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?

Mindfulness

Pausing thought

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we talk about how frequently we experience some form of trance in our everyday lives. Some of this daydream-like thinking can be positive. We can lose ourselves in memories of entertaining times we have spent with our friends. We become absorbed by the imagined reality of a holiday we’re looking forward to.

But unless we practice otherwise, most of us spend most of the time in negative trance. In negative trance we are criticising ourselves for something we did or didn’t do or say; or we are criticising someone else for something they did or didn’t do or say. In negative trance we are plotting, scheming, just-in-case-ing, imagining the worst and mapping out possible ways around it.

This negative inner dialogue comes with a heaped side order of anxiety, frustration, guilt, anger, and a bunch of other unpleasant emotions that spike our body’s natural stress response. When this happens our brain pumps our bodies full of stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol, which in turn serve to maximise both our mental and our physical discomfort. The gates to our intellectual brains slam shut and we get locked inside our emotional primitive minds where every negative thought becomes absolutely, irrationally, unbearably, horrendous.

In his book Waking Up, neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris refers to this rumination, both positive and negative, as “the trance of discursive thinking“, to which the antidote is meditation.

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we combine solution focused therapy and hypnotic trance to reassure and guide our conscious minds towards a place of peace, where, just for a little while, they let go of their grip, and the inner dialogue quietens, the never-ending thought train draws to a temporary halt.

It is in this meditative state of trance that we can enjoy, as Harris describes “a mind undisturbed by worry, merely open like the sky.”

And with our minds open, as Psychiatrist and Clinical Hypnotherapist Milton Erickson pointed out, we become much more receptive to ideas and understanding. We are more able to accept positive suggestions without our conscious minds jumping in to disagree.

When we press pause on the overwhelming blare of constant thought, especially the criticism, judgements, assumptions, and fears, we allow our minds space to breathe. To relax. To reduce our stress levels enough to unlock the door back into our intellectual minds where we can find perspective, reason, rationale and balance.

Mindfulness

Back to nature

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy we talk about the creation of anxiety through negative thinking. Negative thoughts about the future, about what might happen. Negative thoughts about the past. About what did, or didn’t happen, and why.

This forward-thinking, backward-thinking machine can be incredibly difficult to switch off. Our subconscious minds get stuck in fight, flight or freeze mode, and our conscious minds, if they get a look-in, rationalise (incorrectly) that what we’re doing is productive thinking.

This constant back and forth can feel like being on a never-ending Pirate Ship ride, and the physical symptoms can be remarkably similar. Nausea, headache, dizziness, confusion…

So if you’re struggling to switch off, and if you can, get out. Immerse yourself in nature. Breathe. And ask yourself,

What can I hear?

What can I see?

What can I smell?

What can I touch?