Solution Focused Therapy, Uncategorized

Back to school (or not): Dear parents of teens,

The road back to a normal school life stretches into the distance. 

The masks are out. The sanitiser is stocked. The yellow tape is down. The tables are spaced. A swarm of confusing new rules just got swallowed into the school day.

Our teenagers and young people have spent lockdown, locked down. And the locks on our future generations remain.

Locked out of schools they may never return to. Locked out of milestones they never got to celebrate. Locked into grades they had little control over. Locked out of gap years that have been cancelled. Locked out of careers that have been halted.

Make way for frustration. Acknowledge fears. Accept worries. Expect tears. It is a frustrating, scary, worrying time.

And yet.

Make way for creativity. Acknowledge strength. Accept individuality. Expect hope.

Mindfulness

The battle against lockdown burn-out

Prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, leaving work at work was a simple process for many of us. Arriving at and leaving the office represented (most of the time) a definite start and end to our working day. Train journeys, bus rides, walks, and bike rides to work gave us a chance to plan and rehearse the day ahead. The journey home from the office allowed us an opportunity to process our day, dial down from work stresses and re-enter a mental space where we were able to relax and give time to the rest of our lives and our selves. With the advent of smartphones, even this routine has lost its power to protect our home life from the intrusion of work, but the structure was there nonetheless, and many of us clung to it like a lifeline, our legs dangling above the abyss of burnout.

Lockdown took from many of us this work life balance safety net. It blurred even more the lines between work and home. Groggily we stumble out of bed, sleep walk over to our computers and fire them up peering at emails through blurry, bloodshot eyes before we have said our first word. We dive headfirst into our workday before we have had a positive interaction with anyone in our lives, before we have done anything positive for ourselves, often before we have thought about anything else at all.

Work starts our day, and often ends it, as we squeeze in one more email late at night because it’ll only take a minute and the computer is right there and then we won’t have to do it tomorrow and we might as well as wish we had and so on and so on.

Our intellectual brains are incredibly adept at offering up rationale for decisions driven by our emotional brains, which is where, thanks to months of a less than fantastic work life balance, many of us have found ourselves. Buried deep in our emotional primitive minds, swimming in stress.

This continual state of high stress impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. We respond to comments from friends and colleagues with paranoia and self doubt. WhatsApp messages from friends build up like an overwhelming mountain of admin. We fire back work emails too quickly. We are rushed and defensive. We are distracted in our interactions with family members. We can’t remember what we had for lunch and whether we had any at all. Making dinner looms like a mammothian challenge and we end up reaching for the cornflakes. Our sleep starts to feel unsatisfying and inadequate. Our skin breaks out and we experience aches and pains we have never experienced before. Everything feels slightly out of control.

In the absence of a ready made structure that can support some form of work-life balance, how can we protect our lives beyond work? Different strategies will work for different personalities, but a good place to start is by asking ourselves what will I do to care for myself today? Perhaps this question alone might open the door to how we might better care for ourselves tomorrow.

Mindfulness

Running for my lockdown life

In the UK, during the COVID-19 lockdown, 1 hour of exercise per person is the daily allowance, stipulated by the government and enforced by the police, with increasingly hefty fines per offence. The focus of many a critic has been on how little time we have to escape our four walls every 24 hours, and go out into the ghostly world beyond.

And yet, spoilt as I am with a yard and two frequently empty communal gardens, I hadn’t quite realised the importance of this restriction. Until today. When I saw it as a prescription (with the help of my husband who described it as such and all but pushed me out of the house).

Just as your GP will prescribe antibiotics to help you shake that lingering chest infection or paracetamol to ease a tiresome headache, the government has prescribed us an hour of daily exercise to fight that creeping darkness that threatens to swallow us while and spit out a mumbling, distracted, irritable gremlin in our place, who puts their phone in the fridge, shouts at everyone about pretty much everything and weeps over broken biscuits and lost socks.

I thought I was going outside enough. I went out in the garden to play with the kids, put the recycling out, brought parcels inside. OK, perhaps part of me was aware that I needed to break out and go further afield for an hour, pound the pavements and be alone, but I kept finding reasons not to. A thesis to write, a child to soothe, a dinner to make, a wash to put on. The list was endless and grew longer and more confused as my mind became jumbled, squeezed and suffocated by the four walls of our home.

Until today, when my husband braved the gigantic atmosphere I had taken to carrying around the house with me for the last few days, like a rock-filled rucksack that I couldn’t remember how to take off. ‘I prescribe a walk out around the river’ he said, and realisation dawned. That was exactly what I needed. I had spent the morning incredibly frustrated by the feeling that I couldn’t find something but couldn’t figure out what that something was, and that was it. I needed to get out. I felt like crying with relief, that someone had realised.

The walk was beautiful. I looked at clouds and the boats and smiled at others who were out exercising. I even ran a bit and felt the wind and my lungs burn. And I banked a whole heap of what we call in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy the three P’s: positive actions, positive interactions and positive thoughts. These three elements work together to produce patterns in the brain that give us a steady flow of happy hormones such as serotonin, which we need to feel good in both mind and body.

So listen to the government guidance through the lens of what it is telling you to do, rather than what it is telling you not to do. It’s telling you, if you can, for one hour a day, to get out. Go. Experience. Drink in the confidence that comes with being proactive, drink in the hope that comes from positive interactions with the nods from passing strangers, drink in the positivity that fills your mind when you treat your body to sunlight, movement and connection.