8 strategies for stressed parents

shutterstock_19655527As a working parent with two children I know how stressful the juggle can be with work, finances, activities and parenting not to mention finding time with your partner. How do you make it a bit easier on yourself ? Steve Biddulph recommends making a 5% change so I have made a few suggestions on some good starting points.

Childcare is a cost of working – get the best you can afford

For many parents the cost of childcare for a young child makes them wonder why they are returning to work (Its for your sanity/mortgage payments/contact with other adults). Whilst the ideal may be a full time nanny its just not affordable for everyone, so think about what it may look like. Maybe a combination of long day care, a regular sitter for after work functions or other commitments and hopefully some helpful grandparents. Just remember planning is critical so you aren’t in a constant panic. Finding a regular sitter or two, who is available on short notice, can be a real god send.

Just remember they will only be in long day care for a few years, then you have the joy of navigating lengthy school holidays and after school care. You still need to think about a budget for childcare even when they are at school its just going to be lumpier. School holiday camps such as YMCA and Crusader Camps can be a good way to occupy a week but the costs will add up.

Trade off $$$ for annual leave

The other option can be to trade for additional leave to cover some of the school holidays, many employers are now offering this option or you may be able to negotiate an extra week or two in lieu of a pay rise. Given the ratio of 12 weeks school holidays to four weeks paid leave this can be really helpful.

Outsource as much as possible

Cooking , cleaning , shopping, washing and ironing – what ever you don’t enjoy doing think about outsourcing. Personally I think a cleaner is essential for any working parent. After a full day at work coming home and starting to clean is just exhausting. It also reduces the volume of arguments about cleaning on the home front which is another plus.

shutterstock_51065257Reduce scheduled activities

So many parents are shuttling kids from activity to activity after school with no downtime. Why? Do they really need to speak Mandarin, be coached in maths, play two sports and the piano? Schedule play dates with their friends and help them build social skills. Or just limit to a couple of things they really want to do – whether its football and drama or dance and tennis. Better still many schools offer activities as part of the after school program so make it easier by having them at the same venue and fill any gaps with after school care.

Involve kids in food preparation

The best time to have a chat with your kids about what’s happening is when they are a little distracted. Getting kids to peel carrots or chop up a few vegetables can be a good time for them to tell you about their day or chat when something is worrying them. Often they will also try new foods when they have been involved in the preparation. My kids went to a Montessori kindergarden and used knives from Age 3. Frankly I found it terrifying initially but they did develop skills quite quickly.

Tear up those parenting books (and blogs)

The first year I was home with young children, another colleague and I agreed that the parenting books were driving us insane and making us feel inadequate. So we agreed to just rip out the chapters that irritated us. There wasn’t much left. Its a bit like that with social media now, the pressure to rear these perfect children who always behave in public and have perfect grades.

Ban Homework in Primary School

This one might be a bit controversial but really there isn’t any good evidence to suggest that regular homework at this primary school makes any difference. They have already spent 6-8 hours at school that day so why send parents more work to do that night?

I still have nightmares about my daughter’s worst ever parent teacher interview where I was told by her Grade 4 teacher that she had the most appalling attitude to homework. Now the teacher was asking my daughter to write spelling words up on the board that she already knew and then wanted her to copy them out three times as well. I calmly suggested I would support homework that was useful, but this clearly wasn’t and that she knew by asking my daughter to write the words on the board that she already knew how to spell them.

You can have it all just not all at the same time!

Having kids is a big job. Very few people would try being CEO of 2 businesses at once. In the first couple of years it’s normal to be shell shocked or sleep deprived. So if work demands a 12 hour day then think seriously about a sideways move for a couple of years until you are ready to handle it. One of the hardest things I ever did was ask my boss for a four day week but it completely saved my sanity. Years later he told me he was soooo relieved as he thought I was going to ask for three days!

Christine Pope is a Naturopath, Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives. She is available for appointments on 8084 0081 if you need help managing stress!

