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
Adjusting to change and life after lockdown
Our Head of Mental Health Education, Ezra Hewing issues some advice to help those worried about returning to work.
If some of us are feeling a bit anxious about adjusting to life after lockdown, this is completely natural. Anxiety is nature telling us that we need new ways to meet emotional needs when situations are about to change.
Our emotional needs include the need to feel safe and in control of our lives; to share attention with people who make us feel valued and respected; to feel connected to others and the wider community; to have private time and space to reflect; and to feel that we achieving and that our lives have meaning & purpose.
The good news is that our brains are especially good at learning new patterns to adapt quickly. And, even better news is that we already know a lot of what we will need – we just need to gently reconnect and remember old patterns.
It may also be that lockdown has allowed us to give better attention to the people we live with, and to learn from hobbies and interests. And we want to keep the positive learning from lockdown.
Here are 4 things we can do to help meet emotional needs:
Take note of what you learnt during lockdown
- What did you really miss? Which people and activities do you value more as a result?
- What has given you a sense of meaning & purpose? This may have come as a surprise…
- What are the benefits from lockdown that you want to keep?
Keep the positive new patterns
To keep the benefits of lockdown, plan time which allows you to:
- Share emotional connection with the people you have become closer to
- Share meaning & purpose by playing and learning with your children
- Take control of screen time by only using screens when they’re really needed. Limiting screen time saves your attention for learning and loved ones
Who did you really miss?
- Put some time aside to think about how you will reconnect with people you have missed
- Are their people at the gym or in activity groups you have missed? Note down your favourite memories of being around other people who share the same interests and activities
- Think about how you will reconnect. This could be by phone, email or messaging, but some people have taken to writing letters and postcards to give things a personal touch
Reconnect, one step at a time
If the thought of returning to work, dropping your children off at school or being around groups of people feels daunting, here are some strategies to gently reconnect with these patterns:
- Choose one familiar thing you can do first. This may be a familiar journey you haven’t taken for a while, perhaps a walk in a park, the journey to your place of work or to the shops. If there are a few things you need to reconnect with, do them one at a time
- Try and recall how it felt the first time you left your children at nursery or school. And then remember how quickly those difficult feelings passed as you got used to the routine
- Take time to notice how you feel as you adjust to old routines. It may feel just like picking up a conversation easily with an old friend you haven’t seen for awhile
- It’s often easier to do things with other people. So arrange to take a walk or a journey with a friend and then a small group of people, while keeping safe distances
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Jon Neal takes on the 2.6 challenge for Suffolk Mind
Suffolk Mind CEO, Jon Neal explains the benefits of movement on your mental health as he takes part in the 2.6 challenge.
During Mental Health Week I’ll be finishing the TwoPointSixChallenge – a national campaign launched by a number of charities and fundraisers in response to marathons being cancelled. The idea is you do something related to 26 or 2.6 or multiples of those. It could be anything. I decided to run 2.6k every day for 26 days…and given I do very little exercise at the best of times, it was certainly going to be a challenge.
As I approach the end, I’m definitely fitter than I was when I started, but my mental health is also better.
When we exercise our bodies release endorphins to reward us. It’s the ‘feel good’ hormone, and it’s partly why we feel good after exercise – even if the exercise itself is tough. We also meet our emotional need for achievement – being stretched and challenged, and feeling competent at something.
One of the unexpected benefits of running at 6.30am over the last few weeks has actually been the social interaction I’ve experienced. People who I only see on Zoom or Teams calls at the moment and who I had no idea lived close to me are out walking their dogs or also running at that time. And it’s helped me feel connected to something familiar in the outside world again.
My legs are begging me to stop when I reach 26 days, but perhaps I’ll continue for a bit longer. Maybe just not every day. But as an unfit person before lockdown, I would encourage anyone considering doing a bit of exercise perhaps for the first time, to just get out there and run a few metres each day. Even if it is literally up and down your street once. Maybe the second week you could do it twice…and then, who knows…2.6k or 26k!
Author: Kristina Brinkley
How are you dealing with the attention vampires at work?
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Sue Gray explains how to manage your attention at work.
I’ve just sat for a minute or so and watched my cat wash her paw – each pad given individual attention – then something caught her attention, she stopped mid-lick and walked off paw half clean.
Attention is an essential resource – to get jobs done, to give to people, to understand things, to connect. We give it and we receive it – switching it on and off – sometimes consciously, often unconsciously.
Do you feel more tired and less focused at the moment? Many people are saying they are a lot more tired and feel less able to focus, and that they’re being less productive at work and are not sure why.
What’s all that about? It’s not like a load of people have suddenly become lazy and ineffective for no good reason.
Attention is an innate essential need we all need to get enough of in a healthy and balanced way. And it’s a finite resource: it runs out and needs to be replenished by rest, privacy and sleep. Have you noticed that if you’ve given focus and attention to tasks and people all day at work (face to face or online) when you come home you just don’t have enough to give to your partner or children? How does that feel?
Working online takes additional attention and focus, as our brains work harder to fill in the gaps in communication and rapport building. Online we have less information than if we are in a room with someone. Then there’s ‘split’ attention, e.g. working on completing a report while being regularly interrupted by a child asking for help with a school project (the one you set them so as to get some peace to focus on getting this report done for your boss). Meanwhile some of your attention is also on the fact that you are living through a pandemic.
Working online is taking more of your attention than you might realize, and that can leave you feeling the lack of it.
So try this – Five a Day for boosting Attention at work:
- Stop and check how you are – every hour for 3 breaths (set a time?). Relax your face and shoulders and breathe 3 times into your belly, looking away from any screen. Takes 30 seconds.
