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EP13: Emotional Self-Care during Covid

When falling out of a routine means you neglect self-care, or when looking after others leads to sacrificing your own needs, it can have serious consequences for your mental health. Coach Claudia, who holds a postgraduate degree in psychology and specialises in empowering women over 40, shares what emotional self-care looks like and how to make it possible –  even in turbulent times.

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Victoria: COVID lockdowns have been incredibly challenging for most people. There’s the claustrophobic stress of working from home, looking after little school-aged children, partners, always around (or the opposite), deep loneliness and disconnection felt by those who aren’t living with anyone. It can become too easy to be so concerned with looking after others that we often neglect our own needs, or simply fall out of a routine and let our own personal care slip with potentially devastating consequences for our own mental health.

So what can we actually do in terms of taking proper care of ourselves to ensure we don’t just survive, but we absolutely thrive during lockdown? I’m here today with Coach Claudia. Claudia has a postgrad degree in psychology and has been coaching for over 10 years specialising in helping women particularly become empowered to take control of their lives and relationships.

And on today’s show, we are going to be talking about a very important topics such as emotional self-care during COVID and how to look after your wellbeing during this incredibly stressful and uncertain time. So welcome Claudia. Great to have you back again, and I can’t wait for today’s conversation.

Claudia: Thanks Victoria. It’s an absolute pleasure to be here.

Victoria: So let me start with saying, and I know that this is going to be a sweeping generic statement, however, in my 20 years as a coach – and I know you have been coaching for well over a decade, and you have a degree in psychology – women still traditionally put themselves at the bottom of the totem pole, no matter what.

And I think that we have made many significant leaps and bounds with regard to women, empowering themselves and having a voice. There is still this undercurrent that is still occurring in judgments, behaviours, relationships, and expectations that we still put so many others before our own self-care. And I’ll give you an example.

I’d love just to get your thoughts on it. I love real-life examples. I was having a conversation with someone a couple of weeks ago, who was an old client of mine because it’s very relevant to our conversation today. And I know you’ve got lots of other examples and she called me in a deep state of despair, distress stress, and the kids were running around in the background and she runs a really successful business.

Like a multi-million dollar business as a CEO and female founder, her husband also works. And in our Zoom call, she was perched on the edge of the kitchen bench with the children running around. Now, normally she has an office in a large factory, obviously in COVID she’s at home perched on this kitchen bench, children are running around, trying to homeschool, trying to have a conversation with me around that.

She’s clearly having a meltdown. And I just said to her, "Stop. What the hell are you doing? You’re running a multi-million dollar business. You’re perched on your kitchen bench". And I said, "Where’s your husband?" And he was in this lovely palatial office downstairs in their waterfront home, just, it made my blood shake.

And I say to her, what are you creating here? Stop. Look around what you need to do to self-care first and foremost, but then you need to look at what strategies you need to bring in. To run your business, then yes, look after the children, but this is a collaborative effort here, yet I’m finding still, in the day of 2021, women are still struggling and doing more of the day-to-day, and it’s even more compressed now with COVID and lockdown. And I just wanted to share that example because it’s a very recent conversation that I had with this particular ex-client and it just showed me that have we really advanced in the education of women, or forget husbands and partners and guys, this is nothing about relationships or the wonderful things that you do contribute.

This is not about this. This is about women owning their space and always still continuing to give themselves permission to put themselves at the top of the list to self-care. And then things thrive, but if we continue to still try and do it all, nothing thrives. And sometimes you do need to make some tough decisions around what you need to do to self-care.

So I want to just to start with that real example, and I’d love to get your thoughts on some other examples of women that you, the challenges that you are hearing on the frontline, that they are dealing with that are real a real representation of the stress points that are impacting their self-care. And I know that that was a long introduction, so thank you for bearing with me on that. But it just, it still makes me feel very sad that whilst we’re making milestones at the core, there’s a missing permission bits.

Claudia: Yeah, so much gold in there, Victoria. And let’s talk to that because I think it’s representative of a systemic issue that’s still pervading the relationship we have as women with our own power. And you know, we all know the history that we come from and the roles we learn about the roles of women from our parents from society, from schooling, from the media movies, magazines from institutions. And you know, it wasn’t that long ago women didn’t have the vote.

