Mindfulness, Uncategorized

Back to school – What have we gained? What have we lost?

Standing at the school gate (behind the freshly painted yellow line) I watched yesterday as my children skipped off towards their classrooms without looking back.

Seeing their school bags bob out of sight, ushered by smiling teachers, marked the end of 6 months of lockdown. Parents were shuffled out through the new one-way system, blinking in bewilderment as we stepped out onto the pavement. Everything was so strange and yet so familiar; we seemed to slip back into the routine so easily that in some surreal sense it felt as though lockdown hadn’t happened.

Standing in the drizzle, I was, for the first time in half a year, free. Free from what had begun to feel like an inescapable, chaotic dance of multitasking, entertaining, cooking, tidying and refereeing, Now I had the chance to look back down the mountain we had climbed.

Our little nuclear family experienced no tragic personal losses from COVID-19, beyond those we witnessed in the news, which we followed helplessly, until the numbers and the politics became too confusing. Our three boys are young. They hadn’t missed out on any milestones or rights of passage. In many ways they adapted into lockdown with as much ease as they adapted back out of it. Just like that.

Lockdown had its upsides. Our children bonded and their bonds grew stronger. They played together for hours. In the absence of schoolwork they had to do, they began to lead their own learning; crafting, drawing, painting, reading, writing stories. They explored every inch of the garden. They spent more time than ever before with their dad, who was working from home. They built genuine friendships with their grandparents. As parents we realised the strength of our support network.

But there were losses of a different kind and with these came consequences for the whole family. We lost routine and a stabilising structure to our day. We began enthusiastically enough, the children and us, following a timetable, keeping up with a ‘school day’ of sorts, juggling working from home with homeschooling reasonably well. The grandparents joined in with zoom lessons and virtual story time. But as the weeks went on, the novelty wore off. Enthusiasm waned. Bedtimes got later, school days got shorter. Keeping homeschooling varied and interesting for three different ages was a challenge. Fighting was relentless and inevitable. The children learnt about Netflix and how to use the remote control. Their methods of mischief became extraordinarily creative.

As parents we lost time. Time to invest in our own projects so that we could feel personally fulfilled and able to give more of ourselves. Time to invest in our own self care so that we could do a better job of caring for others. Time to focus on one thing at a time, whether it was work, a phone call, or admin task so that we could give others our full, unwavering attention.

As parents we also lost space. Amidst the unbroken noise of three boys, we lost space to think. Space to get out and go. Space to calm down. Space to have an uninterrupted conversation. We literally lost space to sit, as the couch became a fortress.

We tried to solve these losses ourselves, but ended up simply moving the loss from one place to another, like a sliding puzzle.

We took on new projects to mark our personal space. In turn we lost time to invest in caring for each other and for ourselves, and we lost patience with our children as we piled yet more on to our multi-tasking list.

We stayed up late to gain back some child-free time with each other and time for ourselves. In turn we lost sleep, and we lost both time and space the following day as we limped groggily through the day with tired brains.

And now, looking back down the lockdown mountain we have climbed with its steep slopes and craggy crevices, we have time and space to process the last 6 months.

I have time and space to ask myself – How much did our lost space and time as parents impact our family through lockdown? Could I have done things differently? What could I have done better? Will my family be ok? These questions are likely to lead me to negatively introspect about the past and negatively forecast the future, creating worry and anxiety.

We have waited a long time for this time and space. Too long to fill it with self criticism and doubt. So I’m going to fill it with gratitude. Gratitude is an immensely powerful tool we can use to situate ourselves firmly in the present. Consciously considering what we are grateful for connects us with the people around us, and with the present moment itself. So,,.

I am grateful for family.

I am grateful for friends.

I am grateful for home.

I am grateful for passion.

I am grateful for hope.

What are you grateful for?

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

Owning our lockdown lows

For many of us, lockdown has brought bubbling to the surface emotions that we have pushed to the depths of our minds for as long as we can remember and kept there with busy routines, interactions, and to-do-lists. Endless stimulation has provided our moments of melancholy with a fast track down to this subconscious space.

