The tricks of the mind and how they hold you back

How is your day going? I am feeling a bit overwhelmed today. Trying to get my head around becoming self employed in Spain but the bureaucracy is really daunting, as expected! Being self employed in the UK is a breeze compared to here. A tax return in English is one thing to get your head around…but in Spanish? And that four times a year, with VAT and very detailed book keeping plus big fines if you make a mistake or are a day late! Eeeek! I really feel I don’t want to do it anymore. Anxiety is kicking in.

anxiety in expats

Discovering yourself

I have not felt like this for years, thought I had left all that insecurity behind by now. I mean, I’ll be 40 next year. But no. Everything feels very wobbly all of a sudden. My steady foundation has turned into jelly and I am trying to find my feet. I guess we all go through these phases in life. You feel pretty safe and secure for a while, in control even, you think you know who you are. Got life sussed. Then BAM, you get presented with a brand new set of challenges that make you question all your values and what you stand for. It can even reveal sides of yourself you never knew you had. Anxiety for example. It is confrontational to say the least. It spices things up in life, yes, but it is tiring and emotional. Oh, and did I mention the language barrier? All part of the roller-coaster of moving countries.

anxiety in expats

Leaving the comfort zone

I remember how I felt 13 years ago, on the brink of emigrating first time around. I had not yet moved to Scotland, but I had flown across from the Netherlands for my very first job interview in English ever, which I was not quite fluent in yet. It went SO bad that I wanted to dug a great big hole right there. I was very nervous, struggled with the language and felt so small, embarrassed and stupid. Out of my comfort zone in front of three people asking difficult questions. I remember afterwards I cried and thought, stuff that, I am just going to work in that cafe over there serving tea and cake! I am not good enough for these types of jobs, way too scary. Of course, a few months later, another job came up and I got it. I was so proud of myself for biting the bullet and putting myself through it again. Another daunting interview. I still feel how happy I was when they called me to say I was hired.

So here I am 13 years later in Spain and I feel exactly the same. Happy but anxious. Excited but lost. Scared. Throwing up the barriers. I want to give up, not put myself through the complicated mill of freelance life in a foreign country. I want to hide under a large sun umbrella hoping it’ll all go away.

Monsters in my head

I am creating great big monsters in my head and keep thinking:”What if I screw up, what if I don’t know what to do, what if I don’t earn enough and can’t pay the monthly fees? What if I fail?” I need to remind myself I am not the first one who has done this and that there is help out there. There is no failing, only trying. But right now I just want somebody to hire me to serve tea and cake. Por favor?

Let them play! The sacredness of free play in childhood

Is it just me, or is being busy a badge of honour nowadays, not just for adults but for children too? Parents ferry their children around from one after-school activity to the next. They go to piano lessons on a Monday, tennis lessons on a Wednesday and art classes every Friday afternoon. Already exhausted new mums are putting themselves through the hassle of baby swimming lessons. Parents seem to be afraid that their brood misses out on becoming the next Einstein or Andy Murray and want every free moment in their kids’ lives to be ‘educational’. Otherwise learning apparently does not happen. And then there is of course peer pressure. How about some calm parenting?

Just playing freely without a grownup in charge almost seems rare in the lives of modern children. What ever happened to ‘freerange parenting’? Surely, most of us were brought up like that and it did us no harm. No constant supervision, no constant entertainment, no constant demand to achieve and produce visible results. Freedom to just be a child.

Today I want to make a plea for the return of mindful neglect.

mindful parenting

It is almost impossible to arrange a play-date on a weekday, because most kids have extra-curricular activities every day of the week, on top of homework. Why? Does it really set them up to become incredibly good at anything? Develop a life-long love for learning? The full diary in their young lives perhaps teaches them that life really just is a busy to-do-list.

