We all know that Adolescence is a time of change - Our children suddenly grow both in size and in ideas and start to put some of their childhood clothes, thoughts, and hobbies behind them.
Their moods can swing and their thinking can be less clear as they ride the emotional rollercoaster and their relationships change.
All kinds of hormones race around their bodies - not just the hormones related to sex, but also adrenalin, cortisol and oxytocin are triggered by the new experiences they explore.
Adolescents see the world differently. A child is much more able to correctly interpret facial expressions and body language than an adolescent is. Commonly many teenagers will mistake ‘fear’ for ‘disgust’ on their parents face. - I wish I had known this one when my kids were teenagers. If I showed fear when they were indulging in risky pursuits and they felt this as my disgust, it would have disrupted our already struggling communication. When I think back to my own parents I’m pretty sure I misunderstood their feelings and intentions too.
Let’s think about what it was like when you went from riding a bike to driving a car or driving a hatchback to driving a Formula 1 vehicle. Then try to remember what it was like driving your childhood brain and body. Can you remember suddenly being expected to drive an adult’s brain and body? Sometimes we find we have time to learn to negotiate the change and sometimes it seems to happen overnight.
Puberty was a slow process for me and I watched my friends and sister manage the changes before I did. For my daughter it was very different, the changes seemed to happen overnight or perhaps just while I was looking the other way.
We sometimes forget that there are more changes that we cannot see in an adolescent than changes we can see.
If you want to know more about Navigating the Teenage Years do read the book of the same name by Sue Saunders. Or reply to this post with any questions you may have.
There is a term
‘special needs’ and when it is used - there is an assumption that we all know
what that means. But do we?
Let’s imagine a
little girl, I’d like to call her Katy. When she was born, she was quickly
diagnosed with a chromosomal disorder. Her parents had some difficulties
feeding her, and as she grew, she was slower than other children to sit and
crawl and walk. Some of her problems mean that she has difficulty playing with
friends, communicating, digesting her food and she also has some problems with
her circulation. Katy needs a lot of extra care and support and spends a lot of
time at hospital appointments.
Katy though does not
have ‘special’ needs nor even ‘complex’ needs. Katy has exactly the same
physical and emotional needs as all of us. She needs food, exercise, sleep,
attention, choice, respect, a sense of purpose and achievement, loving
connection, a community, occasional privacy and to feel safe.
What Katy does need though is more support than most of us to get many of her needs met. She needs more help to do what many of us take for granted. When any of us struggle to meet our own needs we often turn to others for support. Illness, injury, age and loss cause us to re-evaluate how to meet our needs throughout our lives. If we are not able to meet them, we become, stressed, anxious, angry or depressed. However, if we all acknowledge that we have needs and that those needs are the same for all humans we can understand how to help others undergoing stress. We are all part of the solution.
I also find the term
‘special needs’ somehow implies that this person has many problems because of
the ‘specialness’ of their needs. The term can somehow blame or cause shame for
those needing more help or we might be mystified by not understanding these
‘special needs.’ Let’s all be part of the solution. Think for a moment how you
feel when one or many of your needs are not met. When you recognise this for
yourself you will find it much easier to understand how to help those around
If you want to
understand more about how emotional needs impact both you and the people around
you take a look at Anxiety Freedom Cards.
needs-based approach helps individuals, families and organisations to meet the
needs both of those who give and those who receive necessary care.
‘different abilities’ she is a delightful little girl and helps her parents and
many people who know her to get their needs met - especially emotional
connection, respect, community, achievement, attention and a sense of
We all have the same needs, there are no ‘special’ needs just some special ways to meet them.
Do let me know what you think or if you want to know more.
This brief blog does use generalisations - but try the ideas for size and see if your own experience of your own brain and those of other genders and take what you find useful.
Over thousands of years, male brains have evolved to focus attention on achieving a single goal whilst excluding any distractions (the hunter).
Conversely, female brains have evolved to look at the bigger picture and pick up on the emotional states of others (the gatherer).
In the words of Simon Baron-Cohen
“The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”
There is very little anatomical difference between male and female brains, but some studies have shown that female brains show more connections between the right and left brain in the corpus callosum.
While other studies have shown that people with ‘female’ brains show more activity on the right side and people with ‘male’ brains show more activity on the left side.
It is hard to say how much the hormones from the sex organs of the developing foetus affect the developing brain and how much is a result of the way that boys and girls are treated from birth. However, there are few people I have met who haven’t had difficulty in understanding another gender’s thinking style.
So, whilst the jury is out on differences between male and female brains most people do recognise that male and female thinking styles can be quite different. At one end of a continuum - an extreme female brain is very empathic and able to see a question from all angles and to be aware of how a decision could affect others. At the other end - an extreme male brain is great at systems and sees a clear, concrete answer and could be oblivious of how others might respond.