Some of us do this so well that when these emotions rise up, they do so with the power of like a geyser firing hot steam hundreds of feet into the air. Our turmoil is compounded by utter shock that such strength of emotion exists inside us. 

So what happens if we see this uprising of all those long-supressed and smothered emotions as an opportunity to accept them, to acknowledge them, to allow them airtime?

Brené Brown encapsulates beautifully the importance of acknowledging how we are feeling in her book Rising Strong:

“The opposite of recognising that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away. Instead they own us, they define us.”

Pushing difficult thoughts and feelings to the depths of our mind is exhausting as we use all our strength to keep them there. We take our energy and attention away from the rest of our lives and plough it into pushing down those feelings. The very act of holding back these emotions becomes our purpose.

As Brené Brown writes “Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending – to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think “Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.””

Perhaps there are stories we need to take ownership of, emotions we need to acknowledge and accept, to relieve our weary minds from the energy it takes to push them down below our consciousness. Perhaps by stopping the world in its tracks, lockdown has allowed us the quiet, the time and the space to recognize what we are feeling. A little nudge to write our own endings.

Brown, B. (2015). Rising strong (First edition.). New York: Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House.

Mindfulness

Lockdown parenting: finding the positive

With schools out for lockdown, and parents working from home, the four walls of the family home loom higher; some days casting an enormous black shadow over the occupants. Sharing space without reprieve is tough. Relentless multitasking is exhausting for our minds and for our morale. 

But what if we shifted our focus to what we have, rather than what we don’t? In place of time to think, we have extra time to spend with our children, whose younger years will slip through our fingers like grains of sand. 

In place of by-the-book parenting, we have a collection of imperfect parenting moments, that, as Brene Brown points out in Daring Greatly, become gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.

In place of freedom to connect with friends, we have freedom to connect with our home, the space we come back to every night, the partners with whom we used to bookend each day with the scraps of ourselves we had left, the children we struggled to get more than two words out of when we asked about their day.

In place of a deceptive certainty of what the future holds, we have the glorious present moment, and as Sam Harris acknowledges in his aptly named book Waking up, that’s really all we have.

In place of plans and diaries bulging with progress, we have opportunities to take stock, to change direction, to connect with another path. 

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, we spend time guiding our clients to reconnect with the strengths in their lives. To shift focus to the positive. Moving forward, this change in mindset can be both liberating and life changing. As Elliott Connie, Global Leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy Elliott Connie says; “There is magic in being led by what you want, rather than what you don’t want.”

So embrace the moment; embrace the magic. And recognise that to do this is, in itself, an achievement. A demonstration of your powerful mind. 

References 

Connie, E. (2016). Small Things Can Lead to Big Things. Moments with Elliott Connie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd3QIelHxhk

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Mindfulness

Connect to your inner self

As varying versions of the COVID-19 lockdown continue across the world, fear remains around how we can safely reconnect with those we love. Many are isolating alone, and for lots of us, isolation is far from over. In such times, the solution focused approach of connecting to our inner strength can be a balm, helping us to build our resilience, so that loneliness doesn’t become overwhelming. You can take the words below as a moment for you to stop, switch off the news, focus on the present, and feel a sense of connection.

Take long deep breath, and release. You’ve got this.

Stay safe.

Connection

From the moment we are born,
We have a primitive need to be held. Soothed.
To feel the warmth of touch.
To feel connected to something bigger than ourselves.
So, in a time when connection is tainted with fear,
And touch, with frightening consequences,
We can feel lost.
Helpless to meet our deep desire to connect.

But something magical happens,
When we start to connect with our inner self.
To nurse our fear with our own inner strength.

So take a moment to close your eyes,
And feel your breath.
See light in the centre of your chest,
Beating with your heartbeat.
Let that light fill your chest cavity.
Let it drop down your torso,
Down through the water table, the rock and magma.
Connecting you right down to the centre of the earth.

Allow yourself to bathe in the warmth,
Of that grounding cord of light.
Feel its strength,
Beaming out to every living thing.
You are a part of that beautiful firework.
Connected to everything.

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.