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Keeping children well during self-isolation

Mental and physical health depends upon meeting emotional needs in healthy ways. This keeps stress levels low and allows our immune system to fight back and work to promote recovery from illness. Meeting children’s emotional needs if we are socially isolated is challenging, and even more so if we are concerned about uncertainties. Here are some suggestions to allow parents to meet children’s emotional and wellbeing needs during this time.

Security and Control

Children are picking up on adult’s worries and our insecurities. There may be lots of things that are out of our control but try to limit their concerns by talking to children about the things that we CAN control, such as an activity structure for their day, what they would like to do and achieve, what they would like to wear and which friends they would like to contact. Reassure them about the things that are already known and encourage them to see positives in these situations, such as more time to spend together or do craft or Lego activities that there isn’t usually time for. If your children are being cared for in an unusual setting or in an unusual way whilst you are working, talk to them about what you know about the situation and what to expect so that they feel more secure.


Whilst parents are working from home or juggling emergency shifts, children may feel close to you physically but not emotionally and require more of your attention than usual. Encourage their creativity in this time, and make time to put aside work emails, calls and concerns for short periods and connect throughout the day doing something of their choice such as playing Lego, baking or just snuggling up with a book. Make it clear the time frame that you have allocated and what they can do when this time together ends so that they are expecting to play alone after a period of playing together. Encourage positive play by praising them for setting up a game ready to play later and letting them know when your next period of play together will be.

Achievement, Meaning & Purpose and Status

Having the needs met of achievement and meaning and purpose that they may usually get from school or clubs may be difficult at this time. Allow your children to feel stretched and supported by deciding together on tasks that they can complete that may be a new challenge, such as helping with household tasks, completing a wordsearch, caring for pets or a creating a treasure hunt around the house. Praise them for their efforts and come up with a list of more things together that the child could do. Allow them to see that they are a valued part of your family team.


Whilst school is postponed and usual groups are not meeting, children may lose their sense of community.  Try setting up video calls with other families, painting pictures to stick on windows, or writing messages and cards for friends. Lots of children’s services are providing online videos to keep children busy, active and entertained, such as fitness, yoga, art and storytelling or encouraging online challenges. These videos could be a link between your child and another and give them a sense of community.


During this socially distanced time usual movement groups will be postponed. Encourage your children to make sure their physical needs are still met by walking the dog, going for a run, dancing or doing yoga to online videos, playing football in the garden or on the trampoline or making up their own dance/yoga/karate/gymnastics routines to show other family members or friends via video chat.

Emotional Connection

At this time, it is difficult for parents to balance work, parenting, worry, ensuring the household is ready for isolation and trying to give their children educational stimulation. Children need to feel particularly cared for and free from judgement at this time, so make a game out of your days and try not to put pressure on about homework and school packs. Break up your day by changing activities and encouraging creativity. Little and often is far better than a learning struggle, so alternate snippets of learning with fun and calming activities. Reading, either by themselves, with an adult, or both, is always a valid educational resource and one that will allow everyone to relax, be transported to another world and connect with the grownups in their family.


For the next few weeks, the family will mostly be together in a small space. During this time, every family member has a need for privacy and time for themselves. Allow there to be periods of time throughout the day that are free from screens, and encourage daydreaming and creativity by providing blank paper and pens for children to draw, doodle or write whatever they would like to. Encourage parts of the day that are set aside for playing in separate spaces to allow rest and quiet.

Food & Drink and Sleep

At this time, it is vital that immunity is at its highest. Routine and a balanced diet will allow children to feel anchored and secure within uncertain times, so where possible stick to usual meal times and bed times. Sleep allows children to rest their brain, calm their emotions and repair their body, and will allow them to be more resilient the following day. Try and include a balanced plate or box of snacks for children to enjoy that nourish and hydrate.


Encouraging children to address these emotional needs will hopefully allow them to refocus their attention and remember this time as a period of connection, creativity and calm.

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 6th April 2020

Meeting our need for food & drink

We all know a balanced diet keeps our bodies healthy but did you know it also affects our emotional health? Being confined to our homes puts us out of our normal routine, which is having a huge impact on what we eat and drink.

So what do we need to know?

