Frazzled was a good word to describe how I was feeling on Friday night.
It had been a hard week. Back to work after two weeks off, a mountain of marking that I had avoided doing over the Easter break and sleepless nights due to one of the tots developing an aversion to the cot and therefore screaming every time she went near it, thus waking up the other two CONSTANTLY… all night…. every night (at least that’s how it felt).
Still, I found the energy to get myself to Ruby Wax’s new show which has the same name as how I happened to be feeling. And I was pleased I did. This wasn’t just because I consumed 3 glasses of wine, the relief of knowing that I was not going to hear a crying child for a few hours and the catch up I had with my lovely friend (though all of these were much appreciated). It was also because the show was a very enjoyable and interesting way to spend a Friday evening.
Enjoyable, due to the fact that Ruby Wax has not lost her quick wit and sparky humour despite the show’s focus on the serious topic of mental health (or mental illness – her show, her label as she reminded the audience).
Jennifer Saunders reportedly stated that the best lines in Ab Fab were generally written by Ruby Wax and there were plenty of laughs last night to lighten the mood.
Wax was ably assisted by Kathy Lette and their easy conversational approach which clearly shows real warmth and friendship between the two of them gave Wax opportunities to share hilarious anecdotes. For example:
- About the time she attempted to impress Brian Cox with her knowledge of quantum physics?!
- And her mother’s obsession with a specific type of broom on a particular visit she paid to London (trust me these were funny – you need to see the show).
The show was also interesting because her take on mindfulness is firmly evidence based and she is extremely realistic in how it can fit into 21st century life. If you have got a ticket, be prepared for a little bit of demonstration about what mindfulness can involve. These group ‘tasks’ could be awkward but were not particularly as she kept it simple. For instance the audience was directed to clap and then notice the sensations in their hands – try it – it is a quick and easy route to feeling present.
Also there was a discussion of the science behind why and how mindfulness works. Some of the messages I particularly liked were:
- her analogy of mindfulness being a way of exercising the brain and strengthening the ‘gloop’ (or grey matter). Basically Wax described it as being like toning particular muscle groups when you go to the gym.
- the message that due to neuroplasticity the brain can alter and change all the time and though you are dealt the genes you have, mindfulness can help different parts of the brain to develop some protection against more negative emotional impulses.
- her emphasis on the importance of having mindfulness-based strategies to help lower cortisol levels and therefore feel less ‘stressed’ day-to-day. One example was of retreating from our thoughts so that we can monitor them in a more detatched manner – like watching them on TV – by concentrating on the present, our senses and bodily sensations.
- her honesty that mindfulness is a pain to get into. The fact that it takes practice. I loved that she likened it to learning to ski – ‘nothing is fun to begin with is it?!’ (see my recent post on mindfulness in the mountains for how much I love skiing too).
- the exploration of how showing compassion is connected with mindfulness and how seeing something from another person’s perspective can obviously have a very positive impact on relationships (especially between parents and children). Wax made the point that once you recognise that someone is directing anger towards you but really they are not angry at you at all but there are other factors affecting them then it is much easier to show them kindness and the argument is more easily defused. She also discussed how compassion (or any moods) can be passed on ‘through neuro-wifi’ as we reflect each other’s moods (especially in a family setting) and mindfulness helps us to acknowledge this.
- her assertion that mindfulness teaches you how to focus and pay attention and that attention is the most important thing you can give to someone (this made me think of the kids again and she linked it back to her children too). Also, how it means one can pay attention to one’s thoughts and there is then an inbuilt early-warning system for anyone who may be about to suffer a depressive episode (she said mindfulness meant she had her ‘ear to the ground for depression’).
These are just some of the helpful pieces of advice that I took away from the evening . I’m so pleased I bought the book as there was so much to take in and it means I can revisit her suggestions at my leisure.
If you don’t get a chance to see the show then consider treating yourself to the book. As Professor Mark Williams says: ‘Ruby shows how to meet all that life throws at us’ and hopefully this can help us all to feel less frazzled more of the time.