Tag Archives: wellbeing

Surviving January

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Schools in this area are back this week so I re-pick up my nurture work and I have 2 training sessions to deliver this week, both reasons to feel motivated and inspired. I have had a lovely Christmas break, I feel relaxed and calm, all reasons to be feeling energetic and motivated. But it’s January, and the last few years I have begun to find January tricky, it’s not due to overindulging or stopping exercise over Christmas, I drink very little alcohol and don’t really eat lots of rubbish food and I have continued to swim throughout most of the last 2 weeks. I think I find January hard partly because of the greyness and the drabness. I am much happier on blue cold and crispy days, but also there is so much talk around new plans, new resolutions, I find all that talk quite depressing as it can feed into my feelings of not quite doing enough or not quite being good enough, those thoughts are largely pushed aside and don’t really live in my head much any more, but January seems to bring them forward.

So this year I have decided to make a plan, for each week, I am going to actively to do some simple things which I know make me feel happier and more hopeful during January, things which I know bring me pleasure. I have written them in my diary to remind myself. The list is simple but they are things that I know will help. My list is

Make marmalade
Buy daffodils each week
Garden each week
Go for extra walks
Make dates to see friends
Watch a feel-good film
If it is sunny, have a picnic lunch in a sunny spot at my husband’s studio ( with him!)

These will be alongside the usual swimming, yoga, and mindfulness, all things that I know are essential for my mental health. I know from experience that in a few weeks when we begin to see leaves returning and spring flowers appearing, that I will feel lighter and more hopeful, but in the short few weeks of the dark months of winter, I am going to try and be more active in helping myself.

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You are here

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I have been looking over the photos on my phone of 2018, they are mainly photos of wild swimming, fantastic books I have read, walks around the meadow, gardening and being with my family. All the photos are showing times of when I was fully present, enjoying that precious moment. Of course these photos are not a full representation of the year, there were many many times when I was distracted, frustrated, very scared; the year brought us some frightening illness of loved ones, and believing that they would die, it brought several times of tears about the circumstances the children I work with are living in. The photos also don’t show the doubt and questioning I encountered over writing projects or the times of being with friends and not having the words to support them in their pain.

I am not someone who looks into the new year with plans or resolutions, I have ideas but these are mainly based on lists of different wild swims or a list of lidos I would like to swim in. What I have learned over the last few years is to enjoy the moments, be present to the now and try hard not to panic or worry about the next day. I find this so hard sometimes, I have written before about how easy I find it to worry, stress and presume the worst. The pleasure I have had while looking back at my photos is how I have captured times when I was enjoying the precious moments.

One of my Christmas presents this year from my husband was a carving he made me of the words You are here, a reference to being in the moment, this links to our mindful, contemplative practice that we both try hard to embrace and practice. This piece of art will go in our house, and I hope at times over the year it will remind me to stop, be present to the now not thinking ahead and worrying about the next.

Being inspired and having hope

 

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I work part-time as a nurture consultant and the rest of my working week I write books, articles and deliver training. The nurture role with four year olds informs the writing and the training, the research for the writing and training informs the nurture role, I see each part as being closely connected and each vital to one another. In this time of austerity, it can be hard to get training opportunities so when they come along I usually say Yes to most things and hope that it spreads out during the year. November has been unusual for me, I have been asked to speak at 8 different training events, across the country. On Saturday I was speaking at Calderdale early years emotional health and wellbeing symposium in Halifax.

