Sunday, December 2, 2018

Is there a connection between sleep quality and mood for new mums?

Hi there, here's my latest venture in YouTubing. If you prefer the read, the text is below.


A new study in The Journal of Behavioral Medicine in July this year looked into the connection between sleep quality and post-natal depression and anxiety. As it wasn't reported in the mass media, I thought you might be interested.

The importance of a good night's sleep is only common sense. The thing is, sometimes common sense proves to be wrong. So, it's sensible to run scientific studies, just to see what's what.

For this one, researchers from 4 universities in the US interviewed 116 ladies who'd given birth six months earlier. They assessed them for depression and for anxiety. They also asked an awful lot of questions about factors that might be important such as their age, their employment status and so on.

When they adjusted for all the differences, the numbers showed that there is a clear link between poor sleep and depression and anxiety symptoms.

What does it mean?

We know from other studies mood problems can make it hard for mums and babies to bond. That's a problem because good strong bonds are important for healthy development. 

Now, other studies show that postnatal depression and anxiety are quite common. Roughly one in ten mummies get to one or the other. If you're unlucky, you get both.

So, when doctors talk to new mums, this new study tells us that the conversation needs to include a chat about sleep quality. Mums who are okay but who aren't sleeping well need to be given a heads-up that it may lead to mood issues. Because forewarned is forearmed.

As for new mums who report having mood issues, we're saying, focusing on sleep quality should be part of the package.  That means talking to a mental health professional about cognitive behavioural therapy, relaxation techniques like visualisation and other systems that can help improve sleep quality.

The study is by no means perfect, no study ever is, but it's nicely structured and thoughtful, so I think it's worth checking out. I've left a link to the journal article below and in the video description.

Poor sleep quality increases symptoms of depression and anxiety in postpartum women
https://cds.psych.ucla.edu/documents/Okun2018_Article_PoorSleepQualityIncreasesSympt.pdf

And if you want to check out visualisation, check out my related videos on my YouTube channel
Introduction to Visualisation on YouTube
Relaxing Beach Visualisation on YouTube
Or my blog post that includes the transcript

I hope you found this useful. Do leave a comment to share your thoughts. Also, please, if you are hit by post-natal depression or anxiety, get help, okay? Don't just suffer, reach out. Also, get some quality sleep.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Visualisation - get the stress relief that meditation brings, without the heavy lifting

Do you ever get that tight, gasping feeling? As if you're being crushed on the inside? Or a feeling over being overwhelmed?

Visualisation is a mental time-out that can help you destress. It’s a bit like meditation but much simpler. Here's a video that explains how it works, and a second video to help you relax.

If you prefer to read rather than watch, the transcript is below.





This how it works: you need to combine several deep breaths with a mental image that you relate with feelings of calm and relaxation. Also, to give the exercise kick, you need to bring in as many of the five senses as you can: what you see, smell, feel, hear and taste. Finally, it works best if you walk into the image and finish it either by sitting still or on a loop of activity.

Like for me, my idyllic scene is to walk up to a swimming in a pool in the middle of a super hot day, to get in and then to swim laps. The image works for me because I’m from a cold country and so the idea of a burning sun on my back is just heaven.

However, it’s not for everyone. Many of my friends in Malaysia have a horror of the sun, so my happy scene would make them stressed not relaxed.  You have to pick the right scene for this to work!

I like visualisation because it’s simple, fast and it works surprisingly well for a lot of people. At the very worst, if it doesn’t work, there are few downsides, like you waste a few minutes.

If you do the exercise every day, it promotes calm and helps lower stress levels.

You can also use it to manage stress attacks.

Visualisations work best when they are personalised (yes, hire me!) but I’ve made you a short video of a cross culturally friendly early morning beach scene that’s designed to be calming and refreshing. Try it out and let me know how it goes.



Did it work? I hope so.

If you want professional support for managing stress, email me at happy@lepak.com and we'll set up a Skype video conferencing appointment. The first twenty minutes are free.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Manage fear of public speaking and media interviews - a simple tip. No, it's not imagining people naked.

Check out the video, and if you prefer to read, check the transcript below.





A few years ago, I was invited to go on tv and talk about Katz Tales, a feelgood column I write in The Star, the Malaysian national newspaper.

When it comes to cats, I talk at Olympic level. Honestly, it’s a job to shut me up. But the second I watched an episode of the chat show, I got the heebie jeebies. 

I thought, that presenter interviews famous people and who am I? Nobody!  And what about the people watching? What if they think I'm an idiot or a nutcase?

But as I watched another episode, I realised something.

For me, my life is a story that stars me. I am in every scene. I am the centre of my universe. It’s me-me-me all the way.

But for the chat show host, her life story stars her. And for each and every viewer, it’s the same deal.

