As the days cool off and the sun sets earlier, we adjust bedtimes and re-imagine morning routines. This season of transition is complex enough as we adapt our rhythms to incorporate the new schedules of childcare, school, and work. This year, once again, Autumn is complicated by the daily changing pressures of the pandemic. Many clients have been expressing the discomfort and uncertainty of how to meet these times, sometimes speeding up with frenetic energy of the news and sometimes avoiding the media and pressures altogether.

In moments of complexity and change, what strategies can we engage to support us in feeling grounded, nourished, and present? To help bring us into the moment, it is useful to ask ourselves “what DO I have control over?”, and then intentionally refocus efforts on these essential elements. 

This question may sound familiar, as many of our initial counseling sessions during conception, pregnancy and the postpartum period begin with this concept. As we return to, and care for, these basic needs, we often notice ourselves feeling better. So what are the things that we DO have control over? Consider this question for a moment as you trace your hand on a piece of paper (kindergarten style) to brainstorm your list. Now let’s explore the five most basic needs and jot them down on the fingers. The hand can help you remember these components in the future. Here they are:

Does this list feel accurate to or resonate with you? Do these items match your list? Now let’s take a moment to briefly check in with yourself on how these needs are being met, and what you can do to better meet these needs. Brainstorming these components by thinking, journaling, mind-mapping or talking them through can be helpful. Here are some examples. 

Let’s look at FOOD first – We know that when we eat enough and we eat well, we feel better, have more consistent energy, think more clearly, and are better able to manage ourselves and our lives.

Food Mind Map

As you consider FOOD, you may want to start with: What have you eaten today? What about yesterday? What did it take for you to feed yourself? Is there food readily available in the cupboard and/or fridge? Do you need to cook it first? Are you more of a snacker or a meal eater? What needs to happen so you have healthy, nutrient rich, accessible and easy food to grab throughout the day – imagine eating like a toddler with healthy snacks always at your fingertips. How can you plan for dinners with less stress? Can you triple a recipe and freeze it? Put some ingredients in the crockpot for a soup or stew that will feed you for a few days? Can you create a very simple weekly menu of your easiest yummy dinners and repeat the menu for the month? Can you pack lunch and snacks for the next day the night before, giving you plenty to eat and a simpler morning? Basically, what part of “food” can you refocus on to make sure that you get enough food throughout the day? Who can help you with this mission? 

Choose a focus, perhaps create a good snack list of things you can eat one-handed while nursing the baby, or throughout the day managing the toddler, or while you are working. Maybe focus on a dinner recipe that can be easily doubled and feed the family for multiple nights. Perhaps brainstorming who shops and who cooks which nights – make a plan and experiment with it. Find out what works and what feels doable.

As you feel complete with exploring food, brainstorm the other components in similar ways.

Brainstorm WATER: Ask yourself, am I consuming enough throughout the day?  Explore simple ideas on how to increase the amount, if necessary.  Do you add fruit or herbs to your water? What about herbal tea? Can you fill a bunch of mason jars or water bottles first thing in the morning? In the morning, can you leave a fresh glass of water in every room or workspace as a visual and accessible reminder to hydrate throughout the day?

Brainstorm SLEEP: How much am I getting? Am I getting at least 2 chunks of 3 hours each? Who can help with sleep? How can I feel more comfortable through the night during pregnancy to sleep better or fall back to sleep when I wake up? Who can support me with feeding or changing the baby to increase my sleep, what sort of sleep routines and sleep hygiene can support my sleep? What type of sleep training would support the baby/toddler so I can get more sleep? (This may take some creativity, research, and patience…)

Brainstorm EXERCISE: How much exercise am I getting? What is the simplest way for me to increase getting outside and moving my body? Can I park further from the market or from work so I have to walk more, set a reminder to move my body hourly, meet a friend for a walk/run for accountability? Can I stretch in the morning for a few minutes after tea or coffee, play music to dance to while in the kitchen, set a timer for ten minutes to walk around the yard, etc… 

Brainstorm SUPPORT: The support people in our life help to make all of the other components happen. That is why we put Support on the thumb. What does support look like in your life right now, and how can you expand and explore the support people and structures on which you can depend?

Ask yourself, who are the individuals in my life that I can call for emotional support? Who are the folks that would come over to help with the house/food/pet/childcare after the baby is born; who are the folks that support my physical and mental health? Who can I lean on to learn more skills for parenting and child development? Who are the religious or spiritual supports in my life? What community organizations or groups can I participate with that would support myself or my family? What other supports do I have in my life? Perhaps writing it out, and getting as specific as you can, will be useful. For example:

When we feel untethered or are forced to navigate unfamiliar territory in our lives, it is often useful to simplify and focus on our most basic needs to make sure that we care for ourselves. By doing so, we often feel better and more able to meet the challenges in front of us knowing that we have agency over our lives and control over its most important components. 

So grab a sticky note and write down this Sound Bite:

What do I have control over right now?

Now attach the sticky note in a well traveled place. While we don’t have control on many things in life right now, we DO have control of five very important components that help us stay healthy and navigate each day. Keep breathing as you choose one of the five components to focus on for a short period of time, one day, 3 days, a week.  Notice how you feel as you focus on that aspect of your life. Then, expand your experiments and explore an additional component.