Category Archives: self compassion

Looking after your wellbeing over Christmas

 

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We know that the run-up to Christmas can be very stressful for many. If you work with children and young people this also a tricky time of year with extra colds, illness and very excited children can lead to staff feeling extremely tired, worn down and having low wellbeing

The Christmas holidays can be both emotionally and physically draining, that is particularly hard if you are already feeling worn down and not at your best. I think it is important to think about a few things you can put in place to look after your own wellbeing. This doesn’t need to be time consuming or expensive, but by stopping and thinking about yourself, your health and how you feel, this could help you get through the Christmas period.

Below are a few suggestions on what might help your wellbeing over the next days and weeks

Eat well- make sure each day you eat something which is good for you and makes you feel good. Food which is classed as good mood foods are- blueberries, avocado, kale, marmite, sweet potato, spinach, dark chocolate, chamomile tea

Sleep well– we need around 8 hrs sleep a night, sleep enables us to have clear minds and make memories.

Spend time outside– there is growing research to show the positive impact spending time outside has on our brain, emotional and physical wellbeing. If possible get outside every day, even if it is only for 5 minutes.

Be kind to yourself- so often we can put high expectations on ourselves, we can be self-critical about things not being perfect or not getting enough done. Think about the words you use on yourself, take time to notice these and if they are negative change them, tell yourself that what you are doing is good enough, remind yourself it is ok to feel tired, you will get through this.

Do something that makes you happy -do something each day which makes you happy and is for you. When I asked people what they did that made them happy the list was varied, some ideas were- swimming, crochet, bake, read, listen to music, garden, walk my dog, mindfulness, yoga, paint, run, sing.

Experience some silence– our lives are so busy, particularly at this time of year. Having time to stop, be silent, experience stillness, even for 5 minutes, can be very good for our wellbeing. Some people use mindfulness, yoga or spiritual practices for this, others just enjoy the silence while in the bath, or during a walk by themselves. Experiencing silence can be liberating and can help you to find some calmness.

 

Whatever you do over Christmas, I hope you find some time to look after yourself, this is not a selfish act but it is an important part helping our own wellbeing.

If you would like more ideas and further writing on this subject, I have a new book out this week –Promoting emotional wellbeing in early years staff published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. The ideas in the book are suitable for everyone, not just early years workers.

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What will help your wellbeing this week?

 

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It is half term this week, many reception children are exhausted and have often gone down with lots of bugs. Starting school is hard work for a four year old, and it is hard work for the staff who work with them. All the staff I am working with are happy for half term; this is a time to slow down.

I have noticed in this new school year increase in staff feeling more stressed. I have especially noticed an increase of pressure on teaching staff to be doing more ‘ formalised teaching.’ This is hard for early years staff who know that in the first few weeks it is essential to help the children to settle into school, get to know the children, help them to feel safe, secure and they belong. I am increasingly noticing the pressure we are now putting onto our reception age children and their staff. This year feels worse than the year before and that concerns me.

So for staff who feel under pressure, who are already feeling very stressed and anxious, this half term is a crucial week for them to do something for their wellbeing and their mental health. It is a week to be kind to themselves, to do some things that make them smile and feel happy. Earlier in the year, I did some research to find out what people do to help their mental wellbeing. The most popular answers are below:

 

Be outside
Spend time with family
Cook and eat nice food
Run
Swim
Walk the dog
Be in the woods
Crochet/ Knit
Sing
Draw
Read
Watch films
See friends

Half term for me is a chance to catch up on writing for training and writing my next book, but I know that I also need to be mindful about wellbeing, so when I return to the new term, I feel refreshed and ready to support the nurture children and staff. I plan each day to something that makes me feel good, yesterday I read the new Philip Pullman book, today I plan to go for a walk with my family, I know those small things will make a difference.

 

My next book Promoting Emotional Wellbeing for Staff will be out in December.

Support for you

 

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During this year I have been writing a book about the wellbeing of adults who look after children, it is almost finished!. I am at the stage of finalising, checking, pulling it together. As I finish this book, it feels almost ironic that I have written this book while supporting and working with two children who’s story is deeply complex and very sad. In my experience of working with children for over 25 years, there are always one or two that stay with you, that you don’t ever forget. The two I am working with this year fall into that category. This year I am supporting their Ta’s and their teachers, and together we are helping them to feel safe and loved and protected when everything else around them is changing and falling apart. Our focus is on nurturing them, protecting them, enabling them to express how they feel, our focus is not on learning.

 

This has probably been one of the most emotionally demanding experiences I have had in work, and it has highlighted for me again how vitally important it is to have the right support in place when you are working in emotionally demanding situations. My job is to support the children but also to support the staff, to talk with them, listen to them, guide them, supervise them. There have been moments this year, when we have cried together, there have been moments when we have shared our deep frustration and anger at what is happening around the children, that we have no control over. Each week I remind the staff how they need to take care of themselves, how they need to be kind and gentle to themselves and do something that makes them feel good.

