Girl Troubles – Where do they come from?

A mindful approach to managing the complexities of being female

Originally posted 2015

I am terrible at maths.

I blame Miss Drummond – my third grade teacher. She spent more time shaving her legs in class than she did teaching, and believe me, when it came to multiplication, subtraction and especially division – I needed lots of teaching.

My maths difficulty aside, after some very rough calculations – I estimate that around 70% of my close female friends, across both America and Australia are on anti-depressant medication. 70% does seem rather high, especially when we are talking about a group of well-educated, intelligent, creative and passionate woman, most are in long-term relationships, many are mothers, some have busy and rewarding careers but they are all battling the troubles of anxiety and depression. Of course, the other possibility is that being a psychologist I am attracted to interesting, complex and slightly mad people in my life so my sample group is significantly skewed. Regardless, I sense there is a bit of a problem so I ask you what is going wrong? Why are these women needing to turn to medication to ease the chattering of their minds? What can we do as a society to ease some of the a) stress of being a woman and b) stress on our medical system as a result of the number of women seeking treatment and medication?

I propose the following areas could be woven into both our formal education system as well as our parenting classes:

 1. Build Emotional Management Skills

Research tells us that women are likely to be more emotional beings than men – with this comes great strength (emotional intelligence) and some weakness (greater incidence of anxiety and depression when these emotions are not well managed). What are we doing to support women to manage and leverage the plethora of emotions they are genetically wired to experience? Science tells us that practicing mindfulness can enhance both emotion regulation and feelings of general well-being. The implementation of formal “awareness and observing” practices into both school and home life would be an invaluable addition to all.

 2. Develop Relationship Skills

In my thesis (gosh the stats were a grind), I found that one of the biggest predictors of girls’ happiness is the quality of their relationships. What are we doing to support young girls and teenagers to manage the complexities of their relationships? I sense that woman are evolutionary wired to invest time and energy in relationships, however it may be possible that our prehistoric mind has trouble managing the complexities our modern era have introduced to us in this area.  

Practicing mindfulness can help us to build deeper a connection within ourselves – to learn to love and accept ourselves as we truly are. It can also free us to build deeper and more genuine connections with others so we feel truly supported in this wonderful journey of life.

 3. Set a Realistic Standard

The messages women are sent today about their role in society are so mixed and so complicated. I believe it is actually harder to be a woman now that it has been at any other time in history. According to the “pretend world” of media we are supposed to be the perfect wife/partner, be in great shape, have no wrinkles, be in a successful career, have well adjusted children, be a good cook, have a clean home, have lots of girlfriends and a fabulous wardrobe. The reality for most of us is that all of these combined are simply unachievable, something, somewhere has to give. And so we turn to medication because we are not living the perfect life we feel like we “should” be living. It is only the likes of Angelina Jolie (who we all know is a little bonkers anyway) who may be able to pull all of these off, but I am sure she does it with a lot of help and probably a great therapist.

Sadly, other women can be our worst enemies too. We can be so harsh on each other, some of us paint the picture that we do have it all together, leaving the rest of us feel inadequate on some level. Come on girls, what happened to the sisterhood?

 So, as a women and a mother (of 2 boys!), I believe it is our role to do the following for our girls:

o   Teach them that it is OK to be vulnerable – after all that is how we build deep connections within ourselves and with others (refer to Brene Brown’s wonderful TED talk on vulnerability)

o   Help them to clarify their values and live within these – that is where true, deep happiness comes from

o   Encourage them to set their own goals rather than be guided by others’ expectations

 In closing, I believe women have the capacity to really shape and shift the state of the world as we live in it today. They have the emotional intelligence, the great relationship building skills and the drive to succeed that will support us into the next century. We just need to support them to manage these strengths more effectively. And, as far as my maths skills go, I have accepted I have strengths in other areas and have employed a great accountant!

Mindfully Mum

Finding Clarity, Calm and Connection within the Chaos of Motherhood

Originally posted 2016

Becoming a mother was one of the most exciting and challenging roles I had ever accepted.

 The job ad read a little something like this:

“Are you in your 30s, in a serious relationship, already have a dog and looking for the next step?

Join our growing organization and find your real purpose!

We are seeking capable, intelligent and loving women to join our flourishing group. You will have some prior experience with children and relatively strong pelvic floor muscles.

 You will be rewarded with long, warm snuggles, unconditional love and affection and a sweet smelling sleepy baby. You will enjoy shopping for cute baby clothes, knowing smiles from strangers and compliments on the cuteness of your offspring.

 You will experience satisfaction from your new role and will feel fulfilled and challenged. Working hours are flexible and uniform typically consists of yoga pants and baggy t-shirts.