It wasn’t that long ago that men were the old school, a heterosexual relationship, because then you know that thankfully that, that, that definition of relationship is expanding today, but it wasn’t that long ago we we’re in the early 21st century, the first part still, it wasn’t that long ago, we had a lot of constraints on our freedom and we learn from the past, and we model and we, through osmosis, absorb what being a woman means and what the role of a woman is.

And so the example you’re talking to that we are still, perpetual culture is created, moment by moment. So the culture that we’re handing over to our, the next generation, we’re creating moment by moment by the actions we take and how we behave with our partner, how we look after the kids, how we share or not share caretaking roles.

So if we’re moving so fast that we’re just perpetuating what we’ve learned from our background and from our history, we’re not going to change anything. We’re just going to perpetuate and create a culture that still has a foot back in the past. And I think there’s something there about us as women slowing down.

Victoria: It’s also, I find that it’s, it’s more reflective. It’s slowing down to be reflective, but there’s also an accomplice role that we play within ourselves that impacts not only who we are, or it’s impacting our inability to self-care, that then becomes a self-perpetuating philosophy that then gets extended into a relationship.

So the change needs to happen within who we are first and foremost. And there is an education piece that needs to happen systemically around our intimate relationships, but we can’t – and this is the beautiful thing that I love, that coaching creates. It’s being able to be curious by the quality questions that we can ask our clients.

And this is why I so love coaching. With the questions that we ask, it can spur off this curiosity journey of where we need to cease being the accomplice in our own reality, and what are we need to change first? And what is firstly also really, what does self-care look like? I mean, that’s a whole conversation that I’m, I’m sure that you come across and would, I would imagine that is a common dialogue and a common challenge that women come to you for, again, going back to that intimacy in that vulnerability conversation that I know we’ve had with prior conversations.

Really how can we break down the challenge around discovering what is self-care. And I know self-care is very different for many women, but essentially at its core, I’d love to hear from your experience and your wisdom. What is that? How can we define that?

Claudia: Mhmmm… defining… So I think there’s a first step that as women, so this whole thing around slowing down and you hit the nail on the head there is about this self-reflection slowing down enough so that we can turn our gaze inwards and see with who we are, connect to our body, connect to our senses, slow down to feel our feelings and asking ourselves. It’s when we don’t know what self-care is to me. And I know this through my own experience and with the women that I coach that when we don’t know what self-care is, we don’t, there’s some aspect of our souls we don’t know.

And women are these beautiful divine embodied creatures with intellect, with emotional breadth, with, uh, the capacity to bring life into this world, to have orgasmic pleasure, and having slowing down and sitting with ourselves enough that we understand what care looks like for us.

You know, what, what can I do to feel at ease, to feel relaxed right now? What can I do that fills me up, that gives me the energy to be in a relationship? What can I do that puts a smile on my face a lot of women must speak to their deep thinkers – they ponder about things and as women, we can tend to ruminate and overthink. And I find consistently that one of the invitations here is that our intellectual capacity is an aspect of our wisdom. But the deeper structures of the brain, our limbic system, our hindbrain, we have an embodied wisdom with our feelings, with our sensations.

The body speaks to our subconscious and to the parts of the brain that are skirting the terrain for threats to our safety, for the safety of our children, of our family. And so I always invite women to take time, to slow down, to take their awareness inside and to start checking in sitting, still breathing, understanding how they feeling inside, because often we can skirt on the surface of what our needs are because our we’re in our intellect.

We’re creating, we’re being successful. We’re looking after children, where were we? We plan our day, but we don’t plan our self-care. We don’t plan our self-love and like, how do I, how can I be my most ardent lover? Yeah. How can I show myself love right now? What would that look like?

Victoria: How do you start? Oh my goodness. I love that comment. I just need to go back to it. How can I be my own lover? Let’s just, I just want to pause on that. How can I be my own lover? So if we can invite ourselves and give ourselves permission to step into that space of exploration.