We are only able to help and support children who are finding life very hard when we have support ourselves. I have a fantastic supervisor, although we don’t see each other every day, I am always able to ring her when I need to talk through a situation. This week she left me chocolate in my pigeon hole! She knows me well, as that always helps me to feel loved and supported!.

If you are working in an emotionally challenging situation, think about who is supporting you, what is in place to help you offload, who is there to listen to you? This could be your supervisor, manager or colleague. If you don’t have this in place, then it needs addressing, and you need to ask for support.

How will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

 

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I have an arrangement with a good friend called Will; he is a children’s counsellor working in schools with upper primary school-aged children. During this last term I have messaged him each Thursday, his day when he is not in schools, and ask him ‘ what will you be doing for rest today or what are you doing today that will make you happy ? . I, in turn, tell him a little of my week and what I am going to do to be kind to myself or to find rest. We started this as I noticed Will was getting worn down, run down and I thought he needed to take care of himself more. But also it also came about because I was aware we are both lone working most of the time and I thought this accountability to one another would help both of us.

Today Will’s question for me was How will you celebrate the work you have done this term, and that threw me, but I loved it. This week and this term have felt pretty tough and long, there have been some hard and sad stories that I have heard, that I have supported children and staff in, those stories don’t have happy endings, they are still hard and sad and messy. At the end of a term like this it is easy to feel exhausted, I know I am run down both physically and mentally, and it is easy to miss the achievements and overlook the small but good moments.

Will’s question helped me to reframe my term, to tell myself what has been good, I do this all the time with staff, but recently I have forgotten to do it to myself. I took the time to write a list of what I am proud of in my work over this last term, and that felt good. So the next part, how was I going to celebrate?- I love gardening, and this is my favourite time of year in the garden, with planting new seeds. So I decided to buy some sunflower seeds, I have planted ten seeds to celebrate the ten children I have supported and worked with this term, I will enjoy seeing these seedlings grow into beautiful flowers over the coming months.

So my question is – how will you celebrate the work you have done this term?

Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves

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My focus this week in the nurture work has been making calming jars with children, to help them find some calmness when they are stressed, anxious and agitated. These are great to make, to find instructions look on Pinterest. I have also been having an ongoing conversation with staff about dealing with stress and anxiety in themselves.

Next week I am delivering some training to a team who are about to go through major changes with redeployment and having to reapply for jobs. The training is not based on change but I feel this needs acknowledging, so I will be starting the session doing some work on thinking about their wellbeing. For part of this, I have written a simple guidelines sheet, which I am also going to share with the teachers I work with. The idea of the sheet is to give some simple thoughts around what we can do to take care of ourselves when we are feeling very stressed/ anxious/ worried.

The ideas are below:
Five simple ideas for taking care of ourselves
1. Be kind in words you use to yourself– acknowledge the feeling of stress/ finding the situation difficult – say kind words to yourself, e.g., ‘ It’s ok to find this hard,’ ‘It’s ok to feel stressed about this,’ ‘ I can get through this.’
2. Breathing If you are aware that you are becoming very anxious, fraught or stressed- take a moment to notice what your breath is doing- use 7/11 breathing or finger breathing
7/11 breathing
For this you need to ensure you are breathing from your diaphragm, this is about deep breathing, not breathing from your chest, which is what we often do when we are stressed. You know you are breathing from deep in your body if your stomach is pushing out.

Breathe in for a count of 7
Breathe out for a count of 11

The important part of this is to ensure your breathing out for longer than you breathe in. If you can’t manage 7/11 try 5/7 or 3/5.

Repeat this exercise for several minutes. It will slow breathing, the longer breaths out slow your heart rate and decrease your blood pressure. The deep breathing exercise triggers our Parasympathetic Nervous system, which is opposite to the Sympathetic nervous system which is the fight and flight

Finger Breathing

Hold one hand in front of you, as you breathe in trace the outline of your hand with your index finger, e.g., follow your index finger up your thumb as you breathe in and as you breathe out bring your finger down the thumb, repeat this for each finger.
3.Get outside If you can take a short walk outside, get some air, step outside, notice and enjoy some nature. Recent research has shown the benefits being outside has to our mental wellbeing

4. Do something which makes you happy / helps you to feel good. This doesn’t have to take lots of time; it can be something simple e.g. spend half an hour reading a book or listening to music, take a warm bath, watch a film, go swimming or for a run, plant some seeds.
5. Eat some good food when we are tired and stressed we often forget to eat well. Make sure today you eat something good, food that makes you smile, this maybe a bowl of soup or a curry or variety of fruit or a fish finger sandwich!. The important thing is to give some thought to what food will help you today. The act of feeding yourself, of giving thought to what you are eating and how it will help you is an essential nurturing practice we can all do.