It always feels a huge privilege to be invited to speak at an event or lead a training day, I am so aware that peoples time is precious and money is tight, yesterday this felt particularly so, the conference was on a Saturday, 175 people attended, all giving up their weekend to be at this event. Everyone attending the event works in early years, they were all participating, on their day off to listen to ideas and suggestions around how we can all make a difference in children’s lives. I was one of the keynote speakers along with three other speakers Cath Hunter, Dr. Sam Wass, and Debbie Garvey and three practitioners sharing their excellent practice and learning from their child care setting. Attending training on a Saturday can be a challenge both as a speaker and an attendee, it’s the end of the week, often people are tired and worn out, they don’t necessarily have the concentration to listen to a day worth of speakers no matter how inspiring they are!. However that wasn’t my experience on Saturday, there was such a buzz in the room, a real enthusiasm from the attendees. We know that currently, it is hard to work in early years in the UK, services are being cut, a shocking number of children and families are living in poverty and struggling with life causing distress and stress in their lives. Staff and managers feel under increasing pressure with endless changes, budget cuts etc. This all has a massive impact on our work and could lead people to feel disempowered and lethargic, however, this was not my experience yesterday. During the conference I was really impressed at the vision and hope behind Calderdale early years team who instigated a project focusing on raising children’s emotional health and wellbeing, I was impressed at how their enthusiasm and passion has encouraged and motivated so many early years staff in the area. This felt visionary, this felt hopeful, in a time when it is easy to be cynical and feel hopeless, this team is showing a different way. I felt one of the messages being repeated through the day was in believing that we can make a difference.

My section in the conference was to finish the day by talking about staff wellbeing and the need to look after ourselves. My finishing encouragement was for people to go away and do something that weekend that made them happy. To follow my own advise I spent the Sunday at Yorkshire Sculpture Park with my husband. A day spent outside in beautiful surroundings and enjoying art, for me this is wonderful. There was a sculpture by Jaume Plensa called Wilsis, this piece ( photo above) is a portrait of a young woman’s head, it was seven meters high. The artist describes his aim to transform something ordinary into extraordinary. He describes how he believes that all people have the potential to be remarkable, regardless of background and status. I loved this idea and felt it resonated with the conference the day before, offering hope and believe that we can all do something remarkable when we work with young children and we can help them to become remarkable people.

Being authentic about wellbeing

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This week I have been guest lecturing in Weston Super Mare on an early years degree course on the subject of staff wellbeing. This was a fantastic opportunity to speak to people at the beginning of their career. I have spent the last 5 years writing and reflecting on wellbeing for children and staff. Through my nurture work with four-year-olds and their staff I have been able to see how crucial it is to embed good wellbeing practice into our lives. I am really fortunate to work with a team who value and support one another in putting this into our daily lives, as a team it is crucial that we are authentic in living this ourselves, we can’t offer ideas to offers if we don’t root this in our own lives.

I have recently been reflecting on what it means to authentically live this out. There are so many ideas and books out there about what you need to do to improve your wellbeing, so many voices shouting loudly about how you just need to change … or start…. then all will be well. The problem is making longterm change is not easy, it can be easy to start something, be excited about it, shout loudly about it, but then get bored, and move onto the next thing, try the next super new idea and then start shouting about that.

The joy of talking to students at the start of their career is they have the chance to embed some life-affirming, good practices now. If they can put in place some good habits, good wellbeing practice now, then these have a great chance of sticking with them. I have been reflecting a lot recently on what good wellbeing practice looks like, I think an essential element is about habit forming, doing something that is good for you regularly, that becomes part of your daily, weekly rhythm. There are a few routines, rhythms that are vital for me, swimming on a Monday-Friday, this is a mindful, contemplative time, walking around the community meadow on a Sunday morning and meeting a friend for a morning coffee most weekends. There is nothing radical in these rhythm’s, but over the last 7 years they have become an embedded part of my life, they are life affirming and life enhancing.

I have written a book for early years staff about embedding wellbeing, it’s aimed at early years staff but the ideas, practices and research are relevant for anyone.