Via slowing down, asking questions, even exploring our bodies, being able to take responsibility first and foremost for our acceleration motivators. And I know we’ve touched on this in another podcast, but if the more that we are aware of what turns our ability to self-care, then it lessens the incredible pressures that we put on our relationships.

And so there’s two sides to this. And one is, there is a huge empowering moment and a journey that women can go on to pleasure themselves. And I say that in a large self-care umbrella, whether it’s saying no and putting boundaries in place, taking time, going for a walk, firstly, asking how they’re feeling might even be starting off with a feelings journal.

I mean, a lot of women, as you said, like we are incredible multitaskers and we’re capable of incredible, incredible achievements that often were missing that step to how can we connect with our feelings in our body? And then from that being able to encourage what we need ourselves to be our best lover because then I would imagine the positive upside from that is that there is less pressure on our partners in relationships to then meet that need when we actually become so much more capable to meet our own needs.

And therefore it creates, I would imagine, a far deeper freedom in that relationship space, that then is not loaded with agendas and judgments and needs to be met… going back to dysfunctional relationships, parenting, childhood, et cetera.

And this is part of our journey to become whole as a woman. Like how extraordinary is that point? And I just, what I didn’t want to lose that magic and what you just said, it’s so resonated inside all of who I am right now that women have an opportunity to really know themselves in such an extraordinary way.

Claudia: That’s such a great summary, Victoria, because it’s very much about not being validated from our partner. You’re going into a partnership from a point place of lack. If someone loves me enough, they can give me everything. I mean our children, even children, who we adore cannot give us everything.

Our parents, who we love, or may have a fraught relationship with – they cannot give us everything we need. It starts with us, but we can’t understand what we need and we can’t give ourselves what we need. If our focus is always out there, our focus has to come in here. Women have such amazing instinctual wisdom.

We are the creators of human beings on this earth. We have huge hearts.

But history has taught us to not trust our feelings and that feelings are second-rate to being intellectual and rational. And the thing is in neuroscience over recent times, the studies now are showing that is so not true.

And our emotionality, the parts of our brain that deal with emotion, those connections pervade our entire brain and we make decisions emotionally. And then we justify it with our cortex with logic. So we should celebrate our feelings and have an empowering relationship with them, but we need to sit in our bodies.

Our mind is our body and our body is our mind. And I always guide women to create little rituals for yourself, to plug in and attune to who you are. What are your thoughts doing? You know, your patterns of thinking, how am I feeling? How is my body feeling? There’s so much gold when we turn our gaze inwards and so even five minutes of a morning before you start your day or finding something that connects you to you, and just breathing and checking in or – self-care in the times of COVID – getting out and going for a walk or run, finding nature around you, whether you have, whether you’re lucky enough to be near a park or a forest, you’re getting out, spending time in nature, spending time on your own.

And you talked, I just want to go back to at the very beginning, Victoria, that you talked about your people who are living alone. One of the, I think there’s a real opportunity here in COVID amidst all this deep challenge, and you’re feeling afraid, and there’s a permission – two things there.

One, we have permission to feel afraid. It’s okay to feel afraid. I’m seeing all these posts on Facebook over recent times around, you know, love is a high vibration. Fear is a low vibration, just embrace love and, yeah, I understand the intention behind that, but we have to love our fear because if we’re feeling it in our nervous system. If the part of our brain that’s all about survival is feeling really challenged, then part of emotional self-care is at first acknowledging and being present with how we’re feeling and then showing us those so much kindness and compassion that it’s okay to feel whatever we’re feeling.

Yeah, I think we’re trying to soldier-on and we don’t have to soldier-on, our power lies in coming home into our bodies and acknowledging how we’re feeling and then asking, as you said, if I was my most ardent, perfect lover, if I was my most adoring friend, what would I give myself right now?

What do I need? You’ve made a wonderful, another wonderful point and that is what are the decisions that I need to make to become the best lover that I possibly can be for myself first and foremost. And I’ve had many patients, particularly over the last couple of years, around, what do you need to say no to, in order to prioritize yourself because that’s self-care, what do I need to say no to, and to who?

