*Your children are looking to you. Who will you be for them?*
Children are far more perceptive than many of us realise. They pick up on subtleties and sometimes keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves when they are unsure of things.
Whether or not you have children of your own, it is likely that there will be young people in your life, who need stability and security from the adults around them.
If your children are younger, perhaps you may be able to shield and shelter them in a safe little cocoon away from the world. They may be too young to understand what is going on, and only know that their routine has changed and you may be able to give them a safe and positive experience through this.
Yet, even young children can pick up on things from adults that we sometimes fail to pay attention to.
For older children, teenagers and young adults, this may be a much more confusing and unsettling time, and chances are, how they get through this will impact upon how they do for the next few years in their lives in terms of resilience, outlook on life and even mental and emotional health and wellbeing.
It might be easy to get caught up in the immediacy of this pressing situation, but they need you to be their role models, their leaders, their examples. In a world where greed and selfishness is coming to the fore, can you be kind, giving, selfless? Are you showing them an example of fear or of faith and courage? Are you providing them with the learning opportunities to build skills and resilience to face an unknown future? What are the certainties that you can lay down for them?
We are all examples to children and young people in some way, even if we don’t have children of our own to nurture, love and protect, we still have a part to play, whether as teachers, aunts or uncles, friends and mentors.
Teenagers who have not been able to sit their exams this year may feel like it is a catastrophe in their own personal lives. Do they have the space to talk about and express how they are feeling? Can you and we assure them that actually there are so many opportunities that don’t depend on exam results and that we are all living in changing times where we will have to adapt and learn, and that they *do* have a hope and a future. If you don’t believe this yourself, if you are doubtful and fearful, it makes things a bit more of a challenge to them.
Pay attention to the mental health of the young people in your life, and set the examples that they need you to be right now. Let them know that there is a way forwards, and that there is hope. And above all, listen and love and provide a sense of security and safety so that they can grow through this and not be crushed or overwhelmed by it.
Words of Encouragement (11):
*Practical tips to help manage anxiety*
I’m sure many of us have experienced feelings of anxiety and stress around this new situation we find ourselves thrust into in 2020. Although there is a lot that is outside the realm of our control, and that can make things feel very frightening at times, we can do some practical things to help us to manage feelings of anxiety better. Here are three for you to focus on today:
1. Breathing / ‘breath work’.
I know this can sound overly simple, but trust me….I have years of experience in overcoming the ‘anxiety monster’! When we are in a state of stress and anxiety, our bodies can get stuck in a state of ‘fight / flight / freeze’. Anxiety and fear can contribute to lashing out, retreating, or becoming immobilized and ‘stuck’. There is a lot of science behind this regarding the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, the production of certain stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, for instance, and the different brain states that respond to threat (or perceived threat), and the resultant physiological responses. We don’t need to go into detail about that here, but these are all connected to your feelings of stress, tension, increased heartrate, sweating, racing thoughts and ‘catastrophic’ thinking, and so on. I’m sure I’m not the only one who knows what it is like to experience these first hand, and if you have ever experienced a panic attack, then we’re on the same page here. You might find yourself breathing irregularly, pacing up or down, or just unable to concentrate. Being told to ‘calm down’ isn’t really going to help you, but knowing *how* to calm yourself down *will* help.
So what at first might sound over simplified, in focusing on your breathing, is actually very effective, as it changes the state of your body, your brain states and hormone production and release.
Anyway, enough of the ‘theory stuff’….here’s a practical exercise.
You’re most likely breathing from your chest up, but you need to breathe more deeply from your diaphragm. Breathe in through your nose so that your belly rises (for a count of 4), hold the breath for a count of 5, and exhale slowly and completely through your mouth so that your belly goes in, expelling the air for a count of 7. These numbers are indications, you can do what works for you, but make sure that the out-breath is longer than the in breath…that’s important (and there’s science -y stuff behind that too 😉 ). Repeat as often as needed and your body and brain will gradually ‘switch’ states from fight/flight/freeze to a calmer state which will in turn help you to manage your thoughts better.
