Tag Archives: anxiety

Stillness and noticing in preparation for the new term

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We are entering the last week of the summer holidays for many in England and Wales, this is a week when it can be a mix of excitement for what is ahead, trepidation, sometimes fear, and these can be feelings experienced by all involved; children, parents, and staff. I am aware I have all those feelings about the new year, I love my job as a nurture consultant, I think it’s probably the best job I have had so far, but there are unknowns ahead, new children, new staff, new schools and I can find new things can lead me to feeling a bit anxious.

Sometimes this week can be busy with organising and sorting, it can be a busy week in the preparation for the new term ahead. I am aware that for me this week needs to also involve some extra time for slowness and stillness, times when I can notice my breathing, recognise the creeping anxiety and nervousness. I have learned over the years the main way to help me find some slowness and calmness is by being outside. I have started this week by having an early morning barefoot walk, around the community meadow, slowly walking and noticing the changes in the season, noticing the first signs of autumn, enjoying the beauty around me. My plan is to repeat this each day this week.

I know many children find this last week of the holiday difficult, their anxiety levels rise with the fear of what is ahead. There is an increasing amount of research to show how spending time outside actively supports children’s ( and adults) wellbeing and mental health. If you are a parent reading this, possibly find some times to be outside this week with your children, go for a walk, pick blackberries, build a den, find a stream and build a dam and paddle. Spending time together outside, noticing, enjoying the joy of the natural world will be positive for you and your children. If you are a teacher or an educator, again find some times to be outside, don’t spend all week planning and preparing, enjoy the natural world around you.

If your child does suffer from anxiety at the thought of returning to school there are some excellent books for children, I would recommend Starving the Anxiety Gremlin by Kate Collins-Donnelly, there is a version for primary and senior age, No worries Mindful kids activity book by Kate Abey ( suitable for older primary and lower senior), Rubys worry by Tom Percival ( younger children picture book).
I have a new book out this week, exploring how we can help engage with stillness practice in a faith context, many of the ideas in there are linked to being outside. The book is Using Christian Contemplative Practice with children.

 

Finding calmness in this hectic time

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For schools in this area, this is the last week of term, this can be one of the most challenging weeks of the year, very excited children, very tired staff. Some schools and nurseries will be doing plays this week, many places will be having parties. In my experience, lots of children can find this last week really hard. The routine has changed, they are tired and excited, they can be stressed and anxious and sometimes excited  about plays and parties. This is a big range of strong feelings, and some children will find this hard to manage and some staff too.

In the role of nurture support workers our team does a lot of work with children and staff about using calming techniques, we all use mindfulness both for ourselves and with the children we support. During these last weeks, many of us have been making calming bottles with the children we support as a tool to help them during these challenging weeks, a guide on how to make these can be found on pinterest. Many of the children we work with can find change very overwhelming and there are so many changes at this time of year. Change in routine, wearing different clothes, changes to the environment, there can be different and loud music playing in the school/ nursery, lots more people coming in and out of the setting. For some children, this is overwhelming and can be frightening. It’s at these times when knowing and using calming techniques are so important. Some schools and nurseries use mindfulness daily with children, teaching children these skills as part of a daily routine is such a good way to embed this practice with children, giving them vital life skills to help them with regulation. But even settings which are not already using these strategies, it is not too late to try them. My suggestion over the next week is finding some time each day for a time of stillness and quiet, a time when you all can stop, be still, be aware of your breathing, this will help both the children and the staff.
A few ways to do this are:

Finger breathing – click this link for a tutorial

Starfish breathing- a youtube film for this

Bubble breathing- have a pot of bubbles each, dip the wand in the bubble mix, take a deep breath in and breathe out through the bubble wand and repeat a few times. Explain to the children that while doing this you are watching and noticing the bubbles.

With all of these, explain to the children that these are helping you all to stop, notice your breathing and find some calmness.