Calm parenting: give the gift of time

When I was little I was a stubborn little girl who didn’t want to do any activity outside school whatsoever. Not that my parents didn’t try and encourage me. They did. I just did not want to do it. No tennis, no ballet, no music lessons. Go away. Not interested. And you know what, for my parents’ attitude I am grateful. They may not have pushed me to take private sports and music lessons, and I was unable to play the piano like fellow twelve year olds, but instead they gave me time. Time to play and to be bored. Time to figure out what I like. The opportunity to learn how to feel happy in just my own company.

Natural curiosity, taking action when ready

When I was about 10 years old I eventually asked my parents if I could join the local gymnastics club. I also wanted to do art classes on a Wednesday after school. I chose my own interests, when I myself was ready and motivated. Until that moment I sat quite happily at the kitchen table drawing. No adult intervention whatsoever. I played with Lego and my barbies, built dens with my sister or played hide and seek with the kids next door. As a teenager at fifteen I discovered a forgotten guitar in the attic and taught myself some chords. I have been in bands ever since. I didn’t have to be ‘exposed’ to music lessons from an early age. No, that doesn’t make me special, and maybe I would have enjoyed music lessons at 5, who knows, it just shows a different approach to parenting. Letting things be. I was always going to find the things that interested me. And having time to figure that out, made me love it even more.

calm parenting

So what am I trying to say with all of this? I believe (but who am I but a mother with a humble opinion) that the rise in anxiety among even primary age children, comes from somewhere. Whether it is a crazy busy schedule, too much competition, high parental expectations or watching too much rubbish on Youtube (let’s not go into that, right), I strongly believe in free play.

Keep free play sacred

So much playtime has already been taken away from them in school, with kids as young as 3 years old learning how to write their name and do simple maths. It makes no difference academically if they would start at 6. As parents we can at least try and make free play outside of school sacred. Have them join football or do ballet, sure, if they want to – but also build in that bit of calm at home. Downtime. No matter if they lie on the floor yelling that they’re bored. Don’t worry. Bored is good. It serves a purpose.

Calm parenting. The importance of free play

So much research says unsupervised playtime in childhood essential. It is more important for the development of social skills than any adult led workshop or extracurricular class in childhood. Still, as a society and as parents, we believe we’re at risk of falling behind academically. Learning to read and write and count is important and schools have their role to play. But children will struggle to become independent, happy and well balanced adults at the end of childhood if they never get a moment to themselves. How will they know how to be at peace with themselves without the need for constant reassurance, distraction and entertainment from outside?

calm parenting. the importance of free play

As a mother of two boys I try each day to be a good mum. Each day I wonder whether I did and said the right things and not screwed them up. It is not easy figuring out calm parenting and finding the key to motherhood. Still, instinctively I feel underscheduling is the way to go for my family. I want to encourage a calmness in my boys and an appreciation of the little things in life. I want them to be creative, resourceful and contented. Soulful living, right?

Calm parenting and creating resilient children

I hope to see more unstructured play in the park without helicopter parents trying to join in. Unstructured play in the garden without a well meaning parent leading some kind of Pinterest activity. Building Lego without the instruction book. Making stuff out of rubbish without the help of a grownup. Letting siblings quarrel without immediately trying to solve their argument. Letting them figure it out for themselves before intervening.

No pressure. Trust. Mindful neglect. Conscious neglect with the sole purpose of creating happy, mentally stable, sociable and resilient children. Kids with empathy. Kids who know the world doesn’t only revolve around them. Good humans. It seems a no brainer and common sense, but we have forgotten how to put it into practice. Or we are afraid to put it into practice. Because all the other kids…

calm parenting. the importance of free play

Children are naturally curious. They don’t need to be taught how to learn. They know. Children have a natural desire to discover the world for themselves. Give them that space. Even though you as a parent may think your child is not learning much at a particular moment and you feel you need to teach them stuff, their brain is working hard. If they have questions, they will ask them (oh yes they will!).