Victoria: And to what situation that encourages my sense of flow in the world, rather than constriction? And often that is, sometimes every day right now, when you are, I’ve got different pressures, whether you got kids at home homeschooling and all of that, often it’s a case that there are no rules right now. And it’s a day-by-day self-assessment on "Where am I at? How am I feeling? What do I need for myself in order to thrive today?" And sometimes that may mean cancelling some non-urgent things, and/or carving out time in your day to make yourself, or create the space for you to be a priority. Therefore, that message – ‘I’m important’. This is me being my most ardent lover. This is me caring.

And you can then take that sense of your cup being filled into the home space as best you can right now. And even if it is meaning children are homeschooling or the challenges. And this has been another conversation that we’ve had with employees, also people working even harder during COVID because there is no switch-off.

People aren’t travelling to the office. There is an unconscious bias happening where employers are unconsciously expecting people to log on earlier to stay on more at the end of the day, because our office often is set up in makeshift spaces in our home. And it’s easy to get into that unconscious behaviour of routine that doesn’t serve us right now.

This is actually a time to stop, reflect, and prioritise. And then make decisions every day, because what worked yesterday isn’t necessarily going to work today with the different demands that are coming at you.

Claudia: It’s so true because particularly around that boundary setting, the. Sometimes as women, we can struggle with that. And there’s an invitation if we are setting boundaries for ourselves and that it’s also awkward. It’s, okay, if we’re doing something for the first time or where we’re not used to speaking up for ourselves, or we’re doing something that in the past perhaps we would have done, but we want to start saying no to it.

There’s also a permission to… it’s okay to feel a little bit awkward. If you’re up-levelling your self-care, if you’re checking in, if you’re saying something to your partner or your kids. We’re developing muscles of self-care and this whole systemic attitude around, uh, you know, women taking on more than men or finding yourself inadvertently, and maybe not even deliberately, as you alluded this woman you spoke about at the beginning, it probably wasn’t even a deliberate, like ‘I’m deliberately going to do everything and my husband’s going to be down in the study whilst I’m up here’.

Subconscious. So if we take action and it’s novel or different I think as women, and anyone who’s doing something for the first time, understand it’s nothing more than a muscle. And so the first couple of times we do it, if we’re not used to looking after ourselves and putting ourselves as important as our partner, as our job, as our kids, then it’s okay.

If it feels a bit clunky when we do it, I think we have to give ourselves permission to be human. As we’re setting those boundaries and know that it gets better and you become more fluid at it. And it’s just the intention and taking action. That’s important because if, as you said, Victoria, if the cup’s empty, we’re no use to anyone let alone ourselves.

And if we have children, whether it’s you know female, male, we are setting an example because they’re little sponges of osmosis of how families work, how relationships work. And so it’s incumbent on us to have intention and responsibility about what we want to cultivate going forward for ourselves and for the people we love.

Victoria: And this is also not just exclusive to women. This is also right men around self-care. The huge pressures that they are also under, and that families are under, that the importance is on self-care for all the inhabitants in a household, to be able to look at what do they need to be doing individually to take that sense of self-responsibility of what do they need to do to fill up their cup?

And everyone – that’s different for everyone – for guys that might be, I’m making this up, but it could be, you know, going for a run around the block. It could be jumping on their bike as part of exercise, but it’s something that they consistently connect with every day that’s just what they need to do in the world to give them some disconnection away from all the other pressures that they’ve got dealing with their day.

And women, it might be the same. It might be going for a walk. It might be self-care. Might be creating time to have a catch-up with a girlfriend on the phone or a Zoom conversation over a cup of tea or a glass of wine.

It’s doing those things that in essence, it creates joy. And this is the one thing that I’m, that we’re all experiencing right now, is COVID has become the thief of joy in many respects, and we need to dig deep. We need to fight for joy, to fight for it and dig deep every day. To make space to find a nugget of joy somewhere that contributes to your cup, then overflowing because every day, a little action.

Victoria: Then by the end of the week, your cup is rejuvenated. It’s rebooted. You then have so much more capacity and compassion and love. To then continue on with another day or in another week. And I can’t stress this point enough. And I know that this is incredibly important to you. That again, change starts with yourself.

No one else is going to come along, your partner, rarely although he might be one of the 1%, but rarely are they going to come along and go, "Honey, go take an hour out for yourself, go and take the afternoon off". No one actually gives us that gift. Often we do need to be firm with ourselves to say, this is actually what I need.

