How to make good decisions which help you follow the rules
One of the biggest challenges in the new post-Covid world is knowing what the rules are, and keeping up when they seem to change on a daily basis. How on earth are we supposed to stick to the rules when we can’t always work out what they are? Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer Penny Tyndale-Hardy explains how we can make good decisions.
The rules seem to be written in such a way that it’s not always clear how they apply to a particular situation.
For example, ‘work from home if possible’ is easy enough if you can work from home. But if you can’t, does that mean you are allowed to go to work, whatever your job is? ‘Stay local’ seems pretty clear, but what is local? One mile from home? Five? Twenty? And what are ‘exceptional circumstances’?
This ambiguity means it’s easy to look for – and find – loopholes that justify what we want to do, even if it breaks the rules.
One reason people break the rules is because they infringe our control, our choices, our freedom. Having a sense of control is really important for our wellbeing and when that is taken away it can make us feel unsettled, anxious and stressed, and we may respond to that by rejecting those rules.
Our sense of community is important and our need to belong can make us go along with things that on our own we might not do. For example, if the group around us rejects the rules – maybe breaks social distance advice or doesn’t wear a mask – evidence shows that we are more likely to do this too.
However, there are equally strong drives that help us keep the rules. Our need for security will actively encourage us to follow rules that help us stay safe. When we understand and agree with the rules – if they seem to have meaning and purpose to us – then we are also more likely to obey them.
So when trying to decide what we do, maybe it’s more useful to start by looking at why there are rules. What are they there for?
The rules are there to stop the spread of coronavirus. The more human contact we have with others, the easier it is for the virus to spread. Science isn’t absolute, but all scientific advice will be based on data and evidence. This is then filtered through the politicians, who decide how to use the science, alongside other considerations, such as the economy and people’s wellbeing.
When we are anxious, it affects our ability to think clearly about things and can mean we make emotional decisions rather than rational decisions.
If our anxiety is about how the rules are negatively affecting us – anxiety about not seeing a loved one, for example – we may be more likely to break them; if that anxiety is more about the virus itself it might make us frustrated by others who break the rules. However, it’s important to remember that we cannot control other people’s decisions – we can only control what we do ourselves.
Good decisions come from our rational thinking rather than our emotional thinking. We need to come at it with a clear head, which doesn’t happen when we are emotionally aroused.
So if you are having anxiety around interpreting and sticking to the rules – whether because you find it difficult to keep to them, or are worried about staying safe – make sure you calm that anxiety before making a decision. Try some mindful breathing or read our other resources on coping.
When we are calm, we can clearly assess the rules and make good choices. Respecting each other and bringing compassion and understanding will help us make decisions that work for the whole community.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Are you feeling alone right now? Here’s some helpful advice to tackle loneliness
Loneliness is the feeling we get when our need to connect with others is not met. The Covid-19 outbreak has made it a lot harder for many of us to meet our need for social contact; both with those we care about and the wider community. Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer Jo Flack gives us some helpful tips to tackle loneliness.
If you are feeling lonely at this time, understand that it is natural to feel like this, because those everyday connections with friends, family and community are key to keeping us emotionally well. And take hope from the fact these changes will not last forever and there are things we can do to meet our need for emotional connection and community even at during these challenging times.
Here, we will explore some tips and ideas to help us tackle feelings of loneliness. Different things will work for different people at different times, so have a go at the suggestions that you feel will work best for you. And if some of them don’t feel possible for you right now, then try something else or come back to them at a time when it does feel right for you.
Tips to tackle loneliness
- Spend some time with friends or family members in accordance with current guidelines, such as going for a walk or arranging to have a catch up on a park bench.
- Even if you are staying at home, you can explore different ways to spend time with others: try a video call – perhaps over dinner to create a sense of shared enjoyment; invite people to join an online quiz; connect through online games such as Scrabble, Cluedo or video games; or if you are unable to access technology, then schedule in a weekly telephone call to someone you care about.
- Now may also be a good time to check in with people you have lost contact with, whether through social media, text chat, by picking up the phone or even writing a letter/sending a greetings card. Many of us love having contact with people we have lost touch with and this could be the perfect time to re-connect.