Calm parenting: lead by example and stop overscheduling

Children learn by example and copy our behaviour. What example is a stressed out, tired parent making life way too busy?  Instead, show calm. Just be. Say nothing. Trust your child in his or her own learning. Silence and time are essential ingredients for stimulating creativity and imagination and they are so precious. Childhood is short, please let’s not take away the magic.

Further reading

An article that really resonated with me:

Why are our children more entitled than ever before?

Some great blogs and Facebook pages on the topic of free play and parenting:


@playcounts

playcounts.com

@amotherfarfromhome

@theteachertom

Soulful living: five steps on how to be happy

How to be happy? There’s so much out there about happiness, mindfulness, finding real purpose and joy in life. Endless rows of books, magazines, articles and blog posts (hey, here’s another one!). Today I am stepping away from the interiors and putting the spotlight on my tagline soulful living. I hope you enjoy reading it!


from feeling lost…to being grateful

It seems that many of us are feeling a little bit lost in life. Are you lost? I do have my ‘lost’ moments, but thankfully I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do in life and what makes me happy: art and creativity. I guess I was lucky. Whether it is drawing, dancing, singing, writing, designing or coming up with new ideas, being creative gives me joy, purpose and an unstoppable drive to get up in the morning and get going. I am never bored. Because I chose what I love, I have always loved working. Creating and writing – that is me, that is who I am and I am grateful for that. And I am grateful for my parents to allow me to be who I am.

how to be happy


Very often I find myself in conversations with people who tell me that they are not happy. They’re unsure of what they really want to do in life. They fell into a job, do what is expected of them by their parents or peers or just like the big pay check but have no time for anything else but work.

Are we all pre-programmed to become part of the rat race? Becoming robots and just doing what everyone else does? Are we just trying to keep up with the Joneses?

It seems to drive us mad, that’s for sure. And it keeps self help writers, life coaches and counsellors very busy.


soulful living…being conscious

Soulful living is the tagline of my blog and I truly believe that life is too precious to live it any other way. So how do we do it, how to be happy? We don’t need to be happy all of the time – there is so much pressure on having the ‘perfect life’ in our culture. Why not try and feel content and value what we’ve got? Being present, conscious and sincere in everything we do. Go outside, breathe in the fresh air.

Do I have the answers to how to happy? No, of course I don’t, but today I would like to share a few thoughts and ideas that have helped me focus lately. Perhaps they’ll help you too in your own quest for happiness – or little daily struggles.


1. Practice daily gratitude

I wasn’t brought up religiously, but over the years I have picked up a thing or two from different spiritual books and practicing gratitude is one of them. Whether you pray to your god of choice at night, meditate in solitude or keep a journal, something shifts in your subconscious when you count your blessings. You have much more to be thankful for than you think.

In our house we have a ritual with our two little boys each night at bedtime. We ask them:”what was your best part of the day?” It is amazing how many things kids can come up with, which for us are normal, but they thought of as fantastic and enjoyable. Playing at break time with their best friend, a tasty lunch, new toys to play with at the childminder’s house, watching a film and eating sausages for dinner. Being mindful seems a natural state of being for kids. They ask us the same question and I admit it is really challenging to come up with equally as many great moments.

Some days all I can think of is that I enjoyed listening to the radio in the car to work in the morning and the snuggles at bedtime with the boys. “What else?” do they say. “I don’t know”, I answer, “nothing else.” They look at me puzzled. But I guess that is OK. I am working on it.

how to be happy


2. Write happy lists

Making lists can be very helpful to focus your mind and see things clearly when written down in front of you on a piece of paper. I recently bought the book 52 lists for Happiness, a great little book prompting you weekly to sit down and think about your life, what you find important and enjoy doing. It helps you to take stock of your past and present, as well as plan ahead and make some positive changes for the future.


What do the happy people do?


