9th December 2020
PRESENCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PRESENTS
“Can you sit with me Mummy?” my 4-year-old daughter asked as she sat at the table eating her biscuit.
I was rushing around tidying up the plates from dinner, putting another wash on and trying to find my other child’s reading book.
“Of course I can sweetheart, just a minute”.
But then I stopped.
I say “just a minute” too often. She wanted and needed my attention now. So I left what I was doing, and sat down alongside her. She crunched away at her biscuit and, between mouthfuls, told me all about her day. I listened attentively and she relished it.
It made me realise that above everything else, children need our presence. And while I’m mentally keeping a record of what presents I’ve bought and what I still need to buy, my mind is distracted. When I put thoughts aside and let go of the constant pull of what I need to ‘do’, I can free up space to simply ‘be’ with my child.
Although some people may disagree, I truly believe that undivided attention really is the best gift you can give someone.
And even if a child is desperate for a specific toy or item at Christmas, it’s you being present and watching them open it that creates the real magic and enhances their joy.
And most poignantly, if someone important in your life has died, then what you want more than anything is to have their physical presence once again. To see them laugh, to hold their hand, to give them a hug.
So please remember this Christmas, presence is more important than presents.
With love, Jo x
1st November 2020
I stopped watching the news about two months ago.
This may seem a bit naïve or irresponsible given the evolving situation we find ourselves in, but I’m very aware of the power that the media can have on our minds.
I have updates on my phone for the major headlines, such as another national lockdown, but anymore than this is detrimental to my well being.
For the past decade, I have been learning about mindfulness and neuroscience and one of the most fascinating things I’ve learnt is the concept of neuroplasticity, or in other words, how we can shape our minds by what we think about.
In simple terms, if you feed your mind negativity, fear and anxiety then the part of your brain that is responsible for these negative emotions grows. If, on the other hand, you feed your mind kindness, compassion, optimism and other positive emotions, you build the parts of your brain that are more receptive to experiencing these emotions. You really do reap what you sow.
So I decided to turn off the news and the negativity it elicits, and watch more lighthearted television or read books that uplifted me. I tried to look for the good and act with kindness. I tried to connect, when the world was being forced to disconnect.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m frustrated and disappointed by the recent lockdown announcement. There are several people who I work with in their homes who will be impacted, and the relationships I have been developing will have to return to virtual ones again.
But for me, my biggest disappointment is for my 4-year-old Maya. She has just started swimming lessons for the first time in her life and after four lessons, she is absolutely loving it. She goes after school on Fridays and it acts as a celebration for getting through another week at school! She enjoys school but she finds full time hard and the separation from me challenging, so a swim and a treat from the vending machine, marks the start of the weekend and some family time.
Now, somehow I have to tell her that she won’t be going on Friday. She’ll adapt, we’ll adapt, we’ll find something else fun to do. But it’s okay to acknowledge its disappointing.
But then, park the disappointment and look up again. There’s always another rainbow.
Don’t be despondent. It’s a beautiful world out there. Look up, not down.
Connect, smile, hold on.
11th October 2020
I am a day late in marking World Mental Health Day, but I have done this deliberately to make the point that addressing mental health is not just something we do on one day a year, but something we need to invest in on a daily basis.
You service your boiler, you take your car for an MOT. But when did you last truly, honestly check in with yourself? And if you did, what did you discover? If you found fear, anxiety, frustration and disconnection then you’re not alone. In fact, I believe that we’re all experiencing some of these emotions on some level. And yet, we so often ignore these feelings, push them away, have to get on, move on, carry on. But this isn’t easy and takes its toll on our mental health.
You wouldn’t drive your car with a flat tyre or allow poisonous fumes to escape your boiler, yet we often plough on when we’re feeling flat and allow negative thoughts to pollute our minds. But we don’t have to. Help and support are there.
This week alone I have had three people of different ages ask for my help with anxiety. A high flying businesswoman, a teenage girl (via her mum) and a mum with three children. I have also worked with five other people who are struggling with anxiety, pressure and fear. It has felt good to be able to be there for them.
I have also experienced my own emotional rollercoaster this week, and concerns over my 4-year-old precipitated a wave of emotion that caught me off guard. I was aware that I may find it hard when my last born started school full time, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would trigger such intense feelings of being out of control, the difficulty of letting go and even past losses. It seems irrational now, but with everything else going on, a phone call from school was enough of a spark to reignite old feelings. Maya was born only three months before we experienced two family bereavements in close succession. Perhaps because of this, I have held her a little more tightly.
