Tag Archives: anxiety

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

Being in the hard times

 

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In my role as both a trainer and nurture worker I need to put on a cloak of calmness, I need the staff and children I work with to feel that I am there for them, that I can contain their strong feelings, I can travel with them as they are learning and changing and I can sit with them in the hard times. This week several of the 4 yr olds I support have been really struggling, it’s the time of year when everything changes in the school routine and the 4 yr olds I work with find that really hard. This is the time of year when I really need to be calm, I need to be able to adjust, be playful in the face of hardness. Sometimes that means responding in an unexpected way, at one point this week I was on all fours crawling up a school corridor pretending to be a cat with a 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed. In that moment the child needed someone to help calm him, to help him feel safe and to help him find a way through his strong feelings in a playful non-judgemental way.
The difficulty with this role is that I don’t always feel calm and positive!. During these last few weeks I have felt quite bleak, and a bit panicky, I have found life quite hard, I have been judging myself in unhelpful ways. Curiously what has helped me in the last few days is reflecting on the 4yr old who was feeling overwhelmed and thinking about the gentle approach I took with him. I have been thinking about how I need to use this approach with myself!, to be kind, to be gentle to myself, to use the emotion language on myself that I use with children- it’s ok to be finding it hard, it’s ok to feel sad. Earlier in the year, I read Kristin Neff book Self-Compassion she talks about the scripts we use on ourselves and the need to use compassionate scripts. I use scripts all the time with 4-year-olds and it really works, but in the same way, I find it does help when I use compassionate scripts to myself.

My Sunday morning walk this morning around the meadow was quite gloomy, it was grey, misty not much light was getting through. But strangely that felt ok this morning, it seemed a bit of a reflection on how I have been feeling, but also I was aware of recognising that is ok, that’s just how it is right now and recognising there will be days when it feels less grey, when the light will get through.

Being supported

 

 

IMG_0050It is the last week of the school year for my nurture work, this is a week to say goodbye to staff who I have worked so closely with all year, a time of final sessions with the children who have become very important to me and will also leave a little of themselves in my memory. It’s a time to tell staff once again what an amazing job they have done, to remind them of the progress they have made with the child; and it is a time to tell the children for one last time this year that they are special and how much I have loved working with them.

The end of the school year is a time to stop and reflect, my main reflection has been how important support is. In our nurture role, we are in an unusual position that we can work with a school and child for a year, we can support them by visiting them weekly, by being there, not just advising and telling them what to do but also by being hands on and modelling the work. One teacher told me she appreciated having someone to rant to, others have said they were grateful for having someone who they knew was there for them and supported them through some very stressful times.

We all need people in our lives to support us, people, who will come alongside us and tell us we can do it, to encourage us. A week ago I and a small team launched a crowdfunding project for a children’s book and animation project called Mummy’s Got Bipolar. When we initially planned for this I had not anticipated the strong feelings I would have with it. I wrote the children’s book, drawing on my own experience of my Mum having Bipolar and my experience of working with other families and children over the years. I foolishly didn’t really realise how brave I needed to be to do this project!. I find asking for support in this project quite hard, I am not a natural promoter or marketing person. Also because it is a subject that I believe in and I care about it has brought up feelings of vulnerability and fear of being rejected. Earlier this year I read a book by Brene Brown called Daring Greatly, I didn’t realise at the time how important her words were going to be to me. Brene talked about having the courage and being brave to step out of your comfort zones and take risks. That is definitely what I have done this last week, but this has only been possible by people supporting me. It has been a very scary week! but various family and friends have been there, given me encouraging words, supported the project, offered ideas and suggestions. Without their support the last week would have been a lot harder. There is still another 3 weeks of the campaign to go and I know that ongoing support is going to be vital to get us to the end.

If you’re interested in looking at the campaign a link  is here

Supporting young people with stress and anxiety

 

 

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One night this week I was running an information session on stress and anxiety in young people, for year 10 parents at my children’s old senior school. This session came out of a piece of work I did two and half years ago when I still worked for a large children’s charity. Back then I became really aware of the rising number of young people we were seeing who were suffering from stress and anxiety. I spoke with a many young people and heard their stories, their experiences, their worries, and fears. I made recommendations to the local authority about what they and schools could do and I made suggestions to the charity about future work they could develop. At the time, this felt like a really significant piece of work. I had high hopes that we would get new funding and we would deliver a much larger piece of work, but it wasn’t to be. Our project was closed and our work in this area didn’t continue.

The request to run this session came as a surprise, in preparation for the session, I looked back at the initial findings and comments from young people, and was reminded yet again how important their comments were and how broken and sad some of our young people are. During the evening session, I was really struck by how much this school cared about the mental health of their young people, and how concerned the parents were.

We put so much pressure on young people today. We have such high expectations of them, particularly in education, the government is expecting more and more from them. We expect that young people should be able to achieve highly, be organised, know what they want to do with their lives, and make ‘sensible decisions’. Whilst forgetting that they are trying to figure out who they are, what their place is in the world, and what they believe. Last year I read a book by Dan Siegel called Brainstorm. He argues that a young person brain is not fully developed until they are 25. I shared this with the parents. This was news to them and many commented that it made so much sense. So when our teens are finding it difficult to make good decisions we need to remember that there is still a lot of development taking place inside their heads.

One of my main messages to the parents was about being there for young people; young people need to have someone who will listen to them, they need to feel loved and know that they belong. They need to hear they are special and that they are accepted for who they are. I now work weekly with 4-year-olds, providing nurture support for children who are finding school life difficult. The main thing 4 years olds need is to know they are loved, they are special, that they belong and they are accepted.

I have reminded again that the needs our children have don’t change as they get older. The way they communicate might change, some of their behaviour might change but ultimately they need to know that even when they are broken, someone will be there to help transform their brokenness and pain. There is a Japanese word for a form of Japanese pottery called Kintsugi. These are pots that become broken in the firing process and are then repaired with a special lacquer of gold or silver, transforming their brokeness into a thing of beauty. I love this image and see it as a way we need to view woking with children and teens who are troubled, broken and finding life hard. We need to find ways to bring out their beauty, and to transform their brokenness. I firmly believe one way to start that process is by being there for them, loving them and accepting them.