Apply at”

And for some women, the reality of the role may, in fact be very close to the job ad. For me, they were quite different…… Yes, there were (and still are) occasional long snuggles and some shopping for cute baby clothes and there are absolutely elements of satisfaction and intense meaning that this role has brought to my life. However, the flexible working hours did not turn out to be quite as flexible as originally promised and my manager (the child, not the husband) seemed to be very unpredictable, totally incapable of taking accountability for his actions and very unsure of what he really wants! Not to mention the tears (from everyone) and the feelings of loss of identity, loneliness and life focus. Questions like “who am I now that I am a mother?” “when will I ever have time for myself?” “How does she manage to do it all and I can barely manage a shower?” and “Am I doing this right?” made regular appearances in the chatter of my mind. Thank goodness I discovered mindfulness, just in time. Just as I was becoming completely disengaged and a little resentful, mindfulness reached out and tickled my curiosity. It may have just saved me from losing all of my marbles…

 Mindfulness – the definition

The formal definition of mindfulness is “Moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness” (Jon Kabat-Zinn) but I quite like to think of it as “being open and curious to what is actually happening, rather than what we think is happening”. As mothers we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about what is happening, rather than taking part in what is happening. It is this constant chatter of our very busy minds that can get us into trouble and distract us from engaging wholly in our own lives.

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learnt by anyone. It is nurtured simply by paying attention with an open and accepting approach. It involves removing our judgment (black and white thinking – good mum/bad mum etc) and applying the compassion and acceptance we may typically reserve for other, to ourselves. Sounds simple hey? And it is but simple doesn’t mean easy.

Nurturing this skill takes practice and commitment as we are literally rewiring our brain. We are gaining insight into our thought patterns and habits and deciding whether they are useful for us now in our current lives and in our current roles. Through this process we introduce the element of CHOICE to our experience and bring a greater degree of clarity, calm and connection into our existence.

Our mindfulness skills can be developed through formal practices such as meditation, yoga or relaxation exercises or informal practices such as simply paying attention to what we are doing. We can fold laundry mindfully, we can brush our teeth mindfully, we can listen and engage with our kids mindfully, we can even wipe their little butts with awareness! Research tells us “a wandering mind is an unhappy mind” so our task is to reign in this wandering animal and use it for good rather than allowing it to use us for evil (such as freaking out because the nappy is not on perfectly straight!).

So how does performance in the motherhood role look when we approach it with a greater degree of mindfulness? By simply bringing awareness to both our internal (thoughts and feelings) and external (behaviors) experiences, we can examine them with more clarity and make the executive decision as to whether they are contributing positively to our existence. Are they enhancing our relationships or slowly destroying them? Are they boosting our self-esteem or stripping them? And ultimately, are they contributing to our happiness?

 Tips for finding more Clarity, Calm and Connection

 1. The “Now What?” Meditation Inspired by Denise Roy (Momfulness)

You know those times you are trying to get your kid in the car, running late for a meeting and still trying to eat your toast and your kid decides he would prefer to sit in the front seat rather than his seat in the back? It is during these times that this practice is particularly useful. All it takes is three mindful breaths.

 1. First Breath – connect with your internal strength and ground yourself (stop the crazy spinning thoughts!)

2. Second Breath – tune into your kid – what is going on for them? Are they tired, hungry, not wanting to go to school today?

3. Third Breath – Ask yourself – now what? How do I need to be in this moment? What is going to help me here?

 2. R.A.I. N

 This is a handy practice to use when you feel like you have lost many of your marbles and would quite like to gain a little more clarity and perspective in a situation you are finding stressful. It is a four-step approach and uses the acronym R.A.I.N:

 R – Recognize your experience (“ah…I am feeling anxious”) Where am I feeling it in my body? how do I know I am anxious?

A – Allow it to be (“hello anxiety my old friend”) Can you breathe into it and allow more space for it to be there? can you let go of any belief that this feeling is bad or wrong?

I – Investigate the possible learnings (“what are you telling me anxiety?”). This stage is REALLY important, it may be here you gather more information about your values or even your own personal childhood traumas that have triggered you. This is not just a “head thing”, we are not just thinking about it, we need to tune into our body here. This takes practice and meditation is a great place to do that.

N – Non-attachment and Nurture (“I know I am feeling anxious but it is just a feeling and it does not need to overwhelm me as I know it will pass”) and then we show ourselves some loving attention: “I know this is hard darling, I know you are trying your best”, this can be facilitated by stopping, breathing deeply (especially elongating the exhalation) and putting our hand firmly but softly on our heart area (giving ourselves and our body a little loving snuggle).

Hopefully these tips will bring more clarity, calm and connection to your role as a mum. It is a wonderful job and we are incredibly lucky and blessed to have been successful in our application and as long as we don’t let our minds (and all of the expectations, worries and irrational beliefs) run the show – I believe we can continue to find meaning, satisfaction and fulfillment, even in the sleep deprived chaos of it all!