A difference that parents might notice in their children is that; boys systematically overestimate their abilities… and therefore need clear boundaries around risk-taking.
Whilst girls are more likely to underestimate their abilities… and therefore need encouragement and support in taking risks.
Stress can affect boys and girls and men and women differently. Boys (hunters) can respond with fight and flight and occasionally freeze. Males respond to a threat with their sympathetic nervous system and experience a thrill.
Whereas girls (gatherers) often respond with freeze and ‘tend and befriend’. Females respond to a threat with their parasympathetic nervous system and experience unpleasant, nauseated feelings.
A simple story from my own life demonstrates how my husband and I respond with our male v female brains to a simple stressor. When stress-free we are both able to use our empathy and systems thinking. However, on the occasion that my other half loses his car keys we slip into our ‘default’ thinking styles. Even a slight rise in stress levels cause the hunter to search only in the place the keys ‘should’ be and the gatherer searches anywhere they ‘might’ be. The Hunter uses logic and the gatherer uses imagination. The hunter may be flummoxed when logic doesn’t find the keys and the gatherer may panic when imagination creates a disaster for the events that may unfold if the keys cannot be found. As stress levels rise, the keys are even less likely to be found. The way to find the keys is to lower stress - this allows us both to think more clearly. The keys are found either by him systematically searching or by me scanning the room.
Female (empathic) thinking styles are more usually attributed to people who look female and have female physiques. Male (Systemic) thinking styles are more usually attributed to people who look male and have male physiques. However, this is not always the case, nor is it predictive of sexuality.
It is always valuable to remember that throughout life our brains are ‘plastic’, this neuroplasticity means that we are always able to change our abilities and thinking styles to benefit ourselves and the communities we live in.
It is also worth considering that in the 21st Century in the western world we are using systems designed by ‘hunters’. It may be time to ‘gather’ together to build families, healthcare and education services underpinned by empathy.
If you have any thoughts or questions about male and female thinking, please comment below, Let’s start talking about what really matters.
Worry is a way of thinking that causes stress in both your mind and body.
When you were pregnant - did you worry about how you would cope with a baby? Did you worry about how to feed them? Bath them? Or ‘just’ be able to keep them alive?
After your baby was born, did you look her in their eyes and feel your heart melt just a little, How this small part of you was now independent but you still had as much responsibility for this little body as you had for your own self. If you can tap into that feeling you can wash your brain and body with Oxytocin - the cuddle hormone.
Maybe you remember the time when you recognised how vulnerable you really were.
Then as your child grows, did you worry about them falling, choking, getting poorly? Did you worry about them being without you, being alone, or making their own way in the world? Or did you worry about them not wanting to leave you or be able to help them to move on?
Maybe you worried about how they would cope, how you would cope or what other people think of you (or them). When you remember these times, you can wash your brain and body with cortisol, the hormone that is most often released with stress and fear. The worry hormone.
Most mothers worry about their children - some of the time.
All Mums are different, and all children are different - I was lucky. I did not start life as a parent with the deep vulnerability that some Mums start with. Some mums start their mothering career by knowing that things can go terribly wrong, maybe they lost a baby before or had a traumatic birth. These things can give you the ‘evidence’ that you are right to worry. Some mums have a habit of ‘worrying’ - a sort of genetic, passed through the generations.
By the time I was 40 my Mum was still worrying about me - these are some of the things she worried about, It is cold, are you wearing a vest? There was a crash on the motorway within 50 miles of your home - were you in it?
I asked my Mum why she worried so much. She thought and answered - I do it to show you that I love you….
Caring and worrying are two sides of the same coin, I believe that my Mum taught me how to do lots of things - sometimes she taught me to do as she did and sometimes, she taught me to do the opposite. My Mum was a strong, confident woman with a great (if a little quirky) sense of humour. But she did worry.
Think about little Johnny - in the school play. His Mum loves him and is worried about him, she says “I will get there early so you can see me” “Don’t forget your lines”, “Even if it all goes wrong we will go for an ice cream afterwards” “Don’t worry I will be there with my fingers crossed”
Then think about little Tommy - in the school play. His Mum loves him and wants him to know she really cares. She says “I’m looking forward to the play and I will get there early so I can see you” “Remember - You’ve got this, you know all your lines” “I’m really looking forward to taking you for an ice cream afterwards” “I am just so proud of seeing you in the play this year.
Tommy’s Mum isn't naturally more positive, she just practices it.
Remember, - Caring is not the same as worrying, send your children hope rather than fear.