And that’s when I thought, wait a minute…

I put myself in the place of the presenter and imagined being her. On the day of the interview, she would be consulting with her colleagues, talking to her producer and her director, then it would be makeup, maybe she’d have to manage her advertisers too....

At some point, she'd meet me, and she'd do her job, behaving professionally - just as she would with the other three guests scheduled for that day.

It was a lightbulb moment: in her life story I was insignificant, a mere blip on the radar.

It liberated me. I could go on, talk cat and she wouldn't be judging. I wasn't important enough for her to even really notice me.

As for the viewers, it was the same. They might laugh for a moment, or be bored and go and make a cup of tea, but that would be it. I didn’t feature significantly in their life story either.

That experience underlined an important fact for me. Very often, our fear of public speaking runs so high, that we get a stress reaction – and it muddles our good sense. 

When frightened, we imagine the worst. But our perceptions may not be true reflections of the facts. 

So, if you have to do a presentation, and you find yourself in a spiralling panic, take a step back, think it over and consider the matter from all angles.

My learning experience has kept me centred for all my public speaking. I hope it helps you, too.

If you’re stressed or need help or support, contact me at happy@lepak.com and we’ll set up a video conference appointment by Skype. It's super private, nobody knows we're talking. The first twenty minutes are free.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Dear Ellen, "I'm jealous that I'm missing out on my baby's milestones."

I am a full-time working mum, 5-month-old baby is being taken care of by in-laws. My brain knows that it is good that I have people to trust (there are just so many horror stories), and that I really am grateful for their help. But my heart is so jealous that I am missing out on the milestones. Pictures from them of my baby make me so irrationally angry. I reach home at 7pm, baby sleeps at 8pm, which hardly gives me time to spend with him. Quitting my job is not an option. Talking to friends and family, including husband, does not help. They just tell me stop being silly, and be thankful. I would like to think i can compartmentalize, but unfortunately it is not looking so. Are there any coping mechanisms that you might suggest?

Sorry, I didn't see this as the form 'forgot' to email me. Hope you haven't waited too long.

Working mum guilt is incredibly common, so first off you need to know it's not just you, okay? And as loads of ladies have this, there's lots of good advice about.

First, you mention several emotions, and one in particular stood out to me: the irrational anger.

Dear Ellen, "I'm jealous that I'm missing out on my baby's milestones."
I think that that one merits being examined in-depth. You have only just given birth and so your body is still recovering from the pregnancy and birthing experience. As depression can sometimes manifest as anger, I think you need to have a talk with a mental health professional (me?) about your emotions generally, just in case you have post-natal depression.

If you do have post-natal depression, getting help for that will make a big difference. However, it may not fix the mummy guilt.  So, what else can you do?

You say your jealousy comes from fear, specifically, that you are missing out on milestones. That would be totally true if you didn't see your baby for days or weeks on end but actually, you see each other every day. And unless you work 7 days a week, there's weekends too.

My suggestion is that you re-evaluated your actual situation: do not focus on the hours you are away, focus on the hours you have.

Let's say you're away 12 hours a day, that leaves 12 to be with your baby. Plus two days over the weekend. That's 168 hours in a week and you are with your baby 108 hours. And we're not counting holidays.

For the 108 hours you have, make them count. Have special days where you sing together, play together. Lap it up. Also, that hour you have at night every day, devote it to special time. Dinner can wait while you're being happy, bonding.

Second, you need to address your belief that you're missing out on something.

There is nothing your baby will do only once and never again. Burping, laughing, crying, sleeping, eating - all those things happen throughout the day, the night, and the weekend. 

But there is no doubt that you will see less of all that because of the job. Also, later on there will be a first step, first word….  Hopefully you will see those first ones but you may see the second, third and so on. And that may bite.

You probably are way ahead of me in that but I should add in here that I think this fear comes from guilt.

If we were to dig a little, I'd bet you have some hidden belief that mums ought to be at home, not out, earning a crust.  That kind of thinking is pervasive but it's not really based on fact. Rationally, most mums have had to work (in the fields, in the house, in someone else's home) and childcare has been shared and outsourced forever, everywhere.

I think you have to accept it's a trade-off and a common one.

Tackle your fear and guilt head-on by formulating exactly why you go to work.
1.    Why are you a working mum?
2.    What does working do for you?
3.    What does working do for your baby?
Make an affirmation out of your answers and repeat it when the guilts hit you.

And finally,
#Stay away from people who get their kicks by laying guilt trips on mums. There are loads of them, laying their 'advice' on others and the last thing you need is their poison. 

#Network with fellow mummies so that you remember you're not alone. But avoid the ones who turn parenting into a competition, you don't need that kind of pressure.