Why is my skin like this?

skin problems

For many years skin problems were one of the more difficult conditions that I saw in clinic. Whether it was tinea, rashes, acne or excema often treatment can be lengthy and involve significant dietary change. Also I find it can often flare up as you are detoxing and this requires careful management.

Skin is the largest organ of the body and performs an important role in detoxification, so if you are eating badly it will show up on the skin. Even when you improve your eating patterns it may take 4-6 weeks to show changes as it takes time to work through your system, to reduce inflammation and ultimately to heal.

So what you say, I have a really good diet but I still have skin problems ? Well fabulous that you have sorted out diet but ideally this comes down to identifying the underlying triggers for your skin issues. Usually I find it comes down to one of the following ;

  1. “My excema is always bad when I am stressed ” In this case stress hormones are hijacking your system and simply addressing the skin isn’t going to be enough. Often the strategy here is to use lifestyle interventions to manage the stress – yoga, meditation, reframing exercises as well as using appropriate supplements to support the adrenals and manage the skin. People who are stressed are usually more acidic so alkalising nutrients such as lots of vegetables work well or supplements with magnesium and potassium.shutterstock_553662235
  2. My skin it so itchy but I really don’t know why? It doesn’t seem to matter what I eat or what products I use on it! Two big areas here – one in exposure to foods or external triggers which are incompatible with your system. In this case I usually look at the Bio Compatability Hair Test to identify potential triggers and determine what is causing the reaction for that person.
  3. The skin problems only seem to happen at a certain time of year ??? Yes it could be a particular stressor (like a big family Christmas) but in this case its important to be an environmental detective. Even in dry winters its possible that the house has underlying damp and mould and this can create havoc for people who are sensitive. However it could also be a seasonal intolerance to a particular plant – apparently although wattle gets blamed for a lot of hayfever its not usually the suspect as the particles are too big. Apparently grass and dust are more common allergens. If mould is the underlying issue its important that it be treated appropriately and there are specialists in its detection and removal.
  4. My tinea flares up whenever I drink a lot! This is often related to an underlying candida overgrowth which feeds off sugar – alcohol is literally liquid sugar in many cases. Apart from sticking to spirits with lime and soda and not lemonade or coke (which is not very good naturopathic advice but it does help) its important to treat the underlying fungal picture. Foods which are good sources of anti-fungal compounds include coconut oil and garlic, however I usually find a combination of approriate herbs and essential oils is faster at cleaning up the tinea.Coconut oil and fresh coconut
  5. Not only do I have rashes constantly but I am also really anxious or down. This can be related to an excess of copper in relation to zinc which reduces your ability to break down histamine and mount an appropriate immune response. In my first consultation I always include my inhouse minerals analysis tool – Oligoscan – and this can detect these imbalances. The other option is hair tissue minerals analysis which does take a little time.img_0543
  6. My baby is completely breast fed and yet he still has excema? Well unfortunately this means Mum is probably consuming something that doesn’t agree with her system and bubs is reacting.  It probably started with a colicky whiny baby and has now progressed. If this is the case its essential for Mum to eliminate any foods she reacts to and monitoring the impact this has on bubs. Usually within 2-4 weeks you can expect good resolution if you know what your triggers are. Occassionally it may be the baby care products that could be causing a reaction but its much more common that it’s Mum’s diet. Its always a bit tough since a new breastfeeding mother has a large appetite and probably not a lot of energy for lots of cooking as well as all the other chores she now gets to enjoy, however longer term it makes for a much happier baby and Mum!

The first suggestion I would make is to ideally keep a food diary for a week and track your reactions to what you are eating. Record not only what you are eating and drinking but also whether you feel tired or energised afterwards. Keep note of what is happening with your stomach as well particularly if you have urgency or constipation after a particular meal or are suffering bloating or reflux. Note how your mood is impacted by what is happening as well. Over a week you should start to see patterns emerging that will help you detect which foods are a problem for you.

