Mums often talk about being in “survival mode” in the first years of motherhood. Of battening down the hatches to get through the days and weeks with the constant onslaught of children’s lurgies, A&E trips, sleepless nights, moodiness, uncertainty about any given phase lasting very long.
You might miss your old life with a kind of nostalgia which at times feels like a physical ache, missing who you were, and the ability to just nip out to the shops/to the pub with your partner without military planning and dogged determination. Because as a society we perpetuate the myth of the perfect supermum breezing through these days happily, it can feel like even more of a shock.
You know those days when you’ve been up all night – and not like in the good old days – you’re enveloped in a fog of dry shampoo, and if tested your bloodstream would be pure caffeine. The days where you’re so preoccupied with getting through the day you can’t lift yourself above a deep sigh of FFS and look forward (with slight dread) to every bedtime.
These are the days where you need to cultivate the skill of seeing the chink of light through the keyhole in the darkness. Studies have shown that people who practise daily gratitude over a period of time show increased happiness, based on factors such as higher energy, optimism and determination. And even better news, a habit of looking for the good and recognising what’s in your half-full cup results in lower levels of stress and depression.
So if developing a gratitude practice can lead to enhanced wellbeing, how do we get started? A simple tool to get going is to keep a gratitude journal. Every night as you get into bed, set a few moments aside to list three things that you are grateful for that day.
You may find that on some days this comes pretty easily and you can think of lots of things to write down, while other days (especially if your toddler has christened your new sofa in indelible pen), it can feel like pushing a water balloon uphill.
Being able to find glimmers of light on these days is where the magic starts to happen, and allows you to build resilience which can act as a life jacket when you’re sailing the white water rapids.
Of course not every day is perfect, but by practising gratitude we develop skills which fosters more optimism overall, which means that whatever life throws at us we’ll be able to find something positive to be grateful for.
Spend a moment at the end of every day to consider what you’re grateful for, and over time you’ll be aware that you’re naturally looking for the silver lining however grim and foreboding the clouds are looking. The more you encourage yourself to think this way the more you’ll gradually coax your automatic thoughts into a more positive thought pattern. Over time, you’ll hopefully notice it rubbing off on other areas of your life.
If you struggle at first, close your eyes and make sure you write something, anything. It could be something intangible like your health, something that feels small and insignificant like the fact that it’s sunny today, to something more concrete like the roof over your head. Note down your mood.
Starting with a gratitude journal, it’s possible to train ourselves to develop a more positive attitude by reframing the way we think about our experiences. And it’s simply a lovely way to reflect on the end of each day. It’s also a great thing to do with our kids if they’re old enough, to do as a shared activity, and offer them a valuable tool to enable them to develop a positive outlook in life as well.