- You could also do things you enjoy that help create a sense of being in company, such as listening to the radio, tuning into podcasts or taking a walk in a public space (whilst still keeping to social distancing guidelines.) Or join in as an audience member at one of the many online broadcasts that allow you to indulge in a night at the ballet, take in a show or laugh along to a comedy act. And with Christmas just round the corner, you will find several charities and other organisations offering online carol services to attend.
- There is also a wide variety of online classes and courses available that can help you link in with others whilst also getting a sense of achievement and purpose. Maybe start by thinking about activities you have enjoyed in the past and research any local courses and classes you could give a go.
- Another way to stay connected is to try some volunteering, there are now a variety of volunteering opportunities out there that you can do from home.
- And remember that if you are struggling with a sense of loneliness, you are not alone. Maybe you have a neighbour who is also feeling isolated that you could chat to over the garden fence, or bake a cake for, or help out with shopping. And you can always reach out for support via an online community such as Mind’s Side by Side, or by calling a Coronavirus Support helpline.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Helping your mental health through the winter months
Our CEO, Jon Neal talks about the clocks going back and how to help your mental health through the winter months.
The clocks have gone back, the days are getting shorter and the nights are drawing in. And while we’re still a long way from the signs of spring, the longer days and warmer evenings, there are some things we can do to look after our mental health. And, of course, being active is a really good one.
Many people have heard of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but even if you haven’t, you might be aware that you become a little less energetic or enthusiastic about things in the Autumn and Winter months.
There is some science behind this very common and normal experience.
When we’re experiencing depression, we spend more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the phase of sleep when we dream. In a healthy sleep cycle, dreaming helps to calm the brain down, switching off the worries and anxieties from the day.
But worrying lots about unmet emotional needs increases the amount we need to dream when we sleep.
This extra dreaming burns up lots of the brain’s energy, so we wake up feeling exhausted and lacking the motivation to address our concerns.
When it gets dark, our bodies release the hormone melatonin. This helps us go to sleep, but also increases the amount of dreaming we do.
As it starts to get darker earlier, more melatonin is released, which makes us dream more and causes some of us to wake up feeling low in mood, tired and lacking motivation.
So that’s the science. What can we do to keep our mood up and stave off the feelings of depression? Here are some tips…
- Get active outside – At Suffolk Mind we’ve launched a campaign called 100 Miles for Suffolk Mind. It’s where you can walk, cycle, hop, skip, run or do whatever you like to cover the distance of 100 miles. Click here for more information.
- Make the most of what light available – a daily walk or run is perfect, but even creating a routine whereby you pop outside in the garden for ten minutes or so to have a break in the morning, midday and mid-afternoon can be helpful.
- Some people find that sitting by lightboxes, which give out artificial sunlight, can help reduce the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder
- Another factor associated with depression is a lack of vitamin D, which is produced in our bodies when sunlight reaches our skin. Research shows that increasing the vitamin D in our diet with supplements, oily fish or mushrooms can help to lift the symptoms of depression
- And finally, it’s important to try and reduce the worrying which results in too much dreaming. The key to achieving this is to find healthy ways to meet emotional needs. You can find out more at www.suffolkmind.org.uk
Author: Kristina Brinkley
10 ways to enable you look after your mental health on World Mental Health Day…and every day
On World Mental Health Day (Saturday 10th October) and to mark our 10-year anniversary, our Head of Mental Health Education, Ezra Hewing, has released these 10 tips to enable you to look after your own mental health.
1. 7/11 Breathing
What strategies do you have for reducing stress, or calming strong emotions like anxiety and anger? You may benefit from learning 7/11 breathing. This means breathing in to a count of 7 and out to a count of 11, which stimulates the body’s relaxation response.
2. Circles of Influence
If you feel that you have little control over events and feel as if life is something which “happens” without you being able to decide for yourself, it can be useful to do an exercise called circles of influence.
– Firstly, draw two circles
– Then in one circle add all of the things we have no control over, such as the weather, world events, other people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and accidents and injuries
– In the second circle, leaving plenty of space, add all of the things you do have control over, such as which socks to wear, which book to start reading, what to eat for lunch or what route to take on a daily walk. You don’t have to do it all at once either – just add something each day to notice what you can control
Are you getting enough privacy and downtime to process the day? If not, you may find that your first opportunity to think about the day is when you get into bed, which then prevents us from going off to sleep easily.