With shopping restricted, you might think we would all be eating less and carefully farming our resources, but if social media is anything to go by, we are eating more than ever. Whether it’s snacking while we work, baking with the kids, or just having the freedom to visit the fridge whenever we like, it seems that the nation is trying to eat its way through social isolation. We need to be careful not to use food to try to meet other emotional needs, which in the long run could make us feel a lot worse.

Humans have an instinct to use food to help manage our mood. That magic combination of fat and carbohydrate is hardwired to give us a sense of security, stemming back to earlier times when such food was scarce. But this can create a vicious cycle where we overdose on sugar, feel a temporary high, and then fall into a slump and need to self-medicate with more. This becomes a habit, creating a pattern match that gives us the expectation of having food to hand at all times.

It’s not just food; what we drink makes a difference too.

Caffeine affects our sleep, and high doses will also produce the same physical symptoms as anxiety – raised pulse, rapid breathing, etc – and where our body goes, our brains often follow. It seems we are also turning to alcohol to try to reduce our stress. While an occasional drink is usually fine, habitual drinking for stress means we sidestep better and healthier ways to meet our emotional needs.

So, here are some tips on how to meet our need for food and drink in a healthy way:

  • Have a clear routine that doesn’t include snacking. If you didn’t snack at work, don’t snack at home!
  • Don’t eat straight from the packet. Put biscuits or crisps on a plate and allocate how many you want.
  • If you want a treat, stop, take time and really enjoy it. Taking pleasure in our food and drink is a wonderful thing, so pay attention to it.
  • While working from home the advice is to get washed and dressed as normal. This doesn’t just help us feel more professional; if we are putting on work clothes rather than trackies we will soon see whether they still fit!
  • Make time to meet your need for movement. If you are moving less than before, you will need to eat less too.
  • Limit your caffeine and alcohol consumption to help maintain good quality sleep.
  • Take time to prepare your food to enjoy the process, not just the outcome. This will also meet your need for achievement.
  • Check in with all your emotional needs. Suffolk Mind has lots of tips for meeting each need during this strange time. That way you can keep food and drink for what it’s for – good nutrition, a pleasurable activity and something to nourish and sustain.

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 3rd April 2020

How to Nourish the Brains of Our Young People

Written by Charlie Green, Emotional Needs & Resources Trainer at Suffolk Mind and Lead Trainer on Early Minds and Easy Minds Training Program reaching Schools in Suffolk.

We all know that helping to nurture the mental health of the young people in our lives needs to be a priority, but in a difficult time at the moment, how do we go about it while keeping all the other plates spinning?

Below are 5 bite sized ideas to help you nourish the brains of young people in your life. (more…)

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 18th March 2020

How do we meet emotional needs while self-isolating or working from home?

Mental and physical health depends upon meeting emotional needs in healthy ways (see chart below). This keeps stress levels low and allows our immune system to fight back and work to promote recovery from illness. Meeting emotional needs if we are socially isolated is challenging, and even more so if we are concerned about virus infection. What can we do to give ourselves the best chance of meeting needs to stay well? Let’s think through the emotional needs we are all familiar with.  

Security & Control

Taking active steps to control risk of infection clearly supports us to meet emotional needs for security and control. However, given that the future is unpredictable – and even experts have limited information about the virus – we need to take steps to keep ourselves calm in uncertain circumstances. It is natural for our imaginations to seek to solve problems, but with limited information, this can lead to trying to fill in the gaps with unhelpful worrying.

  • Remind yourself of the steps you are taking, keeping a list if it’s helpful. For example, washing your hands before and after and eating; cleaning your door handles regularly; and keeping surfaces clean
  • Remind yourself as often as you need to that you have done all that you can with the information that you have   
  • If you are spending more time at home, create routines to give yourself structure, both if you are working from home, but if not, activities which you enjoy
  • Spend some time remembering times when you have had to be cheerful and optimistic in the face of adversity   

Community, Attention and Emotional Connection

How do we stay connected to the wider community and give ourselves opportunity to share attention and emotional connection?

  • Contact people you know who may be self-isolating by phone, messaging apps or email. Ask them how they are and if they would like to talk either over the phone or with video calling
  • Seek to set up groups with your friends so you can share conversation and positive support. If there are activities you can be both be doing together perhaps share them over video calls   

Privacy – time alone to calm down and reflect

It may seem that the need for privacy would be easy to meet while staying at home. However, if you live in a busy household with children and other relatives this could be difficult. An even bigger challenge to the need for privacy is the risk of spending too much time reading or watching coronavirus articles and videos online or on screens. What can do to meet the need for privacy at home?