#Talk to your husband, not to ask him for help but to ask him how he feels. Many men suffer from all kinds of awful fears when they become dads but they have few outlets because 'manly men don't worry; they act" rubbish. Reaching out to your partner may help both of you.  Also, he may really want in on the quality 'baby and me' time.

#Your son knows he's safe, loved all day long, and then loved all night long, too. That's an awesome gift to anyone, so breathe and enjoy that little miracle. Repeat: you are doing your best and your baby loves you.

Good luck and do write a note in the comments to share how you're doing.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Confidentiality Rules - How Secret Are Our Sessions?

Want to reach out but aren't sure how safe your secrets are? Check out the rules that govern confidentiality.






If you don't have 5 minutes to watch it, the take-away is this:

I work over Skype, with video streaming consultations. So you sit in your space, I sit in mine, and nobody knows we're talking. Ther's no waiting room, no secretary, nobody to see us. It's super secret. 

Confidentiality is absolute except for when:
  • You are in immediate danger of suicide or self harm 
  • You make a credible threat about killing or injuring someone else
  • The police come knocking on the door because you are a terrorist or other threat
These things are rare. The most common reason to break confidentiality is because you ask me to talk to someone (your teacher/doctor/employer). If that happens, you decide what may be shared and what not.

Note: This is my first ever video, and I'm still learning about presentation, lighting and editing. If you've any comments or suggestions for improvement, please do let me know.

Also, if you have questions, please leave a note in the comments or email me.


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

How to get things done right, when the going's rough


Image courtesy of Geralt on Pixabay
Pressure and stress leads directly to muddled thinking. It doesn't matter how cool you are, or how clever. When the balloon goes up, we are all liable to react without thinking properly. And that's when we make mistakes.

Cool thinking under pressure is very, very difficult. One thing that helps is that if you go through the same trouble over and over again, you get better at dealing with it.

Sounds totally sucky, right? But this is why training for doctors, emergency services, police, military and other people who work in hugely stressful situations consists of endless drilling. 

Drilling exercises are designed to help people react automatically in ways that are most likely to produce good results no matter what is going on. So a fireman who sees a fire won't be brave and rush right in, but she will check her gear, and go in only when she's fully prepared.

If you don't happen to be rushing into flame and gunfire but feel as if your office or home is running along the same lines, here are some coping tips.

  1. Accept and embrace the pressure. It's a sign of being alive.
  2. Are you being accused of something? Breathe. Then reflect honestly and see where you are accountable.
  3.  Don't let pressure and other people yapping distract you from your goals. Figure out what matters, what needs to be done, and do it.
  4.  Learn to fight your inner personal demon giving you the negative self-talk.
  5. Feeling is great but logic brings balance and thoughtful, effective solutions.
  6. Consult with those who have faced and dealt with similar problems successfully.
  7. No pain, no gain. Remember, you're learning.
  8. If a certain 'fix' makes you feel dirty, it's the wrong solution.

 And, you can always consult with me. ♥♡♥(ꈍᴗꈍ)ε`*)♥♡♥

Thursday, October 11, 2018

I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.


Two days ago I signed Do Not Resuscitate papers for my father. I expected to feel guilt, but that didn’t happen. This blog post explains why.

I don’t usually talk about family because I am quite a private person. However, I had a long conversation with Tom, my husband, last night and we think sharing my experience may be helpful.

A bit of background: my father walked out many years ago. He came back into my life just over a year ago because he had cancer.

It was not a Disney moment.  An attempt to reconnect failed.

This week I got a call from a doctor who informed me that matters are now coming to a close, and could I come for a discussion.

The other thing you should know about me is that back in the late 1990s, I helped my mother nurse a dear friend of ours, Christine, who had cancer. Back then, medicine wasn’t as good as it is now, and her doctors were callous.

Christine died in a lot of pain; so much pain, that her screams still haunt my mother and me today.

So, when my father reappeared to say he was sick, we wanted to be sure he had end of life care. That means palliative care and painkillers.

Luckily, Malaysians are compassionate people. There is a culture here of alleviating pain.

And this is what brings me to the message I want to share:

In modern life, we become insulated from many of the harsher elements of life. Sometimes, we don’t truly understand how much suffering a person can go through. As a result, when it comes to end of life care, we tie ourselves up in knots, wondering if we’re ‘interfering with fate’ or worse ‘killing’.

When I signed the DNR paperwork and then more papers to allow strong painkillers, I did so with gratitude. I felt grateful because I know how ugly passing from cancer can be. Making sure my father will not suffer an agonizing death is my gift to him.

I’m sharing my thoughts because I want to say that if you have to face a similar situation, please do not feel guilty. There is no benefit whatsoever in having someone suffer.