Hope

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I have been reading Brene Brown’s new book Daring to Lead, there is a question in her book about the values we hold, that underpin our lives. There is an exercise that asks the reader to pick two values from a list of around 100, that’s quite a challenging exercise. One of the words I chose was hope. This is our last week of the autumn term, it has felt like a very long term, this term has been marked by unexpected closures, continual change, and the overwhelming feeling that I am holding a slippery eel that I can’t quite keep a grasp of!. There have been moments this term when I have asked what the hell am I doing here! and other moments of pure joy, moments of beauty in the midst of what sometimes feels like chaos. Reading Brene’s writing about values really resonated with me this week. I have often said to do the nurture work I have to hold onto hope. Hope that we are making a difference, hope that things can change, hope that we can bring some joy and love and safety into children’s lives.

Sometimes holding onto hope can be really difficult. I am really aware that by the end of a term when I am tired and worn down, I need to actively choose hope but I also need to actively choose what I engage in and what I block out. I currently can not stand being around conversations of negativity, I will not engage in ranting on social media, I am often turning off the news because it is all so negative. I am trying really hard to find the hope and the lightness in the dark. I am actively choosing things which feel life enhancing rather than life-sapping. I know that currently, that is what I need to boost my wellbeing. This morning I took my usual early Sunday morning walk around the community meadow, the sun was rising behind the mist in the valley. It was beautiful and joyful and a reminder that there is hope.

Talking about mental illness with children

 

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Although mental health is high on the agenda, with many people including celebrities talking about their mental illness and an increasing awareness of mental illness in teens; I think as a society it can still be hard to talk to children about mental illness. I think there is still a worry that if we use the words depression and mental illness, that children will not understand or become fearful. Even with all the discussion and acknowledgment about mental illness, with new celebrities and sports stars coming out each day talking about their struggles, I still think there is a stigma. Sadly I think there is still pain and shame felt amongst families when they talk about the mental illness in their family. A friend of mine Will Taylor is an excellent child counselor, he has recently written about his own struggle with depression and how some people have told him they wouldn’t want to go a counselor who has had depression. To me, this suggests that some people still view mental illness as something that is shameful.

I firmly believe we need to talk to children from a young age about mental illness, we need to use the correct language and help them to understand what is happening, by doing this we break down the stigma. Obviously, we need to do this in an age appropriate way, in a way which helps the child to not be scared but to give them enough information to help them to understand what is going on. A common held misbelieve is that children will not notice, they will not be aware when a parent or loved one becomes depressed. However, we know that children pick up on the smallest of changes, they know when something is different. I grew up with a mum who has Bi-polar, I was a child in the 70’s when depression was never spoken about. I have memories of being 5 and recognising the warning signs that she was becoming ill, they were small, but I noticed. She would give us extra money to buy sweets, she would start baking lots, this was always the begining of a manic episode. These sound like tiny changes but I noticed. My Dad talked about my mum being ill, but it wasn’t until I was 14 in a school assembly that Mind was leading, and I heard the term mental illness and realised that was what my Mum had. Until then I had presumed she had cancer and that she would die. If we do not use the correct words with children, if we do not explain what is happening, then children will fill in the missing gaps, and often get it wrong. Our role as adults is to help children to understand that depression, anxiety, bi-polar, schizophrenia etc are all mental illness, they are not something to be afraid of, or to be ashamed of, we can talk about it.

I do appreciate that it can be really hard to find the words to help a child understand, for me that is where books and films can be so helpful. I have written two books and an animation for children of different ages to help them understand Bi-polar. But there are a growing number of good resources about depression. Below I have listed and linked some of the ones I really like. On Wednesday this week, it is mental health day, there will be lots of discussions all week about mental illness, and that is great, but I would like to encourage people to talk to children as well.

 

Mummy’s Got Bippolar– Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

Can I tell you about Bipolar Disorder– Sonia Mainstone-Cotton

Mummys’ Got Bipolar animation

Can I tell you about anxiety- Lucy Willets and Polly Waite

Why are you so sad: A child’s book about parental depression– Beth Andrews

I had a black dog – Matthew Johnstone

Pretend Friends: A story about schizophrenia and other illnesses can cause hallucinations- Alice Hoyle

The wise mouse- Virgina Ironside

The illustrated Mum- Jaqueline Wilson

 

 

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.