Pay attention to your five senses, and take time over each one. Some people don’t like the term ‘mindfulness’, but really it is just paying attention, noticing things, and once again changing your brain and body states which is very effective in managing anxiety and the often accompanying racing thoughts. You could try the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ method and work your way slowly through 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 that you can smell and one that you can taste.
Alternatively, you can focus on one object and really take in the details of it, and this will help you to return to a calmer state.
3. Creative distraction
This can be incredibly helpful, especially if you build it up over time, although there can be immediate results on a smaller scale, to help you in that moment. Whether it is drawing, colouring, cooking, painting, playing a musical instrument, or even (less creative perhaps) tidying up, this will help you with attention, problem solving, and focus and using your hands productively will also have a calming effect if you are struggling with anxiety.
Try to incorporate these into your day to day life, even in small ways here and there, and build up your own ‘toolkit’ and adapt it to your own needs. There are so many resources out there, and different ones that will suit you individually, hopefully you will find something that fits your needs, or can connect with a friend, family member or group who can help to point you in the right direction.
Keep calm and carry on 😉
Words of Encouragement (9):
*Know when to take time out*.
As I explored previously in the post about ‘How much news is too much news?’, this one comes having just watched the news, and feeling that restless unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach, and the sense of stress in thinking about and acknowledging what our fellow human beings are going through in this window of history. Even safely tucked away from it all in my quiet flat, the news can still get right to us….and for those who are particularly empathetic it can touch us to the core.
We need to learn how to process things through this experience, this season. And we need to know when to take a step back, to take time out. This is especially true if we are in any position of responsibility or supporting or caring for other people. This might be on many levels or on one or two, but the principle holds true regardless. Your responsibilities might be your work, your volunteering roles, your parents, your spouse, your friends, your children. It could be the role you find yourself in in supporting and encouraging other people, in putting food on the table, in supporting colleagues and others, and you therefore need to know what your ‘triggers’ are in terms of when that feeling inside begins to get too much. When anxiety, stress or fear begins to overtake you.
At such times, step back.
Take some time out and rebuild yourself, nurture yourself, do something perhaps creative, artistic, musical, relaxing to take your mind and attention and emotions off this terrible situation we find ourselves in.
Take time out and take a break so that when you come back you can come back stronger, you can be there for yourself as well as those around you who are depending on you, and so that you can be purposeful in how you use your days so that you can and do make a difference for the better in the lives of those closest to you, and even in the lives of those you don’t know, by doing the right thing.
Words of Encouragement (5):
*How much news is too much news?*
These are scary times, aren’t they friends? We feel compelled to keep up to date with everything going on, but then sometimes we get ‘sucked in’ to a constant stream of input and information that we get stressed and feel unable to process it all. At other times we seek to ‘escape’, to hide away and to just do the things that we enjoy, but it is important for our own safety and that of others that we stay informed and up to date. I encourage you to do your best to find a healthy balance, just as we are all figuring this out one day at a time. Keep informed, but also look after your mind. Limit how much news you watch, or have a predictable time or routine maybe in the morning and evening. Put your mind to something positive first thing in the morning and last thing at night so that you’re not caught up and overwhelmed with the tragedy of the situation going on around the world. It is real and it is happening, but sometimes we need to take a step back and just look after our own minds. Take care. I hope some of this is helping someone out there. Stay safe.
Words of Encouragement (4.1):
*When home doesn’t feel like home*
In the last post we looked at the idea of creating a sense of order in the midst of chaos…exploring the idea of our homes being like a lighthouse in the midst of a storm.
I want to continue to think about the idea of establishing safety, this time acknowledging that being at home, whether alone or with other people, doesn’t always feel safe.
This touches very lightly the surface of some very deep and potentially dark issues, many of which are beyond the scope of this short post. There are all types of issues that could press upon your sense of safety within the home from feelings of depression and anxiety, loneliness, to domestic abuse, child abuse, and also even the stress of living in a space with other people with little sense of freedom, which overtime can lead to feelings of entrapment, fear and depression.