Try putting ten minutes aside to go for a walk, or sit down quietly somewhere, which allows you to process the day and forget about it before bedtime. If you’re living in a busy environment, seek an agreement that gives everyone a space and time of day to relax and enjoy uninterrupted downtime.
4. Brain food
To keep our brains healthy, our diet needs to include Omega 3 fatty acids. We get Omega 3 from oily fish, such as tuna and salmon, and also eggs, flaxseeds and walnuts. Research shows that increasing the amount of Omega 3 in our diet can help to reduce symptoms of depression.
Doing something we already know how to do well is a quick way to give us a sense of achievement, which helps to lift mood and boost motivation to do more. It could be colouring in, cooking a favourite meal, taking photos of trees and plants or making paper aeroplanes.
Then, when you’ve had a go, you could choose something more challenging.
6. Memories of mirth
When did you last laugh so hard that tears rolled down your cheeks? Spend a few moments dwelling on that feeling until the memories come back. Now make a note of that memory and any others you may have.
All too often, strong emotions – like anxiety, anger and the feeling of hopelessness which accompanies depression – keep us stuck. When you need to change the way that you feel, spend some time dwelling on the memories of times when you found yourself laughing uncontrollably.
Notice how humour, jokes, comedy and funny experiences help us to break free from stuck patterns and emotions.
7. Get help with trauma
If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, including intrusive thoughts and memories, nightmares, panic attacks and feelings of anxiety, seek help from a counsellor or therapist skilled at treating trauma with the Rewind technique.
8. Helping others helps us
If you feel that you could benefit from having greater meaning & purpose in your life, consider taking up volunteering for a couple of hours a week, or just offer to help out a neighbour or relative. Serving others is, paradoxically, the best way of looking after ourselves.
9. Reframing rigid thinking
Anxious feelings can often lock our attention on a problem, causing us to believe that it will never change or go away. This is sometimes called permanent thinking.
A technique which can help us to get beyond permanent thinking is to write about the problem, or record yourself talking about it, reframing it using words and phrases like ‘yet’, ‘at the moment’ or ‘some of the time’, which open up the possibility for change.
So for example, if we felt that we were never going to find a job again, we might write down the feeling as follows: “I don’t have a job at the moment,” or “I haven’t found a job yet.”
Notice any permanent thoughts which pop up, write them down and see if you can reframe them using ‘yet’, ‘at the moment’ or ‘some of the time’.
10. Getting into your Observing Self
Strong emotions, like anxiety, depression and anger, can trick us into thinking that we are the emotion or mental ill health issue itself. This can then get in the way of appreciating the positive things in our lives which support recovery.
We can see this happening when we hear ourselves and other people say things like, “I’m depressed,” or “I have anxiety.”
Of course, all of us are much more than just depression or anxiety. We all have knowledge, skills, hobbies, interests and life experiences which make up who we are, and which we can draw upon to aid recovery.
Our observing self is that part of us which can become more aware that we are not just our emotions, feelings and thoughts.
To get into your observing self, practice using the word the when naming your emotions and feelings.
So for example, instead of saying, “I’ve been depressed for six months,” you might say, “the depression has been an issue for six months”. Or, instead of saying “I have anxiety,” we might say, “the anxiety occurs when I feel uncertain about the future.”
When you get into the habit of stepping back from difficult emotions and feelings – using the word the to describe them – you may notice when the depression or the anxiety feel less noticeable too.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Moving helps us to stay physically healthy but mentally healthy too
Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, explains the benefits of moving for your mental health.
Getting the right amount of movement each week is important to good mental wellbeing. Whenever we do exercise, our bodies release endorphins to reward us. Endorphins are the body’s pleasure chemicals, making us feel good, encouraging us to keep exercising. However, each time we do some exercise, the amount of endorphins we receive is reduced, which motivates us to do more or try something different; so if you are a finely tuned athlete you will need to do more exercise to get more feel-good rewards. But for most people, just doing thirty minutes of exercise a few times a week is enough to significantly improve mood.
