Mums, here's how to get fit and happy
It might seem crazy what Zoé McDonald is about to say but clap along if you feel like that's what you wanna do
Get moving outside
For a double whammy mood-boost, the cocktail of exercise-induced endorphins plus the feel-good factor of natural light and green space is pretty hard to beat. TIP We know that making time for a proper workout can be nigh on impossible when you have small children, but fitness trainer Sarah Maxwell, who is a postnatal specialist and has worked with celebrities and big organisations, says outdoor play with your children is the key.
'Formal exercise can be pretty boring. Playing frisbee, a brisk walk with the dog (incorporating some interval exercising, or pushing your buggy), or chasing/sprint training games can be done with your children. So my number one tip is: "Don't stand around when you take your kids to the park.'''
Sarah says that when she's pushed for time, she runs up and down the stairs in her house, or spends 15 minutes on the trampoline after her kids are in bed. All these snippets of activity add up over the course of the day, and will boost your mood and your fitness.
Nix the gremlin within
Your critical inner voice can become so influential that it gets mistaken for the truth. In Be Happy (£10.99, Hay House), Dr Robert Holden talks of asking students to rate their capacity for kindness towards others and themselves. Overwhelmingly, people tend to be kinder to others than they are to themselves. As parents, a capacity for virtually limitless kindness is called for, but it's a quality mothers scrimp on for themselves.
TIP: 'Your critical inner voice will be at its strongest when you're fraught and tired,' says leading hypnotherapist Georgia Foster, a mother of 17-month-old triplets and creator of The Stress Less Mind ebook (£12.99). 'Once it sets in, it causes catastrophic thinking, leading to anxiety and fear about the future.' Foster's advice is to take a moment to breathe in fully, then 'breathe out' the unhelpful thought, replacing it with a memory that triggers positive feelings. 'Stick pictures that trigger memories of love, safety and fun around the house. A glimpse of your smiling children on a blissful holiday will help reinforce positivity.' Persevere with this pattern, she says, and eventually it will become a habit.
Do the frenergy test
Ask yourself if you feel drained or boosted after spending time with someone. A lot of the bonding between new mums is based on discussing the difficulties and challenges of the new role you have in common, but those who are relentlessly negative can bring you down.
Researchers on the Framingham Heart Study in America, created to identify risk factors for heart disease, found that those surrounded by happy people are more likely to report feeling happy themselves.
TIP: Don't worry, we're not going to suggest a friend cull. Georgia says it's best to combat negativity by offering the flipside. 'The way you see yourself as a parent impacts on your enjoyment of motherhood, and interactions with friends feed into this. Everyone has bad days, but if you get sucked into an 'isn't it awful' conversation, try saying, quite directly: 'Sorry, talking like this is just going to make me feel worse today,' and change the subject.
Studies show that regular voluntary work boosts happiness and health, increasing feelings of social connectivity and warding off depression. Volunteers have also been found to have lower blood pressure, and altruistic actions are related to longevity.
TIP: Even if you can't volunteer formally, visiting an elderly neighbour once a week, or helping regularly at a playgroup, will give you the helper's high. 'Volunteering makes us feel more connected to other people and the wider community,' says Dr Ruth Lowry of the University of Chichester. 'If you volunteer in a way that uses your skills, you're also increasing your competence, which has a positive effect on your confidence. These three qualities – connectedness, competence and autonomy – have been identified by psychologists as being key to satisfaction.'
High five yourself
There are studies showing that those who celebrate and note their achievements, taking time to congratulate themselves, are more content. But when you spend a lot of your time focused on motherhood, you can become self-critical and forget to celebrate achievements that aren't as obvious as career highs.
TIP: Here's a list of things Gurgle says count as achievements. We order you to reward yourself now!
1. Managing to 'keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you,' (as Kipling so eloquently put it). Think supermarket meltdown.
2. Having a fully stocked bag (snacks, drinks, Calpol, spare clothes, SPF) and not needing to ask another mum for something you've forgotten, all day long.
3. Climbing out of your warm bed for the squillionth time to offer your child reassurance when their call pierces your precious sleep.