In a unique situation like the one we find ourselves in, in the case of this pandemic, we may not have access to the sources of support that would normally be available and this can be particularly tough for some people who are experiencing any of the things I’ve mentioned above. Devastatingly, some people can and perhaps will slip through the net, and my heart goes out to them.
Knowing this makes it difficult to write this post, however, I’d like to offer a glimmer of hope that there are helplines, support groups and other online resources that can help you through this difficult time. A quick ‘Google’ search shows me that there is a variety of resources in local areas, and perhaps with the many support groups springing up around the Covid-19 situation this may mean more opportunities to get some kind of help, even in the interim. In the UK you can phone the Samaritans, access online resources on mental health such as ‘Mind’, reach out to a friend by telephone if possible. Perhaps if you are concerned about a child’s safety at home, you could report this. If anyone reading this has particular knowledge of what to do and how to help people in such circumstances or who fall under other vulnerable categories, and who need a lifeline right now, please comment below with resources and contact details for organisations that can help, where possible. Thank you ❤ Let’s pray that as few people as possible slip through the net.
I will follow this up with a post 4.2 for managing the stresses of being at home where your safety isn’t actually at risk, but when things sometimes just feel too much. Take care, stay safe and well.
Everyday stresses can add up over time, and if we’re not careful we may experiences a wide range of negative effects from anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, a sense of being overwhelmed, trapped and frustrated, backed into a corner, to name but a few.
Having come through times of intense stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, etc. due to a range of challenging circumstances, I know how important it is to be mindful and aware of when these little ‘niggly’ things that occur day to day begin to trigger even a hint of those feelings.
If we allow things to build up and up (which, I truly know, friends, can be difficult not to) then our bodies and nervous systems will begin to move from a state of calm, rest, efficiency and productivity, to being hypervigilant, and in fight-flight-freeze mode. Stress hormones will build up and this will affect our thinking, cloud our judgement and affect us physically. We may find it difficult to sleep, we may turn to comfort eating, or feel too stressed to eat, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. Perhaps, like me, you know it all too well.
Did you remember to breathe?
Sometimes I ‘forget to breathe’. Obviously, my body will be breathing, but what I mean is sometimes I get into a rigid state where I’m kind of holding my breath without even realising it, and therefore not getting a sufficient supply of oxygen for my wellbeing, and for regulating my nervous system.
Did you know that something as simple as breathing well is so powerful in regulating our nervous system, and promoting our wellbeing? And yet so often so many of us seem to ‘forget this’. We breathe from a ‘shallow’ place and don’t allow a full intake or exhale of our breath. Once we begin to be aware of our breathing and to intentionally practice doing it ‘better’ then our nervous systems are able to ‘calm down’. So, for your own good….”Don’t hold your breath!”.
What are those ‘little things’?
Sometimes life throws us into challenges where we feel like we may well sink if we don’t ‘swim’ to survive. At times life is so tough that our ‘default’ is to operate on fight-flight-freeze mode, simply to survive an intensely stressful, emotional, challenging and / or traumatic situation.
However, even at times when we are in those more calm and peaceful seasons where things overall are going well, our bodies and brains can be overstimulated and create a ‘stress response’ within us similar (or equivalent) to that fight-flight-freeze response.
Can you see yourself, or relate to what’s happening, in any of the following scenarios?
You all know the feeling. You’re on the way to see your friends for a great day out, but you can’t find the keys to your car, when you finally do and are on your way you then get caught in traffic and you worry that you’ll be late, you arrive just in time but can’t find a parking space, you’re feeling anxious because of angry drivers that you’ve encountered and before your great day out has even started, you kind of want to be back home where you can crawl into bed.