Research shows that regular exercise can be just as effective as medication at lifting depression and reducing anxiety. However, with exercise, you don’t have the potential unpleasant side effects and it can be effective at raising mood much more quickly than medication.
Movement also helps reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In small amounts, cortisol is useful to gently alert the cells in our body and brain, and activate our defences against injuries and infections. However, if our emotional needs are poorly met, the increased levels of stress cause more cortisol to be released. High levels of cortisol can damage brain cells and cause physical inflammation. It can also inhibit the immune system, making us more vulnerable to bugs and viruses.
If stress goes unaddressed it can trigger a number of physical conditions too, such as high-blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, skin conditions including eczema, and alopecia, and heart conditions. Low intensity exercise, such as going for a brisk walk, reduces cortisol levels.
There may be another reason to be physically active too; brains only exist in animals which need to move. A plant doesn’t have a brain, because it doesn’t need to move; animals on the other hand have brains as we need to plan how we will move to get food, keep warm and stay safe. But if we don’t use the brain to move about, then connections in the brain start to wither away. Research shows, for example, that if we spend too much time at a desk, or on the sofa, without regular breaks to get up and move about, we are at increased risk of depression. If we don’t use the brain, we lose the brain.
So meeting the need to move, improves our mood by making us feel good, reduces the effects of stress, and protects the brain too.
To help meet your need for movement, why not take part in our 100 Miles for Suffolk Mind Challenge? Click here for more details and to set up your giving page.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Being Safe & Feeling Safe: What’s the difference?
Sometimes things happen in our communities that make us feel unsafe. In this blog, by our Head of Mental Health Education, Ezra Hewing looks at what’s going on in our brains and the difference between being safe and feeling safe
We are all born with a need to feel safe, physically, emotionally and financially. As children and as parents, our emotional need for security extends to our family, friends and the wider communities we are connected to. So when accidents, injuries, pandemics and acts of violence take place in our communities, it’s entirely natural if we don’t feel safe.
Psychologists, historians and people who analyse the statistics of risk, tell us that we are living in the safest possible time in human history. The evidence shows that we’re less likely to be the victims of murder, war or violence than people living in earlier times.
However, while we might be able accept the evidence that we are safer, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we feel safer.
Why is this?
The answer lies, partly, in how our brain responds to our environment.
Most of us would like to think that we are rational people who will listen to evidence before we make a decision about something. But what neuroscience tells us about how our brains make sense of the world around us reveals a different story.
When weighing up risks, the brain’s emotional centres receive information about the environment around us first – before the thinking part of the brain, which is further up the chain of command.
In particular, the amygdala, a cluster of brain cells shaped like an almond, is located in the brain’s emotional centres and functions as our own personal security officer.
Our security officer reacts to events it sees as a threat – whether real or imagined – as it works to keep us safe.
The security officer does this by triggering the alarm system, known as the fight-or-flight response, prompting us to run from danger or lash out to defend ourselves.
It also triggers strong emotions like fear, anxiety and anger.
The thinking part of the brain, largely located behind our forehead, gets the same information as the security officer, but just a fraction of a second later. So if the security officer has already triggered a strong emotional reaction then our access to rational thinking is reduced.
We might be able to draw upon rational thinking to try and stop ourselves from overreacting, or put the brakes on before we say or do something we regret.
But if the security officer’s emotional response is too strong, the thinking brain’s attention becomes locked on the perceived threat, and rational thinking goes out the window.
We will all have experienced this when are locked in arguments with other people and feel personally attacked. Or when we’ve replied in anger to an email or text, and later read it again and realised we overreacted.
We also see it in the wider world of politics, public affairs and reality TV when individuals and groups become very emotional and lose the ability to see the other person or group’s point of view. Or, even if they disagree, to listen and understand what the other party are saying.
Strong emotions – like anger, anxiety and fear – stop us from thinking rationally, as we all know when we are able to reflect upon it calmly.
And if the security officer doesn’t feel safe we are less able to accept any evidence which tells us that we are safe.
How can we calm the security officer down so that we do feel safer?
Firstly, we can try activities which help us to relax. This might be practicing exercises like 7/11 breathing, or having a soak in the bath. Whatever you do, it should be something which works for you.