Recognise how you can choose to feel the feelings of Love (Oxytocin) over the feelings of Fear (Cortisol) Practice and get to know what ‘calm’ feels like to you and what simple things give you a glimmer of calm.
Stress cannot live in the same place as calm.
I would love to know what you do to boost your feelings of safety, warmth, and love, please let me know by commenting below.
Dear Meghan, I know your little Archie is a few months old, and if we actually knew each other it would be considered remiss of me to not have sent my congratulations and a small gift before now. But yesterday on my television I saw you, the mother in the princess, and wanted you to know that you have been seen.
We have little in common except the fact that we are both mothers. We both live in the UK and we would both really like to live the best lives we can.
I am contacting you now as I have been on this planet for a longer time than you, and I have been a mother and known many mothers over the last 40 years. So my gifts to you are my very best wishes and a little insight into the changes that you might be noticing.
There are several things that I would wish for you as you continue to grow as a mother.
I wish you time to eat, to sleep and to move your body and stretch your mind. I wish you a feeling of safety, a knowledge that you have choices, a sense at the end of the day that you have achieved something. I wish you the time and space to give and receive the attention YOU need, and the feeling of close connection with your loved ones. I wish you time for yourself and time with others. And I wish you respect for who you are and what you share with the world. Simply put, I wish you the support to meet your emotional needs as you are going through these early days of motherhood.
I would also like to share with you something that has taken me 40 years to understand - Matrescence. We have all heard of Adolescence and know the mind and body changes that we go through. We accept that these changes are permanent and generally beneficial to us as a species. We also know that it can be a time for forgetfulness and confusion as our brains take time to rewire and develop. Matrescence - the period of growing from a woman to a mother, similarly is a time of rapid change to mind and body - both the physical and mental changes are obvious, but only if we look.
You may or may not recognise some or all of the changes of your baby boosted brain.
You may have a heightened awareness of your 5 senses as you scan the environment to protect and provide for Archie. You might also be aware of your 6th sense (mother’s intuition) developing.
You may notice that you are being more efficient as you retain many things in your head at one time, (or realise that you are feeling overwhelmed by the same)
You may feel stronger in your drive to ‘be there’ for your child and your partner.
You may feel even more keenly the causes that are dear to your heart.
You also may notice how you pick up on others reactions and behaviours as your brain develops more ‘emotional intelligence’.
These brain enhancements that come with motherhood have long been denied. But these strengths are needed in our world more than ever before.
When I saw you on recent television appearances I saw how you connected to the women and children. What I didn’t see was the nurturing support of other mothers in your entourage. I hope they are there. Mothers are the people who can guide you through this journey. Matrescence takes months or years, just as adolescence does.
You will have been told when you first boarded a plane with Archie that you should put your own oxygen mask on first. This is a great metaphor for motherhood, but you don’t have to find your own oxygen mask, there is no shame in asking another mother to help you.
Wishing you much love and laughter,
P.S. If you know anyone else who might like a letter like this - do pass it on.
Do you hate it when your kids are absorbed in their screens and not giving attention to you, themselves or other things in life that are important?
We all need attention, and when we are ignored, or overlooked, we can feel quite stressed.
Yet how often do we ourselves, find that we are absorbed by a screen and not giving attention to our little ones? We also love being absorbed by something that grabs our interest and makes time fly. Let’s not expect our children to be any different to us.
Why does tech have such a powerful hold over us?
As humans we love to feel in flow - a sort of state of trance that makes time go by unnoticed. Music, art, reading, and exercise are common experiences of the flow state. Many people experience this state when using technology, especially playing games.
Attention is like a nutrition, the right amount of attention fills us up, too much makes us uncomfortable and too little makes us stressed. Of course, face to face attention is wonderful, but attention from our virtual friends in games and in social media is nourishment itself. We can also attract or repel attention quite easily online.
So, Flow and Attention are two incredibly strong draws to technology, and it can feel very difficult to switch everything off and do something different.
What do you enjoy doing? and what kind of real-life attention do you like? Look first to yourself and then to your children. You might come up with an answer that works for you both. You never know, those answers could even include using technology.
Let me know which ways you and your family give each other attention and go with the flow.
we think of ‘Mother’ we can be drawn to an expectation of ‘kindness’ - it is as
if ‘being kind’ should be one of the core skills on any job description for a mother.
