Tag Archives: mental health

How do you deal with stress?

 

 

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This week many of my conversations have been with staff about how they deal with stress. Stress is a word we all talk about, we know it can have a massive impact on our bodies, but as educators/ care givers we are not always very good at stopping and noticing what it is doing to us, what impact it is having. Sometimes we don’t notice until it reaches crisis point.

In one school this week we had a staff meeting, with all the staff in the classroom. We talked openly together about how stressed they were feeling, what this was doing to their bodies and their minds. The staff recognised there were moments when they were feeling overwhelmed and panicked. One tool I shared with them was 7/11 breathing, this is a simple tool to use when you are feeling anxious, stressed, in a panic. 7/11 breathing won’t solve the issues, but it will enable you to take a moment to focus on your breath, a time to slow down your breathing and help to calm your anxiety.

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. If you would like to know more about this, the Human Givens blog explains this in more detail.
One of the statements I remind staff of all the time is that we need to be kind to ourselves. Using the 7/11 breathing technique, recognising the impact that stress is having on you is one small but important step towards being kind to yourself.

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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.

Teaching children about mental illness

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We know that mental illness now affects 1 in 4 people, during this week there has been more alarming figures and information about how mental health services in the UK are not adequately helping individuals who need it. Many of the children we work with will have family members who have a mental illness but do we talk to children about this?. In my experience we don’t, as professionals we feel awkward, uncomfortable, we often can’t find the words to explain to children about mental illness. Families also can find this hard; it is difficult to explain mental illness to a child. But if we don’t explain things to children, they will make up their stories, fill in the gaps, and the stories they use to fill in the gaps can often be worse than the real story.

Bipolar is one of those mental illnesses that can be hard to explain, I know this from my experience, as I grew up with a mum who had Bipolar, I knew she was ill, but I didn’t know what her illness was until I was 14 and sat in an assembly run by Mind. The story I told myself was that she was dying and then later I heard of cancer and presumed she must have that. Realising through the assembly that she was mentally ill and that she wasn’t dying, was a lightbulb moment.

I work with young children, and I knew there were no books available, for young children, explaining Bipolar, so from my experience of my mum, from working with families and many children, I decided to write a book.The book has been illustrated by a very talented illustrator Jon Birch.

Bipolar disorder affects thousands of people in the UK, and many of them are parents. Sophie and Katie’s Mummy is one of them. The story describes some of the highs and lows of having a Mummy with Bipolar from a child’s perspective, it is a gentle and thought provoking story of family life.

The book is for families, schools, children centres, nurseries, libraries, mental health units and GP practices to use as a resource to support children and families affected by Bipolar. For children and parents to be able to sit together and read the storybook and then be able to talk about the subject.

To order a copy go to my website

Finding wild spaces

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Today I have been seeking out wild spaces, as a family we drove into the beautiful peak district and then walked high in the hills, surrounded by the magnificent surroundings.

I felt a longing to be in a wild place, to be outside seeing beauty, this may have partly come out of two days of long car journeys, but is was also a recognition in myself of needing to be reminded of the possibility, to see the beauty, the wonder of what is around us. I find being in a wild place offers me a reminder of all the possibilities ahead of me; this felt very timely as we begin to move into the new year.

There is something about wild spaces that feeds the soul. This last year I have been writing a book about children’s wellbeing, this inevitably led me to think a lot about my wellbeing and the wellbeing of others I work with, particularly the staff in schools that I support. I am often thinking about what helps adults and children’s wellbeing, and I think in my top 5 list would be experiencing wild spaces. One of my plans for 2017 is to spend more time in wild spaces.

Photo by Summer Mainstone-Cotton

What helps you to feel calm?

 

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In these last few weeks of term as a nurture consultant, my focus is on helping the children I work with to feel calm. Christmas can be a very challenging time of year for them, all the usual daily routines change, and they often find change tough. They have an increase in intense feelings and emotions which they struggle to identify, and this can leave them feeling overwhelmed, which they often express in many challenging ways. I often use sensory play in my work. These last few weeks have been full of calming glitter tins with children running their hands through glitter in coloured oats, or dried rice. This activity is almost always a calming sensory activity which helps the children to feel grounded, calm and safe; the children all love the feel, the colours and can spend ages allowing oats/ rice/ glitter to fall through their fingers.
I often think I should provide a calming activity for staff too. These last few weeks many of the teachers and Ta’s are just about hanging in for the end of the term. They have worked incredibly hard, the staff I work with do an amazing job at supporting some very unhappy children, which is a tough job. This week I have been asking staff what they will do to find some calmness. We know that we need to help the children to find some calmness, but they also need the adults who support them to be calm. Sometimes the adults can struggle to identify what does help them to feel calm.

Last week was quite challenging, I had some time one morning and knew I needed to find some space, to clear my head, to find some calmness. I went for a walk around the valley at the back of our house; this is a space I have walked many times; it is an area where I can just be. It was a beautiful, icy morning, on my walk I passed a small waterfall, underneath this were the most amazing ice pebbles. For me being outside, noticing the beauty around me, taking the time to slow down, these things help me to feel calmer.

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.

Who believes in you?

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During this last week in my nurture role I have been struck again at the difference made when staff working with children believe in the children, believe that they can become children who can cope with school, believe that the children are doing their best, believe that they are wonderful, lovely children. In the same way a vital part of my role is to believe in the staff working with the 4 year olds. I need to believe that they are nurturing, caring staff who are doing their best. Sometimes I need to help the staff to see the amazing job they are doing, sometimes they find this hard to believe, my role is to nurture them and support them just as much as I need to nurture and support the children.

We all need people in our life who believe in us, we all need people who tell us we are doing well and that it’s ok when we are finding it hard. There are a few special people I know I can turn to when I am feeling unsure and wobbly, I know they will be honest with me but they will also support me and they believe that I am capable, competent and able. When we are feeling unsure and a bit wobbly we need to have those people around us. Brene Brown suggests ‘carrying a small sheet of paper in your wallet, with the names of people whose opinions matter. To be on that list you need to be someone who loves me for my strengths and struggles’. For me there are 4 people on my list, who I know believe in me and will be there to remind me I am doing my best.