Then, when we begin to feel a bit calmer, we can begin to bring rational thinking back online. We might do this by questioning some of the assumptions behind emotionally driven black-and-white thoughts.
So if one of our thoughts is: “if I leave the house a banana shaped hot air balloon might crash land on me,” we can ask ourselves how often this happens to people, how many banana shaped hot air balloons are seen floating by the area where we live, and how frequently it has happened to us in the past.
Of course, this is a slightly ridiculous example, but choosing to start with something absurd can help us to break the trance of anxiety fuelled thinking, so that we can be more realistic about how we assess risk.
If, after you have added something to your daily routine which helps you to calm down, you are still finding it a challenge to feel safe, do speak to your GP or contact wellbeing services.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
How to prepare our children and ourselves for the return to school
Charlie Green our Senior Emotional Needs and Resources Trainer offers some helpful tips and advice to help you and your children get back into the school routine.
As the date for schools re-opening is approaching, we will be in the process of preparing our children for their return to school following the coronavirus pandemic. It is a good opportunity to consider how your child is feeling and how we can prepare them emotionally and psychologically for the transition.
If you are feeling concerned or a little overwhelmed by the up-coming changes, that is completely natural. However, it’s helpful to remember that this pandemic has given you lots of experience of change and skills you can use to help your child. Below are some tips and advice about how you might help your child through this transition.
Top tips for parents and carers to help you prepare for returning to school
• Talk to your child about happy things that they remember from school or nursery
• Re-connect with school friends before the start of term
• Keep up-to-date with information on the school website, social media and emails and share it with your child(ren).
• Look back through school work, crafts or snap shots of things you did during lockdown so your child can talk about them when back in school (remember the small stuff – not everyone had the opportunity to do amazing things).
• Walk or drive past the school building – practicing the journey to school can be a really helpful preparation.
• Find out from the school or other parents about transition arrangements and social distancing. Talk to your child about what to expect, even if the answer is you are not sure yet, but you will find out soon or be guided on the day.
• Check if there are any virtual tours and video opportunities from the school that your child(ren) can watch
• Begin to bring the name of your child’s new teacher into everyday conversations and build positive anticipation. If you don’t know much about them, find a photo on the school website or ask previous students for something positive about them
• Re-establish routines around mealtimes and bed times if necessary. Many routines have slid during lockdown – bring the timings back into school routines by changing gradually over a few days.
• Talk with employers about the opportunity for flexible hours for the first few weeks of term to allow for the unexpected. This can help manage expectations and prevent anxiety.
• It’s important to be aware of your own emotions so that you don’t transmit your anxiety to your child. Talk to family and friends and remember it is natural some uncertainty in such unusual times.
• Follow your child’s lead during the transition and respond to their emotions as they happen
• Be positive but honest; acknowledge your child’s emotional behaviour, they are showing you how they feel.
• Be prepared – pack their school bag a few days before, lay out their uniform, and break in new school shoes!
• Have a few trial runs of getting up and ready in the morning, eating from pack lunch boxes or getting into PE kit – this will help build confidence and esteem. Make it fun!
Remember the staff at your school have been working hard to make the environment safe and positive for your children. This is new for them too. Seek to be in partnership with them to make your child’s experience as relaxing and enjoyable as possible.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Supporting your team when they return to work
Our Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind, Ezra Hewing offers some advice on how to support your team after lockdown
As lockdown lifts you may have concerns and questions about members of your team returning to work. Are members of your team anxious about coming back to the office? Are they worried about increased risk of infection? Are they juggling work and childcare? Have some of your team been furloughed and perhaps feel that their job skills are bit rusty?
Everyone’s situation and concerns will be different and so it’s worth having a conversation with each team individually. To handle conversations sensitively, at Suffolk Mind we teach and use a framework called RIGAAR. Participants learn the skills to use RIGAAR on our Workplace Wellbeing course Supporting Staff Mental Health for Managers, but you can use some of the same principles when supporting staff who are returning to work after lockdown.
RIGAAR is acronym which stands for the elements of a supportive conversation: Rapport, Information, Goals, Accessing resources, Agreeing a strategy and Review.