But another expectation that mothers have on themselves is to “get it right”.
love the expression attributed to Wayne Dyer, “When you have a choice between
being right and being kind - choose kind.”
all have experiences of mothers being less than kind. Quite often in doing this
they are trying to prove that they are right. “I told you so!” “You never...”,
“You should...”, “You must...”, “You ought to …”
often these ‘unkind’, but ‘right’ statements are ingrained in the parent - who
has a voice in their own head full of oughts, shoulds and musts, trying to
steer themselves in an attempt to be a perfect parent.
has been a law passed this month in Scotland that makes smacking illegal. This
is a law that is most probably ‘Right’ but is it actually ‘Kind’?
have to admit here that I have smacked my children when they were small. I say
it here, but that doesn’t mean that I am proud of it. I grew up in a world
where ‘caning’ in schools was accepted and teachers threw blackboard rubbers at
kids who weren’t paying attention. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was an
ageing but recognised concept. So why did I smack my kids? - I really cannot
remember any specific events - but I’m pretty sure that I ‘tapped’ the little
hand that kept moving towards something hot or otherwise dangerous. I also know
that I did smack the occasional bottom as a sudden reaction to a feeling of overwhelm
when I really had no access to my own (or their) possibility of reasoning. The
result of this smack was to stop both me and my child in our tracks. The shock
somehow stopped the spiralling of emotions and we were brought up short, that
moment quickly enabled us both to change to another (usually better) course of
cannot justify my actions and given a choice I would never smack anyone. I did
however have an ongoing dialogue in my own head - with a huge pressure to be a
great mum with happy children.
thing is, with most smacking, shouting or swearing at, it happens at a time
when we are in a state of fight and flight. In this state we have little or no
access to our ‘thinking’ brain. We react rather than respond to a situation or
a behaviour. When parents are overwhelmed, unsupported and exhausted, they are
in serious danger of over-reacting.
let us remember the African proverb - “It takes two people to make a child, but
it takes a village to raise a child”. I believe it also takes a village to
raise a parent. When kindness is shown to parents, when they feel
connected to others, supported and relaxed they will be able to respond
to their children rather than react. Think - responsibility is the ability
will be able to be more kind to their children if they experience kindness from
others and are able to be kind to themselves.
try my best in all my relationships to remember that I nearly always have a
choice between being right and being kind. That certainly doesn’t mean I always
agree with others or that I will never make it clear when I am right. It isn’t
kind to let small children stay up till all hours every night, eat whatever
they like, whenever they like, and cuddle the cat until it can’t breathe. But
getting angry with people to prove your ‘rightness’ is kind to no-one, especially
the key word in the sentence “When given the choice between being right and
being kind” is neither right nor kind - but actually the word ‘choice’. The art
is in remembering that we do have a choice. When we feel we have no
choice and we cannot control our world we feel overwhelmed, frustrated and
parents for smacking their children is a controversial idea. I am not sure what
the punishment will be. Fines will take money away from families, prison
sentences will take parents away from children. If I had been arrested for
smacking my children, yes, I would have felt guilty - but also, I would have
felt real shame. I’m not sure that that would have made me a better mother, and
I’m pretty sure that it would not have made my children happier.
it be great to foster kindness instead of legislating against unkindness?
today take a moment to offer a random act of kindness to a mum you know.
me know what you do - but don’t forget to be kind to yourself.
I remember back in the early '90's' when the term “Mental Illness” was changed to “Mental Health”. It was done with the purpose of making it more ‘acceptable’. If it has worked, it has not gone far enough.
And the one thing it
has done is to confuse people. People will now say “I’ve got mental health”
when they have everything but that. The ‘Needs’ model shows how we can have
mental Health and also give insight into how mental illness develops.
In this blog I am
talking about mild - moderate antenatal and postnatal anxiety and depression. I
am not talking about severe perinatal psychosis - but if you want to know more
about this, then please do read Sara Shoesmith’s story in the link at the end
of this blog.
The factors that
cause perinatal mental health problems can be the same - the difference is how
the mind/body reacts.
If you consider yourself
in relation to physical illness - when you are run down - do you tend to get a
sore throat? An eczema flare up? Tummy troubles?
Then look at yourself
in relation to mental illness/health - when you are running on empty - do you
tend to suffer low mood? Worry? Or reaching for comfort food/behaviours. The
answer to this one gives a clue to whether you might succumb to depression,
anxiety or addictive behaviours or thinking.
So why does the
perinatal period bring about increased risk of mental health problems and why
does it seem to be more common than ever?
I have been working
with people with perinatal illness for more than 30 years and for the last 20
years my understanding of the human givens approach has really helped me to
Let me tell you about
the human givens approach.
Humans, just like all
living organisms have needs that have to be met in balance in order for us to
be physically and emotionally healthy.
We can all look back
at times in our lives where we felt happy, in flow and where all our needs were
met. Some of us are lucky enough to feel this way for a long time and some for
only short periods of time.
