day.

All up, including telly time, we could be sitting still for up to 15 hours a day.

So, apart from changing careers and cutting down on TV time, what can we do about it? Try the following methods to help you get off your ass:

  • Stand up when using the phone.
  • Move your rubbish bin/printer further away from your desk.
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift.
  • Walk over to talk to a colleague instead of sending an email.
  • Getting up to move around for few minutes or so every hour.
  • At home, do a bit of ironing whilst watching TV.