One of the lists that was a real light bulb moment for me was the one where I was asked to list the happiest people in my life and what I felt their characteristics are. Looking at the finished list, it struck me that the people I had listed actually had a lot in common:

The people I consider ‘happy’ all:

listen well (and don’t talk about themselves much)
– show an interest in others
– don’t judge
– smile a lot
– are very active in life and involved in their community
– don’t sweat the small stuff
– are positive in the way they talk
– are supportive

I was amazed by the similarities of the people I had listed, even though I’d never have thought of them before as very similar people. It definitely gave me food for thought and made me reflect on whether I do any of these things myself. Do I listen enough? Am I too opinionated and judgemental? Do I give enough of my time to others? Am I supportive? I realised that I probably feel most miserable when I am too focused on myself and my own silly little issues. When looking outward, helping others, life becomes lighter.

Do you feel this is true? Who are the happiest people in your life? What are they like and what characteristics do they have? Please share your findings in the comments below, I would be interested to find out if you see similarities too.

52 lists for happiness
A wonderful journal to practice gratitude, life musings and notes on happiness, every week. Order it her

 


3. Accept life and take it by the horns

I know quite a few people, some very close to me, who make mountains out of moles hills. The smallest things become huge dramas. Now I am not saying that you should be nonchalant about everything and not give a hoot, but fighting life’s obstacles – or worrying about things you cannot change anyway – won’t bring you happiness, just anxiety and frustration.

how to be happy


Like everyone else I’ve had tough times in life, some harder than others; traumatic births and my beautiful vintage shop going up in flames to name a few, but I believe acceptance rather than anger and dwelling on the situation, has helped me get through them. Sometimes life takes over, which can be pretty hard to face up to for a someone who likes to be in control. But it is what it is and it’s up to us how we react.

By accepting, keeping the perspective and being practical (as well as talking about it to people), a bad situation becomes manageable, you can let go and move on, instead of it becoming all consuming and too large to cope with mentally. Nothing is permanent. Now, of course, I can’t speak for others going through hard times, we all deal with things differently. But this is what has worked for me and it has prevented me from going into depression.


4. Take own responsibility

It may be news to you (and I really hope it isn’t), but you will not find happiness in a big home extension, four holidays a year, a six figure salary or a big white wedding. We all know stories of rich celebrities battling with depression or ending up in their umpteenth divorce. It is not rocket science. You can’t buy happiness. Happiness is not an outside thing or a place to go to. At the end of the day, it’s up to you, how you look at things in life and the decisions you make. How to be happy? Happiness is inside of you and you’re the only one who holds the keys. Pointing fingers at people or situations is not going to help. You want to be happy? Look in the mirror. Take responsibility, make positive changes. Or scroll back up to number 2 and read what the happy people do.

how to be happy


5. Be mindful (and give yourself some love)

I am a mother of a three-year old and a five-year old. A business owner, a wife and a part-time marketing manager for an arts organisation. I say yes to too many things, get involved in too many projects and am a singer in a band. My life is good, but it is terribly busy at times and not always fun (but I take full responsibility for it – it is me who does it!). Now I can’t remember how I came across this book, but it’s been a great source of inspiration for me as a parent and it may help some of you too in the same situation. Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Naphtali basically guides you through the hectic years of parenthood, using the teachings and principles of buddhism – without being too religious.

even a quick meditation makes all the difference

Most parenting books are about how to look after your children, but this book is mainly about how to look after yourself. It gives inspiration to be more patient, loving and attentive towards your children, your partner, other parents, but most of all, yourself. What I found really helpful in this book were the suggestions of weaving mindfulness and meditation into your daily routines, taking the pressure off yourself a little. It’s all very doable. Only have 5 minutes in the morning for a quick meditation before the kids get up and all hell breaks loose? Amazing! No need to sit in lotus position either, just be mindful while folding the washing or driving to work. Mindfulness is nothing more than being present and in the now, which will ultimately make you enjoy life more and feel happy, even – or especially – during the crazy busy years.

Buddhism for mothers. How to be happy