When our needs are not
met either very suddenly and significantly or over a longer period of time, we
start to feel stressed, anxious, depressed, angry or more addicted to certain
behaviours and thoughts.
Our ‘Given’ or
‘Innate’ needs are:
Food and Drink
Meaning and Purpose
When we go through a
life change (such as pregnancy or becoming a parent) we find that we cannot
always meet our needs in the same way as we did before. We have to spend some
time re-mapping our lives in order to meet those needs.
Pregnancy is a huge
time of change. Not only does our body change - growing far faster than it has
since we were first born but our brains change as well.
The changes that a body goes through in pregnancy are well documented, so I will not describe them here, but the feelings a woman goes through with these changes can be complex. It can be hard to appreciate the aches and pains, the veins and stretch marks and the change of shape and tone of many body parts.
The changes in lifestyle are often challenging. We spend a lot of time at work and identify with our work colleagues and our work role. When we leave work to have a baby, we suddenly lose that connection with colleagues and can feel isolated and as if we have lost our ‘place’ in our community. We also lose the recognition and achievement that come with our work. Knowing this is OK rationally and feeling it emotionally are two different things!
Our brains change quite significantly during pregnancy and in the weeks afterwards. Most of us recognise our difficulty in thinking clearly, remembering simple things and concentrating. This is due to the changes in our brains that come about with childbirth and nurturing a baby. During this period of change it can feel that we do not recognise ourselves, this alone can cause anxiety. Once we have ‘rewired’ our brains, we think differently often having an ability to see the bigger picture and focus less on the detail than we did before pregnancy.
Apart from Body, Mind and Employment changes there can be other changes that women go through at this time. Moving House, reviewing their whole family relationships, living with their partner for the first time or coping with other life events such as bereavement or other loss.
Take these cases:
Trudy had been
working as a teacher, she had been with James for 9 years and they felt that
now was the time to have a baby. It wasn’t long before Trudy was pregnant, and
they both enjoyed making preparations for the baby. Unfortunately, after a ten
hour labour the baby became distressed and Trudy had to have an emergency
caesarean, Baby Alfie was whisked away to NICU for four hours, and Trudy felt
that it was an age before she was able to hold her baby.
Alfie and Trudy were
well enough to go home 36 hours later. Although they were all tired, James was
very supportive, and Alfie started Breastfeeding.
Two weeks later James
went back to work and Trudy was alone with Alfie. Trudy couldn't believe her
luck to have such a gorgeous baby and felt a rush of love whenever she saw him.
Yet something was wrong. Trudy found she was really tired, weepy and unfocused.
It was all she could do to feed Alfie and keep them both clean and (mostly) dressed.
Trudy wasn’t sure if she was anxious or depressed, she kept checking on
everything, felt that she had lost all powers of concentration and really felt
that she ‘couldn’t be bothered’ to do anything she used to enjoy.
Luckily we also have
a set of innate resources (the illustrations are from in8’s Anxiety Freedom
Cards) Here are some suggestions for how Trudy could use these innate resources
to help herself.
Trudy found it
difficult to work out why she felt so low. There seemed to be no logic to
But she started to
make very short lists of things to do and enjoyed playing Sudoku - this helped
her to re-engage here rational thinking.
catastrophising and imagining that she would always feel like this.
With her Mum she
started to talk about the future, wondering where they would take Alfie and
what games they might play as he got older, a much healthier way to use her
She couldn't remember
much of what she had done in the last few weeks and remembered with fondness
how much easier it had been for her to go to work.
Talking to friends
with babies helped her to remember some of the things she had hoped for and she
started to be able to remember how much she had actually achieved on such
little sleep and in only a few short weeks.
She felt that she
would always look drab and feel low, and when she looked at things that she
used to enjoy all she felt was “well it isn't like that now!”
With a bit of
encouragement from James she saw that she had a pattern of always wanting to do
everything ‘right’ or even ‘perfect’. Motherhood was never going to be like
that. “Done is better than perfect” became her new pattern match.
She saw that everyone
around her coped well and she was the only one who found it hard.
On a night out with
some of her ‘mum friends’ conversation quickly turned to how exhausted everyone
was and how hard they found it to be who they used to be, just taking time to
get into genuine rapport really helped this.
She wasn’t sleeping
well and longed to feel that feeling when you wake in the morning and the
problems of the day before don’t feel that big.
Trudy talked to
James and told him how much she needed sleep. They agreed that she would have
an early night and sleep in the spare room while James took charge of Alfie,
just bringing him to Trudy when he really needed to feed.
Although in some ways
she felt ‘blank’, she felt that she was being hijacked by her emotions and it
was only the love for Alfie that got her out of bed in the morning.