How swimming and reading have helped my wellbeing this week

 

 

poolThis week the primary focus of my work has been on helping the staff I work with to feel listened to and to be supported to take care of themselves. This week has mainly consisted of challenging meetings, very stressed staff, upset parents, concerned senior leaders. In 2015 there were two survey’s with teachers and early years staff, they found that 79% of teachers were considering leaving the job due to stress (Espionza 2015) and 59% of early years staff were also considering leaving the job due to stress ( Crown 2015). In many ways this week was a timely reminder about why I have been commissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write my next book “Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff: A Practical Guide for Looking after Yourself and Your Colleagues’.

Working with children can be a very rewarding job, but it can also be incredibly challenging, stressful and exhausting. As educators, we are in a position to make a profound difference in a child’s life, and that is amazing. However, as adults, we need to be in a good emotional and physical space to be able to do that. We need to find ways to look after ourselves; we need to put in place strategies that support us.

This week I was interviewed by Kathy Brodie for her early year’s summit – a web summit for early years practitioners which will be available at the end of March, I am one of her speakers on the subject of Adult wellbeing. I did this interview 30 minutes after coming out of a very stressful child protection meeting. At the forefront of my mind were the pressure and stress that staff I work with can encounter on a daily basis. The question turning in my head was I wondered what they were doing at the end of that day to take care of themselves, to be kind to themselves.

I think the phrase ‘what are you doing to be kind to yourself?’ can leave people feeling awkward. People who work in the caring / educating profession are expected to give out; for our emphasis to be on how we are kind and compassionate to others. Being kind and compassionate to others is important, but I also know that we need to be kind to ourselves first until we are kind to ourselves and meet our needs, we can not fully nurture others.

With all this in the front of my thoughts, I have been mindful of being kind to myself. Being kind to myself always involves swimming, I swim every Monday-Friday, at 6.20 am at my local community pool. I have grown to love swimming; I feel I can be totally myself, I love the rhythm of swimming, I love the way my body glides through the water, I love the sense of freedom it gives me. My morning swim feels life giving and life enhancing, it helps me to feel really good about myself. The other activity that I love is reading. On Thursday afternoon I went to my favourite bookshop Mr B’s emporium and bought a new book, a hardback book. Buying a hardback book felt hugely indulgent, but I knew the act of purchasing this new book was a way of telling myself that it was time to take a rest, it was time to be kind to myself. The book was ‘Leap in’ by Alexandra Heminsley, this is a book about a woman learning to love swimming! And it was fantastic. My last few days I have read this book and relished and enjoyed every moment.

So now I feel in a better place to encounter the new week ahead.

How are you loving yourself this Christmas?

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The run up to Christmas can feel fraught, particularly if your work is hard and challenging then put onto that Christmas, it can leave people feeling stressed out and irritable. For many of the children I work with Christmas can be a stressful experience, the change in routine, the expectation of something different but their experience of something different is not always good. I think many adults also find Christmas stressful, the expectations they put on themselves or feel that others put on them can lead to a sense of dread.

I have been fortunate to have this last week off from the school’s work; it has given me a chance to do some planning, write some training but importantly to slow down and think about how I am. This last week I decided I needed to start to be a bit more proactive about loving myself, listening to my body and trying to attend to some of the niggles I have been experiencing. During the last six months, I have had an increase in headaches and lower back pain. I have felt that they are linked to muscular tension but have not really addressed them. Finally this week I saw a brilliant physio and later in the week I had an aromatherapy massage. As I suspected the muscles in my neck and back are holding lots of tension and are almost certainly contributing to the headaches. Although these two sessions are not a miraculous cure, they are helping me to recognise what my body is telling me and to think about ways to address this.

In my role as a nurture consultant I support and nurture children, but an essential part is also supporting the staff who look after the children. I am always asking them what they are doing to be kind to themselves. I am often encouraging them to love them themselves. As part of the ongoing process of loving myself and thinking about how I can be kind to my body, this morning I made myself some aromatherapy massage oil to use on my shoulders and my neck, and I made some coconut bath melts to use over the next few days in a hot bath. These are just simple gestures, but they are the reminder to myself that I need to take care, I need to be kind to myself, and I need to love myself.
The recipe for the bath melts- in case you need some care as well!
Two tablespoons of coconut oil ( melted)
Ten drops of lavender essential oil mixed with the melted coconut oil
pour this into ice cube trays and put in fridge or freezer to go hard. ( see image above)

Put them into a sealed container

Use 1 or 2 in a hot Bath or melt in a shower