Finally you meet your friends and it’s great to see them. You hug and you’re reminded of why the stress of the journey was worth it. As you catch up over coffee, the noise around you and the multitude of conversations going on from other people leaves you feeling a bit disoriented. You try to listen to your friends but it’s difficult to ‘tune out’ the noise and ‘tune in’ to hear their conversations. When things finally quieten down your friends begin to share updates about their lives. They’re doing great, you’re happy for each other, but some things in the conversation seem to ‘trigger’ you and they seem insensitive to it. You listen patiently and are as encouraging and loving a friend as ever but something doesn’t feel quite right inside. A few of your friends get up to buy something to eat and you’re left alone with one friend. You’re by nature a ‘listener’ and you’ve listened attentively and shown genuine interest and contributed here and there to the group conversations. However, alone with this person they seem to ask you question after question after question. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen each other and it’s nice to catch up but you feel stressed, uneasy and needing your own space. You hope that the others will come back soon so that they dynamic will feel more ‘balanced’ once again, as far as is possible with a range of personalities, and a mix of ‘introverts, extraverts and ambiverts’. All in all by the end of the day you’ve had a lovely and a pleasant time, but some of the ‘little things’ have got to you and you don’t quite understand why you’re feeling so stressed after a nice day out.
You’ve landed your dream job. You got through the interview despite your nerves, impressed the new bosses and are finally where you’ve wanted to be for oh so long. Things are going great. You manage to push past your first day nerves, the disorientation of not knowing anyone, and having to get to know a lot of new faces, names and ways of working. After a few weeks into your dream job you’ve built some rapport with colleagues, feel comfortable and confident in what you’re doing, know the ‘lay of the land’ and where to get lunch, where different offices are and what your day to day routine is like. You’re really pleased with this great new step in your life, but somehow everyday you feel a bit of a ‘gnawing’ in the pit of your stomach, and a feeling of nervousness and stress rising up within you. The dream job you should be overjoyed about and looking forward to going to everyday doesn’t leave you feeling the way you had hoped. It’s not the job itself – it perfectly fits what you had wanted to do. It’s not the location – it’s ideal for you and the building and the facilities are great. It’s not the ‘vibe’ of the organisation, people are friendly and professional. It’s just that one little thing. That one colleague who hasn’t taken so well to you. The one who rolls their eyes, who makes subtle flippant remarks that you are sure are about you, who is overly friendly to everyone else but ignores you or responds abruptly and provides as little help or good will as possible. The one who does so many ‘little things’ that are hard to pin down as being ‘problems’ in and of themselves, but who gives you that feeling inside your chest, the one that leaves you feeling somewhat stressed. Why can’t you just ignore it, shake it off? You try but it seems to leave you feeling drained nonetheless.
You’re really thankful to have good and close friends. Or perhaps you have a loving partner or spouse. You’re so grateful for the people in your life. It’s just that sometimes you feel the need for your own space, sometimes they do or say things that make you feel stressed, sometimes you find yourself putting your needs aside to help them, to keep them happy. But those little things, they still get to you a bit, don’t they?
Life is going great. You’re doing well in your job. You’ve got good friends. You’re quite healthy. No family drama. No major life crisis. But you can’t quite seem to keep up with all that you have to or want to do. You live alone. The dishes have piled up. There are things needing done around the house. You want to get on top of things, but you’ve got to manage so many things yourself, and you spend so much time doing things yet before you know it things need to be done all over again, and you haven’t even got to that ‘to do’ list of things needing fixed, repaired and so on and so forth.
Or you’re a working mum, you love your family, your kids, they are everything to you. But sometimes they just don’t listen. They leave things lying about. They seem more interested in their phones and their friends and their computers than they do in connecting with you. You feel unappreciated, stressed, you love your life, your family, your job, but sometimes those little things…leave you feeling a bit stressed, frustrated, in need of a holiday on a beautiful desert island with a good book, all by yourself! Do you know the feeling?
Taking a step back:
We don’t need to be going through a trauma or a life crisis for things to become stressful. Sometimes the ‘little things’ in life can leave us feeling overwhelmed. And if we let them build up then at some point they might just ‘bubble over’. Have you ever ‘snapped at’ someone who really didn’t deserve it, not because of them, but because you allowed different stresses to build up over time and this was just the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’? Have you ever burst into tears, or just ended up so fatigued that you couldn’t do anything? Have you let the ‘little things’ in life get the better of you?
Or are you just beginning to notice them? Don’t let the ‘little things’ build up and overwhelm you.