An old friend
reminded her of how she used to ‘chill out’ by doing Yoga, going swimming and
using 7-11 breathing techniques. She also taught Trudy how to scale her anxiety
level on a 1-10 scale and then do something to lower the anxiety by just 1 or 2
points. Gradually the tsunami of emotions lessened.
Sometimes Trudy really
felt that she had ‘lost herself’ and felt ‘disconnected’.
Trudy’s big sister
came for a visit and seeing Trudy distressed just said “Trudy, Trudy, Trudy,
what do you need right now?” Trudy looked at her sister and said - “I just need
to know its ok” Trudy’s sister said “it’s ok” and indeed at that moment it was.
Trudy found that she often said to Alfie “it’s ok” and she listened to herself
Let’s check Trudy’s
innate needs (in bold) ...
Trudy wasn't eating and drinking as she used to.
She was hardly leaving the house and taking little exercise.
Sleep seemed to be a distant memory
The disturbing birth and the fact that she was home alone a lot made her feel more vulnerable she felt the need for security.
She didn’t feel that she was getting any attention or giving any to anyone except Alfie.
She didn't have an emotional connection with her friends, and hardly cuddled up with James as they used to do.
Trudy felt that she had no control and that she could never do what she wanted when she wanted.
Where Trudy used to enjoy looking back at all the things she had done in the day she felt that she was not achieving anything worthwhile
From being a happy, active, sociable teacher gaining others and her own respect Trudy struggled with being ‘Just a Mum’
Trudy missed her work colleagues and her students, and felt she had lost her community
The day to day looking after Alfie didn’t seem to fit with the true meaning and purpose of bringing up a happy healthy child.
Trudy longed for a few moments’ privacy, just a time to think her own thoughts and be alone.
How might you
If you are a
therapist, you will already have some tools to help but you might be able to be
even more effective by helping Trudy to see how she can start to meet her
emotional needs in this time of transition. For more
info see in8’s Anxiety Freedom Cards
Matrescence - The process of becoming a Newborn Mother
Everyone knows that motherhood changes a woman. Yet we have lived for hundreds of years as if it doesn’t, as if we are waiting to return to ‘normal’ as if becoming a mother somehow makes us less than - and more recently as if we are an interchangeable ‘generic’ parent.
It’s time to bring both the conscious knowledge and the unconscious wisdom together. Time to connect the mind and the body and to understand how to build bridges or weave a web between mothers and others.
It is time to treasure the mothers and the children and to build villages around them - After all it might take two people to make a mother but it takes a village to raise a mother.
I have a vision that we have to find new ways to develop ourselves and our societies by bringing motherhood out of the closet after more than 2000 years and raise ‘the matriarch’ in order to birth a better world.
You might not have heard of Matrescence, but I bet you have heard of Adolescence
Every part of a child’s brain and body changes through the period of adolescence.
Before any sign of puberty is visible the child’s brain starts to pour out different levels of hormones, high levels of growth hormone initiate a growth spurt (bone growth and muscle growth), and then the sex hormones kick in and there are changes in fat storage, hair follicles, skin texture, body shape - every organ of the body is affected. It is only in recent years that we have learned how much the brain changes. A pruning process occurs where neural pathways are pruned, and pathways not used are removed (most of us recognise that if we are not learning languages in our young teenage years - the capacity to learn a new language easily is seriously diminished by the time we reach adulthood).
Adolescence continues from the onset of puberty until the early 20s. These changes to both body and thinking can cause many disturbances to emotional wellbeing. Communication can be difficult as language and interpreting the wishes and thoughts of people around us can be far more difficult than it is for younger children. Let this sink in for a moment before you start to see how a mother’s brain is different again.
As in Adolescence, every part of a woman’s brain and body changes throughout Matrescence. This change starts with the recognition that she is to become a ‘mum’ and continues into the first few years of motherhood.
We do not expect Adults to behave and think in the same way as children. We should not expect mothers to behave and think in the same way as they did as women.
Most Mums (and people around) them know that they now focus and care about different things.
They seem to ‘see’ things differently, find multitasking easier, have a greater ability to manage some challenges, feel driven to make some changes, and have heightened emotional intelligence.
It is worth noting that both Adolescence and Matrescence can bring up feelings of anxiety and low mood. Understanding and being supported through this process, improves the experience for teenagers and mothers. I have observed these changes both in birth mothers and in adoptive, step and foster mothers.
If you are interested in finding out more about Matrescence and how you might help or be helped through this process - please do contact me.
For me, Friday 23rd August 2019 is a day to remember, as that was that day that I experienced my first (and I really hope my last) panic attack.
As a psychotherapist using the human givens approach, I have helped hundreds of people with anxiety, phobias and panic attacks. I’ve worked both with individuals and groups and have even produced a resource to help people who suffer from anxiety.