- Always build rapport and reconnect with team members as an essential first step. Remember that they may feel disconnected from the workplace
- Before asking about their concerns or talking about work, take time to find out how they have been and what has happened since you last spoke
- Ask follow up questions to express empathy and encourage them to talk more
- Ask open questions to allow your team member to talk about how they are feeling and what concerns they might have
- You could encourage them to complete an emotional needs audit which will identify emotional needs which might be better met
- If you feel comfortable and confident doing so, you might ask about how lockdown has affected their ability to exercise or sleep. You might mention that many people have found it difficult to get decent sleep during lockdown, which can help to normalise their experiences
- Agree small, achievable goals to help them meet emotional needs. If they need privacy and ‘time out’, encourage regular breaks; if they have told you they feel better after taking exercise, encourage walking during lunch time
- Give your team member as much control as is reasonable over how they manage conflicting concerns; when they return to the office and whether they can work from home some of the time; how they manage the conflicting demands of childcare and work. Letting people decide for themselves empowers them to meet the need for control – especially when so much is out of our control at the moment!
- Ask questions to identify what has helped your team member cope during lockdown
- Ask them about what they have learnt during lockdown and if there are good habits they want to keep for the future
- Mention their past work achievements and what they bring to the team and the wider workplace
Agreeing a strategy
- Agree the steps they will take to achieve goals which meet their needs
- Make sure they draw upon the resources you have identified, including coping skills, good habits and previous work successes
- Make sure they have time and space to achieve those goals. This may include time to take breaks and walks, and to manage the demands of childcare and home life
Finally, review what has been discussed and agree a regular check in time to see how the strategy is going. Discuss what they have learned, and make any adjustments which better support meeting needs as your team returns to the workplace. Keep a record of what has been agreed and return to it the next time you meet – always taking time to connect and build rapport first!
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Young people riding the “coronacoaster”
Are you noticing your child’s moods changing more rapidly than usual? Then maybe they are riding the ‘Corona Coaster’
By Charlie Green, Senior Emotional Needs and Resources Trainer
We are hearing from many parents who are concerned about their children’s rapid mood changes and poor sleep while in lockdown so I was moved to bring together some information and ideas that I hope will reassure and help you.
Here are some of the concerns we have heard:
“We are all exhausted because my daughter can’t sleep in her own room anymore and wakes in the night.”
“I’m worried because my child gets really angry over really small things.”
“My son doesn’t want to talk to his friends online anymore.”
“I can see there is something wrong with my son, but he won’t talk about it.”
“It’s my daughter’s birthday coming up and whenever we talk about it, she cries.”
“I keep reassuring my son that this won’t affect his chances of passing future exams, but it doesn’t make a difference.”
“I can’t keep up with her mood changes. I feel like I am walking on egg shells every day.”
We know that mood changes are a natural part of a young person’s development and experience, but it seems that the ‘roller coaster’ of emotions has been much more dramatic during lockdown. This has made communication within families much more challenging, putting a strain on relationships and causing parents and carers to worry about the wellbeing of their young person(s).
First of all, please don’t assume the worst if you see more extreme moods and mood changes at home – you may well be experiencing the same yourself! This ‘corona-coaster’ is a normal response as we navigate a very different world from the one we were all used to.
Understanding the adolescent brain
Young people have the same needs as adults but the skills needed to be able to meet those needs are still developing, particularly the ability to calm strong emotions and be able to reflect and learn from experiences.
The adolescent brain is constantly evolving and learning while driving for autonomy. It is a time of immense growth, self-discovery as well as physical, moral and intellectual development.
As adults and carers it is important to remember how intelligent and capable they can be, and help them develop the skills they need for life. This will continue through lockdown and beyond.
So, what is happening for our young people right now?
Their lives as they knew them ended abruptly and they are now living with a great deal of uncertainty and loss of control. They are likely to feel socially isolated from their peers, who are a vital part of their lives as they grow in independence.
Not only can ‘now’ feel unfamiliar to them, which is unsettling it itself, but there is also no clear path back to ‘normal’ nor a certain ‘new normal’ to work towards.