If that doesn’t shine any clarity on it for you take your food diary to a naturopath or nutritionist and ask them for help. My clinic is at St Ives in Sydney and you can make appointments on 8084 0081.


One in four men do no housework 

shutterstock_632228624Sadly this statistic from the census didn’t surprise me. I see a constant stream of women who are stressed from working two full time roles as employee and mum/housekeeper. It isn’t just the housework – the shopping  – driving the kids around – making lunches – making dinners – but also the  constant burden of thinking about everything that needs to happen that many find exhausting.

Personally it’s taken me a long time to get my household to a fairer balance and so I can’t pretend that I have the answers. But i do think this is an important topic and maybe some of my useful techniques can help yet another exhausted mother/housewife/carer from hitting the wall!

One of my colleagues tells this story about me and whilst I honestly don’t remember this it does sound like me. Many years ago my husband washed all my lingerie with brightly coloured clothes and turned it all pinkish. My response was “don’t worry hon it will cost me about 400 bucks to replace it but you’ll get the hang of it”. 27 years later he still does all the washing and ironing . In fact my son also irons beautifully. They both like ironing whilst watching TV.

Lesson #1: You don’t have to do everything yourself!

It takes 10,000 hours to build competence so don’t expect your partner or kids to do it perfectly in fact let go of the expectation that they will do it your way at all. After all “done” is better than perfect. Also remember that whilst you can do it faster and better than they can now, just think about how much time you are liberating if they cook just dinner one night a week? Over weeks or months how much extra time would you have and this should help you build your resilience to make some changes.

The area that really started getting to me about four years ago was cooking. With a gluten and dairy free household and our preference for organic food most meals are made from scratch and it takes a lot of time. In fact I think I have spent years of my life chopping vegetables. About 4 years ago I taught my husband a few simple dishes such as my Easy Roast Chicken and Turkey mince Lasagne. His rule is that I need to cook it with him twice and then leave him with detailed step by step instructions.

shutterstock_512123965If making a whole meal seems a big stretch then start by suggesting other’s participate in food preparation by asking them to  make a salad or at least chop some vegetables and then build up from there. Meal preparation is a lot faster with a few extra sets of hands.

Lesson #2: Baby Steps

One strategy that I really liked was for the whole family to participate in 20 minutes of home beautification each day. It isn’t a huge amount of time but it’s amazing how four people working for 20 minutes can get so much more done. It’s also surprisingly how after a few weeks thing start naturally being returned to their correct location.

Lesson #3: It’s OK to ask for help

Another strategy is outsourcing. For many women this can feel like failure. Personally I think its amazing to come home from work and find the house has been cleaned by someone else.  Also you create employment – in Africa, for example,  employing help as soon as you can afford it is regarded as an obligation. Often that salary is supporting a whole family. What you pay a cleaner will certainly contribute to the success of a business even though maybe it won’t create a whole wage , so think about the broader community and outsource.

The area that I still haven’t cracked is the teenage attitude of I’ll do it when I get around to it. One weekend I left unwashed dishes on the kitchen bench for 36 hours waiting for that magical moment. Came back home to my husband washing up who said that he knew I would lose it if it wasn’t done (and he was spot on there). Any suggestions for how to manage this one? Please post in the comments section below if you have any hot tips.

Christine Pope is a Naturopath Nutritionist and Homeopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments can be made on 8084 0081 or book online at http://www.elementalhealth.net.au .


Ultimate stress management tool – Pokemon Go !

Managing stress isn’t always easy but the latest tool assisting in my arsenal is a surprising one – Pokemon Go! So how does a kids game help manage stress?

First up most adults spend a lot of time on devices, checking emails, social media or the Internet. What we seem to have forgotten is how to use devices for fun. Imagine that instead of checking your emails you are checking which cute little Pokemon you can catch. Yep add a bit of fun to your day instead of more work.