The thing is - I don’t generally suffer from anxiety myself. In fact, people often tell me that I am always able to turn things around and to put a positive spin on them. I originally got into helping people with anxiety 20 years ago, because I wanted to help family, friends and the people I work with to cope with and overcome anxiety and depression.
Generally, I am quite laid back, and stay (apparently) calm in situations in which many would be anxious. For me, anxiety is usually a choice and one I simply don’t choose very often. I know that if I get anxious about simple things it doesn’t help me. When I start to stress about something I might have lost, I simply take a deep breath and get into my logical head to retrace steps and find the item. If I am worried about someone, I will check that worry and send them my love and care. This said, I do avoid things I KNOW will make me anxious, such as bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing and wire walking.
Let’s say that on a scale of 1-10 my anxiety levels sit happily within the 2-3 range most of the time. Occasional my stress level momentarily jumps to a 6-7, but I quickly calm back to 2-3 and I am happy to be completely chilled at a 1! I use 7-11 breathing if I find myself getting stressed in a queue or a traffic jam.
The only time I have ever felt close to a panic attack was at Paddington Station after an extremely stressful couple of days in London. I felt a tsunami of emotions which I quelled within 3 - 4 minutes by reciting girls names corresponding to the alphabet in my head! (A technique I highly recommend as it takes you into your rational mind and stops the emotional hijacking.)
I have had some extremely trying and worrying times in my life - and I have not panicked. So here I will just explore what happened on this occasion and put it into a context that makes sense to me, and hopefully to you too.
What led up to the panic attack.
I work from ‘The Needs Model’ of wellbeing and my experience shows that Anxiety is caused when emotional needs are not met and/or our innate resources are not used well.
Let’s look at what happened on that fateful Friday, by examining which of my innate needs were (not) met and the specific events that led up to the panic attack and what it felt like at the time.
We had been in Canada for three days and had adjusted fairly well to the climate, the dollars and the really big buildings in Toronto.
We were in town for a three-day conference.
For me, just like an accident, this panic attack was not caused by one big thing happening - but a set of unfortunate incidents that lead up to the event.
I will outline the events and then share my ‘emotional needs audit’ for the day - as you will see, individually, none of them was a big deal.
Our hotel neighbour’s alarm was exactly the same as ours and woke us at 5:00am - starting the day with 2 hours less sleep than usual.
Meeting new people - finding places and not being entirely sure what the day would hold.
The music and the conference speakers were so loud I had to buy earplugs.
Navigating a large hotel, finding a shop (for earplugs), coffee, toilets and WiFi in a short time frame.
Having two lunch dates, made a wrong first decision and then was late for the second option. Missed part of the talk, part of lunch and any networking opportunity.
Being given (and expected to wear) tee shirts and a baseball cap. Attire that is WAY out of my comfort zone!!
I’m still finding the auditorium speakers very loud even though we have moved to the back and I’m wearing earplugs.
End of day - but only a very short turn around before heading out for the evening 'jolly' on a boat.
I need to pick up supplies, meet up with husband, go to the hotel room, change clothes, ‘powder my nose’ and find a boat before it leaves in 15 minutes.
I am aware that my experience of these events was very different from the experience of many others. I also know that we are all capable of experiencing anxiety and panic but looking back at how my own emotional needs were being met the first 14 hours of that day I can see that I was heading for the panic that happened. Party people who are used to working in a busy environment with long and busy days may well thrive on this, but I didn't!
An Emotional Needs Audit
How am I doing?
Scale out of 10 (higher = more stressed)
Food and Drink
Ok, but I am hungry now.
Ok, but I was either sitting, standing in crowds (which gives me backache) or rushing. By the time I panic I have been unable to move for 30 minutes.
I have been awake for 14 busy hours.
Out of my comfort zone on several occasions.
Not knowing what was happening for much of the day. I don’t know where we are going or when we will get off the boat.
Unable to talk to others due to not being able to hear above the noise.
Not being in the right place at the right time to meet and chat throughout the day. My husband is around but we ‘lose each other’ several times in the crowd.
Feeling like an outsider as unable to talk to others.
Feeling a ‘failure’ late, disorganised and not having had any good conversations.
I’m really not feeling ‘seen’ and not proud of the way I am feeling right now.
Meaning and Purpose
I love sharing ideas and want to connect but cannot.
I cannot hear myself think - There is nowhere to go to ‘get away’
Even though I have been feeling at a stress level well above my normal for 14 hours now I do get to the boat, in time, with my (lovely and very understanding) husband.
This next part of the story tells of my experience of a panic attack.