And therefore the question, then there’s a question before that, to then start to understand how do I determine what my needs are? So, how do you navigate, women? I would imagine that that would be a really popular challenge that women and couples come to you in a coaching environment to help determine what their needs are.

So I’d love just to share a couple of tips or insights around that point.

Claudia: The process is actually pretty straightforward and I alluded to before, but my role as a coach is to, you know, I work predominantly with women in midlife who have families, some have families, some are in relationships, some aren’t.

And in terms of finding out what, self-care is or what they need, it’s not something you think about necessarily. Because if they knew the answer, they already would be taking care of themselves. But I always guide women into their body and asking them questions of, "How am I feeling?", breathing into their chest, breathing into their lower belly, meditating in the sense of breathing and connecting to the sensations of your body.

And setting a timer because that often allows your thoughts to say, okay, we’re doing this for 10 minutes, I don’t have to think about how or when.

What’s one thing I can do now to look after myself or what do I need? And if you just breathe and wait. We need to just stop for a brief moment. Invariably, a woman, she will start talking and something will come up and it’s not necessarily an absolute, okay. This is what I’m sensing, or I’ve just had this thought of, I really want to rest or really just over my husband or my partner.

I just, I just want to be on my own. Okay. how does that look? How could you implement that? But it changes. And the more we go within and inquire and sit with ourselves so that we can actually hear the deeper needs coming to the fore. The more we get we spiral into and we become more attuned to what we need moment to moment, but it doesn’t come from focusing out there.

It comes from attuning tuning in, and just taking your breath into your body for five minutes and asking, what do I need? Or as you said, a journal: What’s really frustrating me? Okay. how could I flip that around and what would make me feel happy with my relationship? Oh, yeah. How am I feeling my body?

I’m feeling tired. So what does my body need? Oh, my body needs this.

It’s really about spending time with yourself and breathing and, and connecting to the senses. Doing a body. One of it’s very simple activity that anyone who’s listening to this can do right now or after this podcast is doing a body scan.

So taking a few moments, just to be comfortable and to connect to your breathing and following your breathing with your focus. And then after a few moments, simply scanning your body from your head to your toes and back again, and noticing any sensations that arise and speaking out loud or I’m feeling. I’m feeling a tightness in my tailbone, a tingling here and just spending a couple of minutes scanning, speaking out loud.

Then you’re noticing sensations. And then placing your hands over the center of your chest and breathing under your hands and asking yourself, how am I feeling right now? And don’t look for an answer the invitation is to give yourself a few minutes, just to sit there. Breathing, noticing the sensations of your breathing and just keep asking yourself, "How do I feel right now?" And wait for your embodied wisdom to come up with something because you’re giving space for a deeper truth to emerge and something always does because we just need to pause.

Victoria: I absolutely believe that we all have these incredible, it’s not exclusive, we all have the ability to tap into our wise woman or our wise man. And they it’s our it’s this incredible internal compass. And it’s like, as you were saying before that the muscle needs to be exercised. It needs to be developed.

In order to hear clearly because often if you haven’t exercised that muscle or use that muscle, it can often be a very faint voice. But once you start getting into a habit of stopping and asking what I need, how am I feeling? And to offer yourself that space, knowing that the answer will eventually surface when you create a little piece of quiet in order to tap into that wisdom, it’s almost always faultless in the guidance that you receive.

And gosh, I’m so glad that you raised that point because it just reminded me of so many amazing conversations and the importance of us being able to trust ourselves and trust our voice. Gosh, today was amazing. I love our conversations. I definitely think – I’m going to have you back, there’s so many amazing conversations that I know that we will cover off, along these topics of vulnerability and intimacy and the opportunity that we can create for ourselves, and it starts with ourselves.

So I thank you so much for your wisdom and your knowledge and your sharing of stories today. It’s been absolutely magical Claudia, so thank you very much for being on our show today.

Claudia: Victoria, it’s been an absolute delight. I’ve absolutely loved being here. Thanks.

Victoria: I do look forward to having you back. Thank you so much.

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