I share this because I’m aware that the pandemic and all the associated uncertainty and anxiety has also triggered past traumas for many others. For me, the intensity of my feelings reduced quite quickly as I was able to cry, let some of the emotion out and make space for more positive feelings to return. It is so important to do this and something that I’ve had to work on. My initial coping mechanism as a grieving teenager was to shut myself away and cry in private. I felt I had to hold everything in and smile in public. But this eats away at you and is unsustainable. In the past twenty years or so I’ve gradually realised the importance of expressing emotions and allowing people to see my vulnerable side. Like the saying goes you really do ‘have to feel it, to heal it’. And in feeling and daring to explore your emotions, you’re able to grow rather than self destruct.
Psychologist and mindfulness teacher Tara Brach talks about how unprocessed fear leads to violence. In extreme cases fear fuels wars, but it also explains the growing numbers of young people self-harming. So wherever you go, encourage people to talk about and express their emotions. If they don’t it will manifest as something like road rage or venting at some innocent person who gets in their way.
We are all juggling so many balls, fulfilling multiple roles, adapting to ever changing circumstances. The world we used to inhabit, which involved hugging our friends, popping into school to chat to a teacher, going to work in a normal way, has all been put on hold. Yet we have to keep up with an ever expanding list of virtual dialogue, meetings, log ins and deadlines. The screens that we were told were detrimental to our mental health are now a necessity of daily life.
You will drop a ball, and that’s okay. You will lose your way, and that’s okay. But take care of your mental health in the same way you take care of your physical health. Treat yourself with the kindness you treat your closest friends. And allow other people to help you when you feel overwhelmed.
Although the pandemic is forcing us to separate, we are wired as human beings to connect, care and cooperate. People want to help. I, for one, am here. And I am grateful to all the wonderful people who have been here for me, Jo x
23rd September 2020
My girls have never been great sleepers, so this week when my 7-year-old has been taking until 10pm to drop off and my 4-year-old has been waking in the night screaming “I don’t like it”, “I need mummy” and “ouchy”, I thought it was simply another chapter in our family’s sleep saga!
However, last week a 9-year-old girl I work with revealed that she finds it hard to go to sleep and last night a young woman in her twenties that I support also shared her recent difficulties with waking in the night and taking hours to go back to sleep.
What these four people all have in common is that they have recently returned to school or work after a long absence. As have many others. I am sure they are not alone in the challenges they face.
As a parent you just want to make things better for your child, but sleep is a unique thing that isn’t achieved through trying hard. It’s counter productive in that the more you will yourself to sleep, the more elusive it becomes.
It doesn’t matter if your parents practice mindfulness, or you orchestrate a wonderfully calming bedtime routine. If your mind is whirring and anxieties arise, it is so hard to drop off.
A lot of children don’t express their worries and so they often bubble under the surface and play out in their subconscious. I wonder if my youngest is screaming that she doesn’t like everyone wearing masks at school (I must admit I’m finding it hard being unable to smile at friends and having to kiss my daughters quickly under the mask at drop off). She doesn’t necessarily have the language to articulate what she’s feeling, but there is no doubt that the feelings and emotions are there. Only a few weeks ago, she was saying “will you die?” And “will you be alive when I’m 7?” It was heartbreaking to hear, and has most likely been triggered by the pandemic.
While adults sometimes resort to sleeping tablets and desperate parents reach out to sleep consultants, I believe that possibly the only remedy right now is acceptance.
We are living through such unprecedented times and sleep disturbances are inevitable in some shape or form. I was wary of sharing details of my own children’s sleep as it’s a somewhat private matter, but if it helps others feel less alone with their own struggles then it is worth it. As they say, a problem shared, is a problem halved. Now can everyone just keep their fingers crossed that my girls sleep tonight!
The mindfulness bit…
When people are in pain they often experience the first level of pain in the sensations themselves and then add another layer of suffering by the way they react to the pain: “Why me?” “Not again..” “I’m an idiot for trying to do 50 squats!”
It’s the same with sleep. The first level is that you are struggling to get to sleep. Then the second layer of suffering is your reaction to this: “It’s getting late, I’ll be so tired in the morning”, “what is wrong with me, why can’t I just sleep!” See if you can drop into your body, perhaps by focusing on a point furthest away from your head like your toes and exploring sensations here. Then pay attention to your breathing and simply count your breaths. Both the body and breath can be used as anchors to enable you to press the pause button on your thoughts or at least turn down the volume on your inner chatter/critical voice.