April is Stress Awareness Month, and here at The Art Tiffin, we are talking about stress through this month to raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and strategies and tools to manage stress in our everyday lives with our series 'Spring in my Step'.
The next interview in our series for April 'Spring in my Step' is with Laura Oldfield, who is a professional singer and also runs the Power of Mum®. She has a truly “multi-hyphenate” career - teaching secondary school music a couple of days a week, coaching amazing women, singing on the odd film soundtrack or at the Proms, and being mum to her 2 and 3 year old.
I was really flattered when Laura contacted me on Instagram about our Art Tiffin boxes and had some lovely things to say about them, and then I did a day of 'take-over' in her group talking about setting up a creative business, how to craft your unique story, and how to create a brand that you love.
Here's what Laura has to say about how stress has been a part of her life, and how she has learnt to manage it.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself
I think like so many mothers, my story has been hugely affected by the seismic shift that is becoming a mum. I’ve always had a “portfolio career”, but didn’t realise it had a name until recently! Music surrounds me (my parents, sister, her boyfriend, my husband) are all musicians, and I’ve been a professional classical singer since I was 21 - this has always been my partner job to my teaching career. I started as an NQT at 22, and worked my way through a number of roles, including Middle Management as Head of Years 10 and 11, and more latterly Director of Music in a fabulous school. I returned to this role six months after having my daughter, but, when her brother was born just a year or so later (they are 17 and a half months apart and I love it), I knew I couldn’t return to my existing role. I also knew that I was determined to look into just what happens to a woman when they become a mother - how they still need nurturing, support, development, help with confidence, the opportunity to look for something new that works for them and their families. I’d been inspired by the two dramatically differing births I’d had to train as a hypno-birthing teacher: I wanted to make women realise how powerful they could feel regardless of how they birthed their babies, and that birth didn’t have to make you feel like a patient or victim. I loved developing my own business and brand (Power of Mum®) and serving women and their birth partners.
2. I know I am stressed when...
I snap at my family. I chew at the edges of my nails (but don’t bite them, I like having long nails too much after years of cut nails for good violin technique), I find myself checking but not looking at Instagram and Facebook repeatedly…refresh, refresh, refresh…I find my face has turned into a scowl…I reject offers of help and get a bit manic, hoping I can JUST GET IT ALL DONE. I feel I need to be ON ALL THE TIME when I should just switch off and have a bath.
3. The biggest source of stress in my life is...
Feeling like I’ve not got enough time to achieve everything I want, or feeling that in order to “achieve” in one area of life (e.g. my career) I need to let another area go (e.g. time with family). This is something I have worked on enormously!
4. How has stress affected your mental and physical health?
My mental health is generally pretty healthy, but whenever I am too tired or feeling stressed my claustrophobia rears its ugly head, and I tend to feel a non-definable anxiety about nothing and everything. My physical health could be summed up by “how much chocolate is in my tummy” - I would definitely love to fit in more exercise and this is a plan I’m working on at the moment.
5. How much time do you actively set aside every week for self-care or me-time?
My husband and I have been discussing this a lot recently - I go for two baths minimum, trying to turn off all screens at least an hour before bed (definitely doesn’t happen every night but it’s always worth it when I do), making sure that when he is around in the mornings that sometimes we don’t have "family breakfast” but I go for a good walk by myself. We’re talking about doing couch to 5k again, and hopefully doing some park runs with the kids! I also love, in no particular order: knitting, reading, getting my nails done, taking myself for a brilliant coffee and not checking my phone, listening to a podcast on a long walk. school have started to offer before-school yoga so when I’m in I try and go to that if A level music essays aren’t waiting...
6. What kind of things have you tried to manage stress in your life?
Much of the things that I’ve mentioned above. I find writing down my “why” I’m doing what I’m doing helps. I’m also a big fan of just stopping, using breathing techniques that I learnt as a singer, adapted as a hypno-birthing teacher, and now use with the kids (nothing complicated, but going back to breath always helps). Playing with the kids (usually) helps, being outside, and just talking talking talking talking…I rarely feel STRESSED and if I do I know it’s because I need to say no more, eat something nourishing, prioritise sleep and turn off my phone!
The magic formula for me is always sleep, turning off devices, connecting IRL with people (not the false community that social media can sometimes bring about), a bath, good food, and sometimes a good snog with the husband!
7. What are the three top tips you would give to another busy mum and entrepreneur who is stress and overwhelmed, and would like to get a 'spring in their step'?
1. Prioritise your sleep - have a reverse lie-in as I call them sometimes - I KNOW there’s “just” another load of washing, or you want to send those emails, or watch your boxset, or sort out those annoying school forms, but what would happen if at least one night a week you had a super early night? How would you feel knowing you’d had a really amazing chunk of sleep?
2. Connect with friends and family you love in real life. Don’t text them. Don’t WhatsApp them. Call them. Or offer to come round and share some dinner. Or have a playdate. But hang out in real life, not via your phone.
3. Learn to say NO. You don’t have to do it all. Come back to the WHY you’re doing things - it’s ok to say no.
Thank you so much, Laura, for giving this insight into your own experiences with stress and the strategies that have worked for you. I definitely love the idea of a 'reverse lie-in'. I have realised that taking short naps are so useful for my well-being and mental health when I am feeling stressed and overwhelmed and just posted about this on my instagram too. I call it a stress-snooze! Real life connections, taking yourself away for coffee, and some creative activities are all great stress-busters.
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, look to tomorrow, rest this afternoon.”
― Charles M. Schulz,
<---- Check our The Art Tiffin boxes for stress-free creative inspiration. Definitely a 'creative hug in a box' when you need it most.