Parents and significant adults who previously provided clear boundaries also do not have the answers. Added to this, news reports blast through all forms of media, announcing death rates, political conflict, uncertainty and fear, generating more unrest.
Most people’s daily routines have been turned upside down. Just consider how different your days are now, compared to how they were in February. Our brains are no longer able to glide along in autopilot, understanding the rules and rhythms of the day. Instead we are faced with decisions and new ways of doing things. It is tiring for the brain.
There is a limit to how much uncertainty we can tolerate without it having an impact on our emotional wellbeing. Then just as we are adjusting, everything changes and we have to discover another ‘new normal’ as lockdown begins to ease.
We are all riding the ‘corona coaster’ of emotions, adults and young people alike and
lockdown has made it more challenging for us to meet our emotional needs in order to feel mentally and emotionally well and free from worry.
So, what can we do to support and talk to our young people?
- Be mindful of their exposure to news and information
– It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the news, which tends to focus on the extreme and scary.
– It’s not that we should completely cut them off from what is happening. Instead we need to limit what they hear and have conversations with them about what they have heard and how they feel about it.
- Find a common activity you can do together and allow the conversations to start naturally
– Have conversations while doing something else – like walking, or a game, or cooking together. This sets up a more casual and relaxing atmosphere. Let them steer the conversation, build rapport and where appropriate ask the questions you need to.
- Accept their model of the world – go along with what they want to talk about to build rapport and trust. Rather than trying to tell or teach them, listen and seek understanding. You will be amazed at what you learn about them and how interesting young brains are.
- Avoid starting conversations with “when I was your age …”. it is a conversation killer!
- Lower your expectations while increasing your desire to connect and accept
– Focus on being together rather than needing it/them to do it ‘right’.
– As long as they hit their non-negotiable markers for the day, then let the rest slide. For example, in our house there is far more screen time for our 16 year old than I would like, but as long as he is up by midday, does 1 household chore each day, plays a game with his younger sister and eats dinner with us round the table and clears up after the meal, we let the rest go. The reality is, if he wasn’t in lockdown he would be out with his friends having finished his GCSE’s so being online is his place to be with them socialising.
- Become a master of “letting go” so you can hold the boundaries that really matter
– Choose your battles carefully. The most important thing right now is for them to feel connected and safe and to maintain a healthy relationship
– That doesn’t mean letting them do as they please – clear boundaries are good for them and you – but within the restrictions of lockdown, letting some things go can be helpful
- Create certainty within the home using gentle but reassuring routines
– By creating a predictable daily routine that includes encouraging online time with friends, relaxation time, movement, time to chill as well as school work, you are helping everyone meet the need for certainty. It is good to get them involved in creating the routine and review it regularly to check it’s working for everyone, especially as the government guidelines change
- Encourage them to get involved with food for the family – preparing, sharing or clearing up.
– This will help them feel valued and also gives a structure to their day and a focused opportunity to come together as a family.
- Find ways to have fun – get creative and find activities where you can relax and have a laugh. It will be as good for you as it is for them!
- Allow them privacy – everyone needs time to digest what they are learning and daydream, including our children. Help them find space each day to let the brain rest. Colouring, playing music, kicking a ball around in the garden on their own and writing in a notebook are some examples of how they can get privacy.
- Accept ‘I don’t know’ as a valid answer – it’s sometimes hard to name the emotions we are experiencing, we just know we don’t feel OK, and its good for them to be able to tell you how they feel without needing to articulate why. The most important thing is to acknowledge they don’t feel OK and reassure them that you are there for them and that the feelings will pass.
There is lots we can do to support ourselves and our young people. In fact, it’s not all bad news and lockdown can also provide us with opportunities. Many parents and carers are sharing stories of how lockdown has unexpectedly helped young people meet needs better, so there are lots of reasons to feel hopeful.
“My son has started making me a cup of tea each morning which I am so grateful for.”
(meeting his need for achievement, status and meaning & purpose)
“I came home to a meal on my birthday cooked by my 16 year old.”
(meeting his need for control, achievement, status)
“My daughter has started reading to herself at bedtimes for the first time.”
(meeting her need for control, achievement and privacy)
“At the start of lockdown, we all went for our one hour walk together as a family.”