  • Agree a space with your family, which people can use to spend alone time free from distractions
  • Limit online and screen time to specific times of the day
  • Only visit sites which are reliable sources of expert government advice. Avoid media outlets and second-hand sources of information which sensationalise. Anything which drives up worry compromises the immune system
  • Spend some time thinking about alternative activities which can keep you occupied – especially activities which you feel confident doing which give you a sense of being in control

Achievement and Meaning & Purpose

We meet our need for achievement through being stretched to learn and overcome challenges. Learning also contributes to meeting the need for meaning & purpose, along with the sense that we are needed by others and that we are contributed to a larger cause than ourselves. Meaning & purpose significantly contribute to resilience when we are faced with difficult situations. What steps can we take to meet these needs when we are self-isolating?    

  • If you are working from home, break the day up with rewarding goals which can be achieved in short spaces of time
  • Time alone might provide you with opportunities to learn which have otherwise been hard to find. Are there activities, hobbies and interests you can spend time doing? Are there books you haven’t had a chance to read? Are there free online courses you can take?
  • Are there people you can support over the phone or on video call to reduce the effects of isolation?
  • Challenges which we share with others can give us a sense of being connected to a bigger cause than ourselves alone. By following agreed expert guidance and supporting each other through a difficult time, we can find a huge sense of shared meaning and purpose which supports our immune system and our mental health and wellbeing.

Bullet-point guide to the emotional needs

Security – Feeling like we have a place that is ours or where we belong. Safe territory that allows us to develop fully. Examples include:

  • Waking up to news reports of company difficulties would be a challenge to feeling safe at work
  • Domestic abuse would be an environmental challenge to need for security at home

Control – Having some autonomy and direction over our lives, being able to make choices. Examples include:

  • Input into targets and objectives at work
  • Being given a challenge and having the freedom to meet it in whatever way an individual or a team feel is right
  • Toddler wanting to put their own shoes on, or feed themselves when weaning “I want to do it!”

Community – Making relationships with others, and being part of something bigger than ourselves. Examples include:

  • Humans are tribal animals and need to feel part of a group – we’ve been organising ourselves into tribes for 350k years to keep ourselves safe from predators
  • Teenagers WhatsApping in the middle of the night are doing so to make sure they’re not excluded from a conversation the next day

Respect/Status – Feeling valued by our peers, teachers, parents…feeling that we matter and our opinions count. Examples include:

  • Getting real, concrete feedback from a line manager or employer
  • Not feeling “fobbed off” or handed over to someone who can’t tackle your problem or answer your question

Privacy – Time to ourselves, away from clients, colleagues, even family, to reflect and consolidate experiences. Examples include:

  • Some people car share, but after a few weeks, start making up excuses to not do it for a couple of days
  • People going from a long commute to a short one sometimes need to get this need met in a different way when it changes

Emotional Connection – Having someone in our lives who accepts us warts and all – whether a parent, partner, pet. Examples include:

  • Someone you can completely be yourself around
  • The sort of person who will turn up at the side of the A14 in the middle of the night for you

Achievement – Being stretched or challenged, mastering something, feeling that you’re competent at a skill. Examples include: 

  • Stretched is no the same as being stressed – we need stretch in the workplace, people need to be challenged and feel they are developing
  • Opportunities to try new things, different ways of working, taking on new learning

Meaning and Purpose – Feeling there’s a point to getting out of bed in the morning – whether looking after someone or something, volunteering, doing a job that makes a difference. Examples include:

  • Seeing the link between your individual role/job and the meaning and purpose of the organisation as a whole
  • E.g, janitor at NASA when JFK was visiting: “What’s your role here?”…”I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Attention  –We need to give and receive attention – seeing it as a form of nutrition, in that we can have too much or too little. Examples include:

  • Important to receive the right amount of attention from a line manager – not too much, so that you feel over-scrutinised, but not too little either, so that you feel ignored or under-valued
  • Good example is kids – if they don’t get attention, they will knock something over because negative attention is better than no attention at all
  • E.g office clown, Facebook status updates that are ambiguous and encourage people to ask how they are, etc

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 16th March 2020

Craig Bullard – My RED January Journey

My story with Suffolk Mind began last January 2019; I’d set a challenge with a team of friends to run 24 miles every day for 7 days on a treadmill. During the organisation of this event, I was told about RED January and how the month long challenge was growing more and more popular each year – and that’s when I said I’d take part in January 2020 – and now here we are.