The music is louder than a live band in a small space.
The boat does not leave for around 30 minutes after we get on.
I sit near my husband - we both try to have conversations with people close. Everyone is shouting. I cannot hear above the music. - (I didn’t think to bring earplugs and my ears are hurting) I soon see no point trying to talk to anyone so I look out of the window and take a few photos and distract myself by playing mindless games on my phone.
Our boat arrives at the destination. With everyone else, I stand up and walk towards the exit. However, we are having trouble docking. I look out at everyone looking frantically happy on the quayside. I cannot engage conversation with anyone here though as I cannot talk loud enough or hear them. I am slow to realise that I have moved even closer to the speakers. I stand by the window. My husband is in the line a few feet behind. I watch people having fun on the shore. I hear people chatting and laughing behind me. I feel really, really stuck, and isolated. I don’t want to be here. I cannot hear myself think…. I want to scream. I want to hide…. My internal narrative says: “What if I curl up in the corner?” “I could crawl under the table” “No that would just be silly” "Come on - just look out of the window, it won't be long and you can get away from the noise”…. Boat is still docking. It feels like about 20 minutes have gone by, I have no idea of time. Then I start to cry. I’m facing the window and the shuddering starts, “Why doesn’t anyone reach out?" “I hope no-one sees me”. Luckily I am not by an open window at this point as I consider jumping the 12 feet onto the dock…. None of these thoughts are working for me I know... I cannot hear anything except the noise that hurts my ears. As I shudder and cry - I step away from the window and catch the eye of my husband - he raises his eyebrows and I shake my head - then it starts, without warning I shout - it is totally involuntary, just a shout - then another shout bubbles up - I slap my hands to my face to try to stop the shouts escaping but they just keep coming, and I keep hitting my face. I knock my glasses off as Alec and others guide me to the outside of the boat. There are people around - they look at me as if I am mad - they try to move away. The shouting starts to form words “I can’t bear it, I can't bear it, make it stop, please make it stop” It is as if I am watching myself totally dissociated from the noise that fills me and the words that erupt from me. Alec, my husband is behind me - strong. Two women start talking to me, as they ask what they can do for me (I have no idea or words that would make sense anyway) but they form that amazing human connection and bring me back into connection with myself. I know this is a panic attack. I know that I will be ok, I know I am not "broken" and that I will recover from this, I just need to be free of the loud noise in a confined space.
Until the panic started I had been able to use my innate resources to meet my needs and be OK with the situation.
This table shows how I was able and then unable to use these resources.
When it works
When it doesn’t
Use phone for photos and games.
Can’t concentrate now.
“It’ll be fine as soon as we are off the boat and have food”.
“We are never getting off this boat”.
Feel “it’ll be ok soon”.
I’ve been at loud gigs and busy meetings before and been fine.
This feels like the worst nightmare ever.
People are friendly when we get a chance to speak.
I’ve never been anywhere this scary before.
Smile and move to the side where others are looking out of the window.
Just manage to shake my head at my husband ...
Not asleep - hope it works later.
Not asleep - hope it works later.
It’s ok, just act normally Bindi! Later I will be OK and able to see the bigger picture.
I am observing my body from a completely detached position. It is shouting and sobbing and not under my control.
Once connected with other humans and away from the direct fire of the speakers, I can think more clearly. I am hungry and exhausted - I know that other people will judge me for the actions of this shouting, out of control woman. Yet I know that I have been to a place that so many people live on the edge of. I am grateful that I know that this does not have to happen to me again. I have not ‘blown a fuse’ I was nowhere close to death or madness. I do not blame myself or feel shame at finding the limits of my own stress tolerance. I know that there are always more people who will help and care for me than there are who would judge me and consider me ‘less than’.
Within minutes I am off the boat, sitting quietly on the edge of the party, I have food and drink and can even join some conversation above the noise.
An hour later - I board the boat for the return journey, I check with the captain where the noise will be least and enjoy watching the night time sky from the top deck - Sitting with Alec I don’t even consider engaging in conversation!
The next day - many of the same challenges are repeated, but I stay calm and easy and make the most of the experience of learning together with a great bunch of people.
When I reflect on what happened, I felt more and more alienated from others, my partner and eventually myself. The real help I got was from the people around me that were prepared to be ‘there for me’ both at that moment and the next day. I have always hoped I would be able to be there for someone in extreme distress, I now know that that simple human connection really does work wonders. The only way I could see myself as a human being was in the reflection of others who showed me their true humanity.
I share my experience in the hope that it might help others. If you have had panic attacks It might help you to know that you are not alone in having these experiences. If you know someone that sufferes from panic attacks this might help you to see how it can happen and what you might be able to do to help them.