4. Making it to the bottom of the laundry pile.
5. Actually making it out of the house before 10am.
Get fit and happy continued...
Seek out simple joy
The practice of mindfulness – encouraging the appreciation of each moment, teaching us to be fully present in the now – is being fêted everywhere right now. And research shows that those who appreciate simple daily pleasures are happier. But caring for little people can take up so much mental energy that you need to rediscover those moments of everyday greatness.
TIP: You can easily harness the power of mindfulness, 'any time, any place,' says Guinevere Webster, a clinical psychologist who specialises in mindful birth and parenting. A super-simple way to practise mindfulness is to pick one of your senses and use it to focus on your child. 'You could listen to your baby babbling or your toddler playing – spend a few minutes tuning into the sounds. See if you can let go of your tendency to categorise each sound – instead simply hear it as a sound. Every time you notice your mind wandering, bring your awareness back to listening. 'The same exercise can be done with what you can see; you might focus on your child's face, perhaps the detail of her eyelashes or the contours of her cheeks, again just making the details of your child's face the focus of all your attention for a few minutes. This exercise allows you to let go of any preoccupations, plans or nagging worries that may be dominating your mind, creating space to enjoy what's already there.'
Use music as therapy
In one study, listening to music had the same impact on reducing anxiety as massage. Researchers from the Group Health Research Institute in the US found patients who simply listened to music had the same decreased anxiety symptoms as those who received ten hour-long massages. TIP A recent straw poll by Gurgle revealed the following, eclectic round-up of uplifting, mood-boosting tunes. We defy you not to raise a smile.
Stevie Wonder – Superstition
AC/DC – Back In Black
Shed Seven – Chasing Rainbows
The Beach Boys – God Only Knows
Roy Ayers – Everybody Loves The Sunshine
The Killers – Mr Brightside
Bob Marley & The Wailers – Stir It Up
Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
Manu Chao – King Of Bongo
Spandau Ballet – Gold
Gil Scott-Heron – I Think I'll Call It Morning
OutKast – Hey Ya!
Lose track of time
Losing yourself in a fun, creative task is seriously good for you. It's what the experts call 'flow.' Clinical psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew (drrachelandrew.com), who works with children and their parents, says being playful 'offers you a unique opportunity to indulge your fun and creative side, tuning into your child and enjoying them. It's a great antidote to the banal aspects of childcare.'
TIP: Get down on their level. Floor-based activities, from small world (playing with animals, cars and houses), to jigsaws, or any floor-based craft activities, make it easy to let your children take the lead, and afford lots of opportunity for eye contact and responsiveness. 'Plan your activity so that you won't have to say 'no' too much – use an oil sheet for painting or playing with Play-doh, and avoid the temptation to be controlling about building or playing in the "right" way,'
Dr Andrew advises.
Deliberately regularly disconnecting from technology can reduce blood pressure and decrease stress levels for children and adults. But going cold turkey can be tough.
TIP: Instituting a tech curfew is easier said than done when children are used to using iPads, or playing games on your phone, but even if there is initial grumbling, 'The pay-off will be worth it,' says lifecoach Amanda Alexander, founder of coachingmums.com. She suggests simple ground rules – when, where and for how long children can watch TV or use devices. 'To avoid tantrums, keep them informed of how much longer they have. Giving warnings: "Ten more minutes, five more, one more..." will help them to switch off.' She also says it's important to set ground rules for yourself, so your children don't see you checking your emails every time they look up.
Boost your ability to bounce back
Professor Martin Seligman has found that happy people have a greater ability to recover from setbacks: those who are resilient tend to view obstacles as temporary, specific and changeable, while pessimists are more likely to turn criticism in on themselves.
TIP: If you've had a knock-back, seek out an interaction to take the edge off. In his book Flourish, (£14.99, Nicholas Brealey Publishing), Professor Seligman says: 'Very little that is positive is solitary. When was the last time you laughed uproariously? Felt indescribable joy, or a deep sense of meaning or purpose? Even without knowing your life, I know they took place around other people. Other people are the single most reliable antidote to the downs of life.' So resist the urge to brood. Pick up the phone, or arrange to meet friends.