Sometimes we need to try taking a step back. Sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes it involves saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to someone and facing the ‘fear’ of not meeting their expectations of us for the sake of preserving and maintaining our own well being. In order to do so we need to know and be aware of what we need, we need to work on managing ours and other people’s expectations in a healthy way, managing boundaries and taking good care of ourselves.
Sometimes we need to take a step back, remind ourselves to ‘breathe’ and do something to nurture ourselves.
What are you going to do today to make sure that the ‘little things’ don’t cause you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or a bit lacklustre today?
Remember, it’s never a little thing to take care of your own wellbeing! x
ANTS can be a nuisance. Automatic Negative Thoughts, that is.
They creep across our minds from time to time, and pester us. The thing is, for those over-thinkers like myself, ANTS can pester us with greater frequency and intensity than other people who find it easier to ‘switch off’ or not be so aware of or bothered by their thoughts. It’s not that we choose to be over-thinkers (why would anyone choose what can often be and feel like an affliction?), it’s just that’s how we are wired, and our brains are always ‘whirring’ with action, whether we like it or not. Many of us are also highly intelligent, creative, analytic and kind and sensitive souls. We know all too well the two-edged sword of positive and negative attributes to having a highly sensitive mind and disposition.
We may also have in common the condition of ‘Generalised Anxiety Disorder’ which until you get a handle on and figure out how to train yourself to get on top of, really sucks! So my sympathy for any other sufferers out there. However, we are not our thoughts and we don’t need to be defined by our ‘conditions’, it’s just a part of our life experience, but so too is overcoming it, learning and growing from it, helping ourselves, and quite incredibly growing to the point of inspiring and encouraging others.
So, back to the infestation of ANTS. What do you do? I think, although I can’t be sure, that probably almost everybody experiences the nuisance of ANTS from time to time. Unwanted thoughts, memories, etc. flash through our minds and make us feel uneasy.
Something I have learned not all that long ago (and Katie Morton’s videos on YouTube have helped me to see this), is that ANTS become a nuisance for people like me, and perhaps like you, when we are unable to ‘shrug them off’.
Some people notice a negative thought, and ‘shake it off’ in the words of Taylor Swift, or just ‘Let it go’ (if you prefer the ‘Frozen’ theme song). For those of us whose minds, brains, personalities, characteristics or whatever it is, are more sensitive to what’s going on inside of our heads, we tend to think about the thought.
For example, take the negative thought that might stem from seeing someone struggling to climb down some steep steps in real life. Maybe you’ve seen something on a TV programme where someone has fallen and had an accident, or maybe somewhere within yourself it’s just something you fear, I don’t know, the mind is a complex place. A thought flashes by that the person you’re seeing in real life falls down these steps.
Now, for people who aren’t particularly affected by ANTS (and as Katie Morton helpfully points out in some of her videos), they might just think ‘Oh, that’s not a nice thought, I hope that doesn’t happen’, and get on with their life.
For those of us more hypersensitive, over-thinking, anxious types, we would feel the distress of the thought. We’d then probably feel guilty for having that thought. One ANT becomes two, and then they seem to keep multiplying. We think about the thought about the thought. We wonder if we’re a horrible person, we question ourselves as to whether we are a danger to society (which in most cases of normal but anxious people we aren’t in the slightest but we’re just over reacting to hidden fears of ‘what if’ – what if we’re the type of person we don’t want to be?), we try to ‘fix’ the thought, ‘erase’ the thought, we ruminate on the thought, we apologise internally, we perhaps are ‘triggered’ into remembering or thinking of other things we have seen, we then imagine ourselves falling down the steps, we kind of internally ‘freak out’ and all of a sudden we are surrounded by ANTS! Sometimes we may even ask for reassurance from someone we know because the thought has become so BIG and so ‘REAL’ to us!
If you recognise yourself in any of this, then take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not your thoughts. I can’t explain the human mind, and sometimes upsetting thoughts come into our minds, but the problem arises when we start dwelling on them, fixating on the possible ‘meanings’ behind them such as what it says about you as a person (there is a place and time for such self-reflection, but not in an anxious, fear-filled, reactionary way), or ruminating on them.
These things can lead to a cycle of anxiety and / or depression. I well know.