In January I am speaking about using mindfulness with young children on a free  pre school mindfulness summit clink this link and it will take it you to their website for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

The story we create in our head

 

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I am someone who can catastrophize I learned this from my Mother, she has Bi-Polar and part of her illness is negative voices in her head of everything that will go wrong; unfortunately, they didn’t stay in her head and she would often speak them out. I know I can easily fall into this trap, thankfully I am now aware of it and mostly I can stop myself, but sometimes, particularly when I am tired, it catches me unawares. A practice of Mindfulness and self-compassion has helped to calm this but I need to continue practicing them. Brene Brown writes about the stories we create in our head, I think this is such a helpful phrase, she encourages us to stop and question what is the story that I am telling myself? is this real? do I know this to be fact? or am I just presuming the worst?

In the last few weeks in my work life, I have needed to stop myself and ask is the story I am creating and presuming about the nurture work/ training/ writing the real story or one that I am making up and presuming the worst. The one thing I have learned through the nurture work with four-year-olds is that stories can change, hope and change is always possible, we don’t always know what that will look like, but we can believe that things will change.

I try hard to create a curiosity about the stories I have in my head, why am I thinking that? do I know that is true? where is this coming from? from fear or fact? Thankfully I have an amazing husband who is great at spotting the negative stories and I have a fantastic supervisor who will listen and question the story and help me to see the story in my head is not always the real story.

Making plans for your wellbeing

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At the start of last week, I spent a team day with my team. We did an exercise thinking about how we wanted to develop this year, how we wanted the team to develop and what we were going to do this year for our wellbeing. I spend lots of time thinking about wellbeing, it’s an essential part of my job, it’s what I write about!. But I really appreciated the act of taking time to stop, think and commit to paper and publicly say to my team, this is how I want to support my wellbeing. By sharing this with the team I felt that we were making ourselves accountable to one another. I love that I work for a manager who prioritises this at the start of the year, that as a team we were saying to one another this is important, as individuals we need to take care of ourselves but also as a team, we need to look out for one another.

My plan for the year to support my wellbeing is to find opportunities to swim outdoors. I have spent the summer engaging in lots of outdoor swimming and I have written about this on numerous occasions, but during this summer I realised just how important outdoor swimming is for me, I feel calmer, I feel alive and I often feel such joy. There was an article in the Guardian yesterday about cold water swimming helping with mental health and depression, I don’t suffer from depression, although anxiety is something I often have lurking in my head and chest. I have certainly found the outdoor swimming has become a very mindful practice and one which stills my mind and helps my anxiety.

As we enter a new work year ( school year in my case) I think it is really helpful to set out, write down our intentions for how we will support our wellbeing throughout the year. I know there will be times in the coming months when I will feel very stressed, and to have thought ahead about what will help is a good exercise. I am not sure yet how much outdoor swimming I will manage throughout the winter!, I have a colleague who swims weekly in a local river, throughout the year, I am planning on swimming with her sometimes, hoping that I can cope with the cold. But realistically I realise I may not manage it in December – February! and that’s’ ok, this is not an exercise about setting goals and then feeling guilty if I can’t achieve them, this is an exercise about thinking, recognising what helps in those times I feel very stressed. This weekend I started as I hope to continue, I swam in a beuatiful spot near to us, in a local river. It was cold, but I felt so wonderfully alive and joyful during and after the swim.

For more thoughts and ideas on supporting your wellbeing, I have a book called Promoting Emotional Wellbeing in Early Years Staff.

What helps your mental health and wellbeing?

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On Tuesday this week, it is world mental health day. We know that there is rising level of stress and anxiety in adults ( as well as children). 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). As a nurture consultant, I work in primary schools, I work with teachers and TA’s, and I have noticed a higher number of staff who are becoming more stressed and feel unsupported, and feel the pressure is growing too much. This concerns me; we know that if our wellbeing is in a poor place then we are unable to support and increase the wellbeing of the children we support. There is growing recognition within the education system about the importance of helping children’s wellbeing, but I believe there is still a lot of growth to be made in supporting staff wellbeing.