- Focus on one thing at a time – multi-tasking takes up more of your attention juices.
- Look out for attention vampires – e.g. your phone (attention is what the advertisers are buying). Find ways to relax and connect other than social media, maybe meet a friend for a socially-distanced walk around the block for 10 minutes.
- Take work and rest sandwiches – try the Pomodoro method, setting a timer for 25 mins then get up and do something different for 5 minutes.
- Privacy / Reflection time / Sleep – we are all different, but ensure you find a way to get enough for you.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Are you suffering an attention shortfall at the moment?
Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Penny Tyndale-Hardy writes about protecting your attention capacity and making sure we have enough to go round at home.
Anyone else feeling more tired and irritable than usual? My emotions seem more volatile and I’m definitely less patient. I get frustrated that simple things take so much more time. And while I crave privacy, I’m lacking the energy or motivation to do anything useful or fulfilling in my downtime. Sound familiar? If so, it’s likely you’re suffering an attention shortfall.
Our capacity to give attention is not an inexhaustible resource. Don’t underestimate how much more you need to give everyday life right now. New situations demand more attention, and right now even familiar tasks have become unfamiliar.
For example, I’m normally pretty good at socialising, from workplace chat to family gatherings or a cuppa with friends. But right now my phone or computer is the only way to manage this, from meetings, to catching up with people, joining quizzes, watching live gigs…
This demands attention in a very different way from face-to-face contact. Not only is the screen more visually stimulating (and therefore tiring), but there are additional demands, such as learning the tech, coping with pixelated pictures and intermittent sound, seeing six (or more) people with six different backgrounds, the etiquette of who talks when – all while tuning out the barking dog or the arrival of the postman. It’s exhausting!
This is just one of the ways in which the familiar has become unfamiliar.
We’re all learning new hygiene skills – not just washing our hands more often and more thoroughly but wiping down surfaces, maintaining social distance, cleaning the shopping before putting it away. I’ve not yet worn a mask, but that’s another new protocol that will take effort and attention to become habitual.
Here are some tips to protect our attention capacity and make sure we have enough to go round:
- Just recognising the increased demand on your attention can help you feel better. It’s not simply cabin fever – the Covid situation really does alter how much we need to use this essential resource.
- Keep clear boundaries. Doing everything from home makes things muddled. Set clear time and space boundaries for different tasks where possible so your attention isn’t pulled about by competing things. A good routine will help.
- Take time in the day to reflect – how are you feeling today? What’s working well? What needs are being met? Have a look at the different ways you can meet your emotional needs by accessing the resources on our website.
- Learn and practice relaxation techniques (see our video on Mindful Breathing). By directing your attention to techniques that physically calm both body and mind you’ll have more control over how you direct your attention – which makes it go further.
- Prioritise your sleep – good sleep helps you recharge and regenerate your attention capacity.
- Move away from screens to rest your screen-stimulated brain – gardening, drawing, reading, exercise, puzzles, board games, meditation, knitting… whatever works for you.
- Expect things to take longer. We’re in a new world and simple things take more time. Accepting and allowing for this will make it less frustrating.
- Don’t forget that everyone else is also managing this increased demand for attention. Talk with others about how it’s working and agree ways to help each other.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
Keep your clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how we can help keep our clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times.
During these unnerving times of self-isolation and concern about our own and our loved ones’ safety, we are no doubt all finding it is harder to meet our emotional needs. But we are all equipped with the innate resources to help us get our needs well met even in times of adversity. And one of these resources is a rational mind, a higher thinking brain that can help us to plan, analyse and check out our feelings. But in this time, when emotions are likely to be running high, it can be a real challenge to stay thinking clearly. When we are emotionally overwhelmed, our ability to think rationally suffers. Our higher thinking brain get’s ‘hi-jacked’ by our emotional brain and reduces our thinking to ‘black and white’ where there are no shades of grey, In other words, our thinking becomes narrowed, focused inwards and pessimistic instead of being broad, open and exploratory.
This ‘black and white’ thinking that is caused by emotional ‘hi-jacking’ expresses itself in 3 ways: through pervasive thinking, that’s the one that goes ‘everything is wrong’; through permanent thinking i.e. ‘nothing is ever going to change’; and through personalised thinking such as ‘I am useless.’
When looking at these statements you can see how disempowering and essentially unhelpful they are. We need to do what we can to lower strong emotions so that we can access our rational thinking resource and see, for example, that maybe some things are ok, that change will come and that, even if I think I’m useless, that doesn’t make it true because thoughts are not facts – especially thoughts that have been narrowed by high emotions.
So how can we help keep our clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times? The key is to lower our emotional arousal by taking measures to calm ourselves down. Once we are calm our thinking will become clearer and we can utilise the full power of our rational thinking resource to get our needs met.
Top tips to try:
- Use your rational mind to plan ahead which will help give you a sense of security and feel more in control.
- Shift your thinking from the frustration of the things we are not able to do during this time of social distancing to looking forward to the future. You could have a go at creating a ‘post lock-down’ jar and filling it with rainbow coloured notes of all the people and things you want to see and do after lock down. Then once this whole situation is over, you can pick out the notes one at a time and do them. It will help give you something to look forward to.
- Challenge worrying thoughts by telling yourself you are doing the best you can in the situation you are in.
- Find ways to lower stress, as this will not only help you think more clearly but will help keep your immune system at its best so it is more efficient at fighting off infection.
- Finally, if you find yourself in the grip of ‘black and white’ thinking – relax, calm down and remind yourself that you have the innate resources to help you meet your needs.
Author: Kristina Brinkley
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