Author and musician Izzy Judd shares tips on making time for self-care alongside the challenges of family life
Izzy Judd has had anxiety for as long as she can remember. As a child, she endured night-time panic attacks. At 12, her older brother sustained head injuries in a car accident, causing her issues to spiral. At 20 – after finding fame on Britain’s Got Talent in the all-female classical group Escala – she hit a particularly low point. Izzy was prescribed antidepressants and sought cognitive behavioural therapy. Then, two years ago, after her baby son Kit was hospitalised with bronchiolitis, the panic attacks returned with a vengeance.
While she had discovered mindfulness shortly before her wedding to McFly drummer Harry in 2012, and relied on it during their long-running fertility battle, Izzy abandoned good intentions after becoming a busy mum to Lola, four, and Kit, two. But since rediscovering the practice of focusing on the present moment, she has developed techniques specifically for children and parents. Here she shares her tips to help all families become calmer, more connected, and content amid the chaos.
Breathing slowly and calmly soothes our nervous system
One exercise I use with Lola is ‘Take Five’. Put your left hand in front of you, and with the finger of your right hand trace your other hand. As you go up your thumb, breathe in and as you come down the other side, breathe out. Repeat for all your fingers so you end up taking five level breaths. For children, especially, this slows everything down, and as they get older they can use the technique before an exam or interview.
Use technology as a mindfulness trigger
We often hold our breath when reading or writing emails, so use the arrival of an email as a trigger to breathe slowly for a minute. Alternatively, each time your phone rings, take three slow breaths. To switch off before bedtime, I’ve bought myself a colouring book, so I now do that instead of looking at my phone.
Give children tools to express their feelings
Help little ones tune in to their emotions by talking about the weather. Explain how one day it might be raining and they may feel sad, but the next day the sun might be out and they may feel happy. With mindfulness, it’s about acknowledging that nothing stays the same, and tomorrow is a new day.
Set your alarm for half an hour before the rest of the family wake
The time I find particularly hard as a mum is getting out of bed without a moment to even open my eyes, because of the children’s demands. Even if you set your alarm early once or twice a week, you’ll feel the benefit of having a slightly slower start. Go downstairs, make yourself a cup of tea, and get ahead of the game.
We add to our already fast-paced lives by feeling the need to fill our children’s time with inspiring activities, but when we slow down we’re at our most creative. Children learn by copying, so sit down and do nothing. You’re doing them – and you – a favour!
WAIT (‘Why Am I Talking?’)
This is good when your partner’s walked through the door, you feel exhausted and drained, and might take it out on them. Before you speak, ask yourself: ‘Why am I talking? Is this what I want to say? Is this how I want to say it?’ The chances are, it’s probably not, and you’ll enjoy a calmer conversation by saying nothing or rephrasing things.
Nourish, don’t punish
As a mum, I constantly question if I’m doing a good enough job. We tend to live in that voice, immersed in guilt, rather than kindness. Try to remember the things you did accomplish that day. Maybe you made the kids a nice bowl of porridge in the morning, or read them a lovely story at bedtime.
Incorporate mindful moments into every day
Take a mindful pause when you put the key in the door, or when you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. When you step out of bed, breathe and say ‘let go’ as your feet touch the floor. In the car before school pick up, close your eyes for one minute and think about your breathing. Over time, those minutes make a difference because they’re slowing you down and – hopefully – helping you cope with feeling overwhelmed.
Remain calm when your child has a meltdown – it’s possible!
We’re all human and there are moments where it all gets too much, so during your child’s next tantrum try the ‘Calm Begins With Me’ exercise. Touch your thumb to each of your fingers and, as you do, say ‘calm begins with me’. It’s a trigger to remind yourself that you can remain calm even during the most stressful times.
‘Mindfulness for Mums’ by Izzy Judd (Michael Joseph, £14.99) is out now.