Another area many of us forget when our work piles up is exercise but when you get rewarded for walking by hatching eggs with new Pokemon there is suddenly value in making sure you exercise frequently. Eggs need 2, 5 or even 10 km of walking to hatch and you get rarer Pokemon with higher value eggs. No surprise then that the first week with the game I probably upped my walking by 10 kilometers in the week and now try and walk every day instead of just a few days a week.

Many women are juggling a constant range of pickups and drop-offs. Many days I will have done two trips to the station before I head to my clinic in the morning. It used to get me quite irritable specially at night when I am cooking dinner and got constant interruptions. Now I am like excellent , I can top up on my poke balls at the poke stops at the station ( you use these to catch the Pokemon). So a source of irritation has now become an opportunity. Often reframing stressors can change our reaction.

img_0527Finally a few people when they get stressed withdraw from socialising and their community – well this game positively inspires social interaction. Yesterday I had a lively discussion with an eight year old boy at the park about the difficulty we were both having catching a Bulbasaur at the local poke-stop. Even in my clinic I have found this a great ice breaker with children who usually aren’t that happy to be dragged in to see a natural therapist.

Many of my colleagues commented that with the advent of this game teens are roaming the streets – that’s right instead of playing a game solo in their rooms they are outside interacting with nature and each other!! I am planning a trip to Circular Quay for Pokemon hunting with a group of friends next week. Anyone else want to join us???

Christine Pope is a practicing nutritionist and homeopath based at Elemental Health St Ives. Appointments are available Tuesdays and Wednesdays on 8084 0081 or you can book online at Elemental Health . She is currently at Level 24 on Pokemon and  has just caught a Pikachu in a Xmas hat.


Reflections on a busy year

This year was going to be different. I was not going to overcommit. Having taken on a directorship for Australia’s largest natural medicine association, ATMS, I had reduced my teaching commitments to ensure I had enough time for my three roles.

Maybe that’s where I had been kidding myself a little as juggling Head of Nutrition at Nature Care College , clinical practice at Elemental Health   and the directorship was possibly a little challenging.
So what brought me to the verge of adrenal exhaustion?  Well the unexpected. I took over classes for a pregnant colleague and ended up with piles of marking. I stepped up as Treasurer in my board role and found out in when I did that audit and year end had not been organised by my predecessor and my darling son got glandular fever.

Actually the glandular fever was very stressful as a Mum and practitioner. Thank goodness for a great GP who calmly helped us through diagnosis and monitoring his recovery. There is another blog in how to help someone through glandular fever but that will be coming up next!!

bigstock-Grade-written-on-an-exam-paper-60125483.jpgWhat made a big difference was my support team. The friends and colleagues who noticed where I was at and offered great advice even if I took a while to take it on board.
So in the words of Monty Python ” nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” but perhaps what I need to do is learn to allow a little more space for the unexpected. Fortunately for me the college I was working at was going through re-accreditation and decided it needed more hours , thereby giving me space to gracefully bow out. It also allowed me to allocate more time to the directorship and surprisingly (or not) this reduced my stress levels dramatically. Turns out concentrating on only two things was far less stressful.

So what are you planning for 2016? How are you going to make sure you can focus on doing what you love without burning yourself out?

Christine Pope is a practising homeopath, nutritionist and coach , who is still working on coaching herself on stress management! She is in practice at Elemental Health at St Ives and appointments can be made on 8084 0081. Based on her own significant experience she can assist with all the symptoms of adrenal burnout including low energy, poor motivation and low mood.

Arriving in great shape

The worst thing in the world when you start a holiday is getting sick. You just spent thousands getting to your destination and now you have to deal with being sick, missing out on part of your holiday and even dealing with a doctor in a language you don’t speak. So what can you do to avoid this?

First up don’t work right up to the second you get on the plane. You are setting yourself up for a lovely adrenal crash when you land, depressing your immune system so you can’t resist the bugs that were on the plane or in the airport. You are going on holidays and they need to cope when you are gone – coach them with some baby steps the weeks before your trip so that its all running smoothly and you can enjoy your break.