My target for RED January was to exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, ranging from a 1 mile walk on my lunch break at work, to a 5.5 mile run on my days off. In terms of my own physical fitness, I would easily put myself in the “more could be done” category so RED January was the start of a better, healthier year physically and mentally, so what a great way to kick it off.

After such a busy but also very festive December (I am a butcher, no more needs said does it?), I was really looking forward to getting started. I attacked the first few days of the challenge head-on clearing the cobwebs out of the muscles and joints I hadn’t used for a very long time. I knew I was going to ache as it was a shock to the system, so lots of stretching and foam rolling was needed to keep as fresh as possible.

As we headed towards the middle of the challenge, I had the great opportunity of getting back into the gym at Cross-Fit Orwell, run by Darren and Kirsty – a weeks worth of 30 minute lunchtime workouts were a fantastic way of getting the job done but also kept it interesting. It’s always a superb atmosphere and environment to train in there, so a thank you needs to go to them for giving me the chance to get involved.

The biggest thing I have achieved over this month is the 5.5 mile runs – the first run I completed I had to walk the two major uphill stages. However, on day 26 I was greatly surprised when I ran the whole 5.5 miles and even made it up the two hills. So even from this month alone, physically I have improved, but we have only just begun!

RED January is a challenge, but one performed within yourself where you can set your own targets.  The best bit about it is that all the hard work and effort you put in, is for you. It’s a great way to start a new year, allowing you time to focus on yourself and set goals for the rest of the year along the way. The goal I have set myself for 2020 is to be the best me I can be physically and mentally, and without RED January, I wouldn’t have even begun my journey.

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 31st January 2020

Chairman’s Charity Walk – one stage down, nine to go!

The Chairman of the Suffolk County Council, Councillor James Finch, who has chosen Suffolk Mind as his charity of the year for 2019/2020, began his mission of completing 10 fundraising walks, along the Stour Valley Path for Suffolk Mind at the weekend. He was joined by Jeannette Finch and Juliet Allerton. In his own words, this is how they got on… (more…)

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 26th June 2019

The Value of Space…and the Cost of Congestion

COMING SOON: Spring 2020

At Quay Place in Ipswich in Spring 2020, Suffolk Mind is organising a conference looking at how space can be a positive influence on mental health. Suffolk Mind’s Ezra Hewing looks at the value of space, and how it can be a barrier or an enabler to getting key emotional needs met.

If you’re interested in being part of the debate, perhaps contributing research or speaking at our conference, email ginny.idehen@suffolkmind.org.uk. (more…)

Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 26th June 2019

Suffolk Food Hall – Charity of the Year

The team at the Suffolk Food Hall have chosen Suffolk Mind as one of their chosen charities of the year for 2019 and are supporting us with many events and activities throughout the year. They update us on what they’re doing for Suffolk Mind.


Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 6th June 2019

Sleep: Have you found your sleep pattern?

Staying well – we know we need the right diet and regular exercise. And we know we need the right amount of sleep. But why are so many of us struggling with poor sleeping patterns? Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education at Suffolk Mind explains more.

Finding the right sleep pattern

Are you or is somebody you know stuck in a bad sleep pattern? As any parent knows, trying to get small children into the habit of going to bed and waking up at the right time can be hard work – especially when parents are need of sleep too! Establishing regular going to bed and getting up time takes effort. And that’s because sleep patterns are a learnt behaviour – for children and adults.


Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 16th May 2019

Achievement: small steps are the way to start

Written by Ezra Hewing, Head of Mental Health Education, Suffolk Mind

We all need to feel that we are achieving things and growing. These don’t have to be huge achievements either. Achievements can be small tasks, like cooking a meal for ourselves, which gives us the sense that we are in control of our lives and managing. Achievement is good for our self-esteem; especially if we are doing something we are good at and learning to get better.


Author: Kristina Brinkley

Posted on: 16th May 2019

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