Earlier this year I was asked by Jessica Kingsley Publishers to write a follow-on to my book Promoting young children’s emotional health and wellbeing , they wanted a book focusing on staff wellbeing. During the time of writing this book I was aware how there are many aspects of job stress and anxiety which are out of our control to change. However being aware of what helps our wellbeing is a good step towards taking back some control, putting this into our daily or weekly routine can help us to take some steps towards improving our wellbeing.

I have learnt over the years that an important way to help my wellbeing is through having regular times of silence and stillness, I manage this in different ways, through swimming each week day morning, through spending time outside and practicing mindfulness. The best for me is swimming outside in the sea, but I don’t get to do that as often as I like from living in Bath!.

I think there is a real strength in thinking about what helps our wellbeing. It will be different for everyone, I am a morning person, I thrive on early mornings, so the early morning swim works perfectly for me, but for many, this would be deeply painful!. Although many things need changing in our education system, there is without a doubt far too much pressure being placed on teachers and early years staff, and this can leave us feeling very disempowered. However, if we can work out what helps our wellbeing and put some of that into practice, we can begin to move forward, and we can start taking steps towards improving our wellbeing and mental health.

 

 

 

 

Belonging

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This week I have been reflecting on the need we all have to feel that we belong, the dictionary definition of belonging is: has a place, fitting in, being included. This week has been the start of the new term for many pre schools, nurseries, and schools; many children have started nursery or school for the first time, both infants and senior, some adults have begun new jobs. For some those first few days can be overwhelmingly scary and frightening. In my nurture role, I have the privilege of being with four-year-olds. Watching these little ones start at their new school this week, I was reminded again of how much they need to feel that they belong, that the school needs to be a place where the children feel they fit in, where they are wanted and will be included.

Knowing that you belong is a feeling, you know when you do, you also know when you don’t belong. I believe as people we all have a desire and need to belong somewhere, this is in the groups we are part of, the faith groups, our work places, our places of education, our families and our friendship groups. I can think of many times when I have been in places, groups that I felt that I didn’t belong, I felt that I didn’t fit in, that I wasn’t understood, where I knew my voice was not being listened to, this left me feeling sad, isolated and unwanted.

This week I have seen some children who have coped wonderfully at the start of the new term, they have been excited, they have felt they had a place, and they belonged. I have seen other children who have been desperately sad, who have been overwhelmed by being in a place they did not feel was for them, a place they felt they did not belong. At these times it is so important that the children have calm, soothing adults around them who recognise and acknowledge their worries and fears. They need adults who are using emotion language to acknowledge and recognise their feelings; at these times it can be useful to use a script, e.g., “I can see you are feeling so sad about being in school, it’s ok I am here for you”. When a child hears this, they know the adult has recognised their strong feeling and worries they know they have been heard. Often what children hear after a few initial soothing words are the words ‘it’s time to stop crying now,‘ these words can make a child feel more isolated and scared.

There are simple things which help children to feel they belong:

The start of welcoming a child warmly by their name as they arrive is an important beginning. Most settings have named and pictured pegs and drawers for children in nursery and primary school, this can help them feel they have a place. However, some children then need further guidance, an invitation to find a book or join in an activity, with some children they need a member of staff to guide them and support them to the carpet/ activity/ book corner. This sounds obvious, but it is not always remembered in the rush of the morning arrivals. For the child who is feeling overwhelmed they need the gentle guidance and support from a trusted adult. I often think it is in the first few weeks of a new term that schools could benefit from having volunteer workers. A few calm, safe adults who can be there to sit with children, welcome them, guide them to the activity/ book corner, this frees up the teachers to speak with parents. Reception classes often have one teaching assistant. However, one TA to help settle up to 30 children can be a big challenge. If there are additional adults, who can reassure the children, listen to their stories about their journey arriving, look at their conkers, hear about the runaway dog, etc. then children arrive feeling welcomed, feeling they have a place, it helps them to feel safe and secure. By being welcomed and settled well the children are then ready to learn and explore that day. However, if a child arrives and feels scared, overwhelmed, frightened it will take them a long time to calm, to regulate and they will not be ready to start learning.

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.