Support your immune system assiduously before the trip. Ideally look at a minimum a good quality probiotic for at least a month, plus if you are prone to colds and flu think about some form of immune support in the form of Echinacea, Vitamin C and Zinc. If its really your adrenals that are struggling then consider some ginsengs such as Withania which provides gentle support. Again start at least a month before travelling to really build up your adrenals.

Book your flights so that you start relaxed. By this I mean rather than getting a 6am flight because its cheapest, travel at 10 or 11am when its more relaxed and you can enjoy a slow start to the day. Treat the travel as part of the holiday and make it a relaxed experience. If you are doing Europe in economy think about breaking it overnight to sleep flat in a real bed and make it easier on your body. Alternatively book a massage once you arrive to really start your holiday in the best frame of mind.

Then on the plane work on barrier support. Try a nasal spray with saline and essential oils to keep mucous membranes functioning and bugs at bay. This is also good if you are prone to difficulties with ears on takeoffs or landings as it will help keep the passages clear. Stay well hydrated even if you have to get out to the toilet every few hours – moving around will help you feel better at the other end anyway.

My favourite homeopathic combination for long trips is a dose of Oscillococinum and Hepar Sulph on each leg of the flight. Oscillococinum is marketed as Flu Stop in Europe and its a great preventative if you are prone to catching those type of bugs. Better still it can be used as treatment if you do get a bug so it covers a few bases.

Christine Pope is a Homeopath and Nutritionist who practices at Elemental Health, St Ives and can be contacted on 8084 0081 for appointments. Her travel bug has been curtailed of recent years due to a busy work schedule but she is planning a trip to New Zealand in January.

EMF could it be destroying your sleep?

Currently I am listening to a series of Environmental Health master classes with the first one on Electromagnetic radiation. I have always had an interest in this topic as many years ago I remember being told that engineers on the Centrepoint tower near the transmitters would be infertile within fifteen minutes if they weren’t wearing shielding. That highlighted to me how dangerous even invisible sources of radiation can be to the human body.

Now for most people this isn’t a risk as they would rarely be in this situation. However over the last twenty years with the increasing use of a wide range of devices and Wi-Fi our exposures have increased dramatically and some people are really starting to be affected badly often with one of the first signs being insomnia, difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep. Another major symptom is usually headaches particularly at the front of the head.

Mobile Phone Base Station With Background Of Blue Sky
Generally I would be concerned about the insomnia and headaches being associated with EMF if it started after you moved house or if you sleep well when travelling but not at home. Australian levels of acceptable radiation are much higher than Europe (often as much as ten times higher) as they have largely been set by industry, rather than being based on research.

The first thing I would recommend is to remove devices from the bedroom, even a digital clock radio which emits low levels of radiation should be at least two metres from your head. Secondly do a quick audit of where you are sleeping relative to strong energy currents from your meter box, fridge or microwave oven. Ideally the further away the better but at least a metre away even through the wall where the device is located. Turning off Wi-Fi in the home at night can be beneficial. There have been reports where severe insomnia sufferers started sleeping when towns lost power for a few days at a time.

Man Removing Apple Iphone 6 From Pocket
The other area to look at is your phone. Have you noticed how much it heats up when you hold it close to your head for a ten or fifteen minute conversation. Do you really want to have that heating other parts of your body on a regular basis?? And you know where most men put their phones, at least women largely stick it in a handbag! Reduce your exposure by using your phone like a teenager and mainly texting or get a pair of headphones for calls if you need to talk to people. At home think about switching to a corded phone as even the cordless phones put out a reasonable amount of radiation.

If you are interested in more information on this topic I can recommend Nicole Bijlisma’s book Healthy Home, Healthy Living as its well researched and is focussed on solutions. Nicole is a naturopath and building biologist. She also has quite a lot of information on her blog.

Have you made changes to reduce your exposures to EMF? Let me know how it affected you.

Christine Pope is a practicing Homeopath and Nutritionist based at Elemental Health, St Ives (8084 0081). She is also Head of Nutrition at Nature Care College at St Leonards.