We need to be able to ‘talk ourselves’ into a calmer place. Some ‘mind doctors’ 🙂 have given various helpful analogies of how to deal with such ANTS.
For example, take time to be still each day and allow your thoughts and mind to do what it does without judgement, stress or fear. It’s not easy, it takes time, keep at it.
Think of unwanted thoughts as clouds and simply let them drift across your mind. Don’t follow or pursue or chase them down, just let them drift away and replace them with a positive thought.
Or think of unhelpful, distressing thoughts as fallen leaves upon a stream and let them drift and be carried away by the current of the waters. Don’t grab them, look at them, pick them up or analyse them, just let them go.
Once we are able to cognitively grasp that we are not the conditions we may suffer from, that is to say we are not all of our thoughts, as some thoughts are like ‘fiery darts’ to our minds, we are able to better ‘diffuse’ the emotional intensity of the experience.
Maybe you have your own way of ‘dealing with’ ANTS. Perhaps you could combine the analogies noted above into something more light hearted and imagine a tiny ant sitting on a leaf, floating down an imaginary stream in a clouded sky and let them all just move past.
Learning not to analyse or overanalyse all of our thoughts can for some of us take a lot of time and practice, but the first place to start is to rid yourself of the fear that these ANTS are in control of you – they’re not, take back control, and steer your mind to more helpful, positive, lovely, excellent, noble, pure and just places. It can be done. Let’s get to it! And if these negative things bother you again, remind yourself ‘Oh, they’re just ants!’ 🙂 x
We live in a time when no matter how calm one’s own circumstances may be (and this in itself can be hard to come by), we are on an almost daily basis plugged into a stream of information via technology that tells us how chaotic the world in which we live is.
It’s almost unavoidable if you connect with society on any level. From small community groups with their own internal ‘politics’ to large scale international conflict there will always be ‘noise’ in the world. You might be sitting down on your own to have a quiet lunch break and yet the moment you log in to your online device you will see some news article or another with information that is difficult to know how to handle. Today we have news of Australian bush fires, missiles and conflict between the US and Iran and news of strife within the UK’s Royal family and Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s decision to take a step back.
We risk ‘compassion fatigue’ and getting stressed out not only by our own, but also by other people’s problems.
The world, my friends, is a noisy place.
Do you find this yourself today? Are you aware of the fine balance between your own well being and being informed, concerned and taking action to help other people? There’s only so much that we can do, and it’s important to make a difference for the better in the world where and when we can. Our innate human compassion compels us. When we feel helpless we can pray, donate, get educated, advocate, share information. Many people like to get involved in discussions or take action and raise awareness where they can.
But don’t forget the balance in this noisy world. Some of you may be right in the midst of some of these troubles right now, and that is heart-breaking. But wherever you are in this noisy world, it is important to find places of peace where you can. Seek Peace and pursue it. And sometimes the first and most profound step towards that is to be still.
Grounding technique: keep a small, safe object handy for when you need to feel grounded. This could be something like a pebble or stone, something that won’t break easily, or perhaps some children’s ‘putty’ / play-dough that you can squeeze, or anything you think will help to ground you. Make sure that you can’t hurt yourself on it, that it doesn’t have sharp edges, won’t break if you hold or squeeze it, and that makes you feel calm when you hold it as a grounding object.
If you feel like you are experiencing anxiety, panic, dissociation, dizziness, confusion, intrusive thoughts or mental and emotional distress, use this object to help you ground yourself. Focus on how it feels to touch, what it looks like, observe it, the way the light touches it, its texture and so forth and focus intently on this safe object while calming your breathing. Keep it in your pocket or take it with you so that you can use this to help you when you need it. The good thing about a small object like this is that other people most likely will not even notice it in case you are worried about that.
Also, you can try the ‘5, 4, 3, 2, 1’ method as a grounding technique where you focus on being aware of your five senses. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
As much as possible, try to stick to a routine, or have a routine or plan written down to fall back upon. This will help you if things get mentally foggy, confusing or overwhelming for you. Ask for help if you need to create a plan or routine and take small steps to stay well.