(meeting our need for movement, community, achievement and meaning & purpose)
“My kids created a daily timetable themselves that included some school work, lots of breaks and screen-time and they have used a timer to stick to it … mostly!”
(meeting their need for security, control, status, community, achievement and meaning & purpose)
“We started playing a card game together a few times a week as we have been home so much more.”
(meeting our need for attention, emotional connection, community and achievement)
Visit our website for more information on how to support yourself and your family.
Listen to the recording below from BBC Radio Suffolk from May 20th of Charlie Green talking with presenter Georgy Jamieson (@Georgy Jamieson) all about ‘Riding the Corona Coaster’ and ‘coming out of the corona bubble’.
(with acknowledgements to Sue Saunders author of Navigating The Teenage Years, MSC Cognitive Science, MA Human Givens Psychotherapy)
Author: Ellie Winch
Meeting Our Children’s Need for Sleep During Lockdown
Our Children and Young People’s Facilitator, Louise Harris talks about the importance of sleep and how she has helped her five-year-old to get better sleep during the current pandemic.
Lockdown life and the ‘Corona Coaster’ of the ups and downs of the past few weeks has affected us all. Our children have also been finding it tricky, but as they don’t always have the words or ability to express this, it has been displaying in other ways.
My daughter has struggled to sleep
Since the schools have been closed, I have noticed a huge increase in the amount of support my five year old needs to be ready for sleep and her ability to stay asleep through the night. I have questioned how much exercise she was having throughout the day compared to pre-lockdown times, but even taking her on bike rides and inventing high-energy trampoline obstacle courses in the garden did not seem to have any effect on her waking up in the night or being able to get to sleep.
Why is sleep so important?
Periods of REM and deep sleep throughout the night allow us to wake feeling motivated, refreshed, fit and rested, feeling happy and healthy and ready to start the day. Different periods of sleep are needed: 20% REM sleep to calm strong emotions and 20% deep sleep to allow the brain to switch off and the body to restore itself. To achieve this level of deep sleep, good sleep routines need to start earlier in the day, not just at bedtime.
Exploring the root cause of the issue
When a child goes to bed with unmet emotional needs, they can struggle to fall asleep. When they do fall asleep, their dreams can be intense and vivid, which means that they are unable to self-soothe back to sleep if they wake. The needs of emotional connection and privacy are particularly key to feeling settled at the moment, as children need to have quality connections with families as well as quiet time to discharge their own thoughts and emotions.
How to meet children’s need for privacy
Encouraging ‘action to relax’ types of activities often throughout the day that can be done independently gives children time to have quiet space to settle their thoughts before bedtime. Activities that allow this to happen include:
- Colouring and drawing
- Building blocks and jigsaw puzzles
- Sewing, loom bands bracelets to weave
- Books set up to look at in a cosy space- We call this a ‘story snuggle’ in our house!
Our sleep experiment – What did we change?
As well as thinking about my daughter’s activities throughout the day, I considered her bedtime routine during lockdown. Not only had she had more screen-time than usual, but our day was more fluid, meaning that we were not sticking to a predictable routine as we usually would.
Making positive associations for bedtime is very important, so I decided to create an environment that she would want to spend time and be relaxed in:
- Making sure her bedroom is relatively clear and uncluttered
- Ensuring her favourite cuddly toys were within reach
- Ensuring screens were left off after dinner time
- Spending time reading , telling stories or doing yoga together and talking about the happy things we can do together in the following days.
- Spraying child-safe pillow mist with soft music to fall asleep to.
But what if my child worries before bed?
If your child has worries at bedtime, try talking about putting their worries down, so they know you are not brushing them aside but you will address them when it is the right time. Telling them that you will talk about them after breakfast the next day gives them time to relax knowing that you have not forgotten, but they also do not need to wake up worrying about them.
Did it work?
We have noticed a huge improvement in the quality of our five year old’s sleep, her ability to stay asleep and her happiness in going to sleep since we started thinking about meeting her emotional needs and improving her sleep hygiene habits. Little changes have made a big difference, and although she still sometimes wakes and needs my reassurance, we are having many more restful bedtimes and happier, more settled days.
Author: Kristina Brinkley