Navigating the road of self-doubt

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As I child I wasn’t confident. I never put my hand up in school, even if I knew the answer. I cried when I had to recite my times tables in front of the class. I didn’t participate in any teams. I didn’t compete. I was just a quiet girl, happy writing my stories about horses on my typewriter, but secretly wishing I would put myself ‘out there’ a little bit more to achieve my dreams. I would have loved to have taken part in school plays and been part of the debating team (yep, geek alert!) and always wondered where people got their self-confidence from.

People who know me now may find it hard to believe that I was once a shy, self-doubting girl. Anyone who knows me now knows I like to talk (a lot! I’m just enthusiastic!). I am competitive and I love to try new things whenever I can! How did this change come about? On looking back I think there was a turning point but also a journey of gradual change.

When I gave birth to my first son I recall saying to a visitor who came to the hospital to see us that I felt as if I  could climb mount Everest. The birth had been gruelling and my body was definitely not in a fit state to climb a flight of stairs, never mind the world’s tallest mountain. However, what I meant was I felt empowered. I felt like I could do anything after that experience. I knew then and there that I had contributed something of value to the world in creating a new life and accompanying that was a sense of self-worth and self-belief.

Over the years I’ve also put myself forward in social situations when it hasn’t always been natural for me to do so. I have challenged myself with 10k runs and fundraising for charity. I’ve done a creative writing course and now I’m doing my Open University degree. These things haven’t come easily to me. I’ve had to push myself.

So, anyway, the past few weeks have been frantic. I’ve been working extra days, had an assignment deadline to work to combined with all the usual busyness of family life. I am not unusual, this is the face of modern life for lots of us. There’s little down time and it is in the chaos that self-doubt begins to creep back into my mind.

A week or two ago I was really struggling. I had the deadline (even that word fills me with dread, so negative!), a lot of material to work through and I was suffering with vertigo. I felt as if I was standing in the middle of a forest that was packed tightly with tall trees. When I tilted my head back I couldn’t see daylight. It was dark. It was cold. And it was lonely. I wanted to curl up and hibernate, to wake up when the sun was warm and the days bright again. I had to find a way through.

I didn’t think I would get my assignment handed in on time and as I endeavoured to keep working on it my relationships were beginning to fracture. I was snappy at work, I tried not to make eye-contact with people at school pick-ups as I couldn’t be bothered with conversation. My kids went to dad instead of me as they could sense I was on the edge. My husband kept quiet, did the homeworks, made the packed lunches, put on the washing and told me I could do it when he saw me with my head on the kitchen table (again).

So, I write this blog post as a reminder to myself that although the road might be full of boulders, and slippery mudslides, and obstacles to climb, there is actually a way along it.

I am not a doctor or a psychologist, but I know what works for me when the going gets tough.

  1. Surround yourself with the right people.

People who are a positive force are invaluable – appreciate them! I am so lucky to have people who believe in me and my dreams when I don’t. Their words and their hugs keep me focused.

2. Exercise.

Might seem silly, but for me, exercise keeps my mind in a good place. Especially if the exercise is outdoors, preferably near the sea, or a river. I don’t know why! A short run, a boot camp session, a bike ride, whatever you like really! Getting out for some regular exercise helps me to put things into perspective.

3. Eat well.

We all know how important it is to eat well but making the right choices when you’re feeling low can be tough. Your body naturally craves the comforting sugar-filled foods but these just leave you feeling sluggish. Reach for energy rich foods and you’ll see a real difference.

4. Drink plenty.

Save the wine for the weekends! When I get dehydrated I get tired and confused. I try to keep a jug of water beside me at all times, whether at work or at home. I definitely notice a difference in my energy levels and concentration when I am drinking plenty of water.

5. Music.

What would the world be without music? Take time out from studies, or whatever it is that makes your day busy to listen to some of your favourite music. I like to use headphones so I am totally caught up in the music. My kids could be running riot, busy on some adventure or other that they’ve made up and I can watch them playing, but instead of hearing the screaming I get to see their game with a lovely soundtrack!

6. The rest can wait.

Sometimes, the washing won’t all get done (has any parent ever seen the bottom of a laundry basket?). Sometimes the floor will have crumbs on it (for days!). Sometimes, there will be dishes piled up beside the sink. That’s ok.

It’s ok to choose your priorities. Your mother in law might not think that writing a story takes precedence over washing the dishes, but if you do, that’s ok! You are on your own journey and guilt is never going to help you move forward. Accept that some things can just wait while you focus on what really matters to you.  I get so stressed out about mess and toys lying all over the house, but you know what, these things are a sign that I have a rich life. I have people in my life, my home is busy and that’s amazing.

7. Rest.

Getting enough sleep makes all the difference to my world-view. Things become slightly skewed, like the world has turned sideways, when I’m tired. Even taking time to just sit, drink a coffee and breathe, goes a long way in restoring energy levels. I am not good at slowing down, it’s in my nature to work. My parents were excellent role models of hard workers and I’ve always kept busy. But, I’m learning that sometimes a little rest, taking time to catch up with my own thoughts, helps me to live in the here and now and not to slip into survival mode.

8. Encourage others.

Remember you are not the only one trying to navigate their way through life’s ups and downs. Notice when other people do something well and make a point of telling them. Listen to what other people are passionate about and tell them to pursue their dreams. Being kind goes a long way and actually is very personally rewarding.

9. Ask for help.

It’s ok to admit when you are struggling. I don’t think asking for help should be viewed as sign of weakness. It takes courage to ask for help and support.

10. Make a list.

Lists are great for organising your life and your mind. Write a list of the things that you value, things you want to prioritise and keep coming back to it – remember your goals and make changes when you go off track!

Happy living!

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