Take a moment. Look into the mirror, look into your eyes. What do you see? Can you give yourself permission to let your beauty shine?
As part of the Baby Mindful programme, we blow bubbles. Not the saliva-filled bubbles babies like to blow, but bubbles from tubs! They are fun, pretty, make a glorious "pop" as they burst, and babies love to track them with their eyes and, as they get a little older, reach for them, and try to chase them.
But we were reflecting in our class today about another purpose they have; they help us to control our breathing. In order to produce the bubbles, we need to take a deep breath, focus, and breathe out, slowly, steadily.
Controlling your breathing, exhaling in a slow, steady way, sends a message to the brain to slow the heart rate. It activates the parasympathetic response, which helps us feel calmer, more relaxed, reducing the flow of cortisol (the stress hormone).
It's a simple yet effective way to slow and control our breathing; feel calmer, stiller. And if you wanted to take it a little further, you could imagine your worries, fears or frustrations being in the bubbles and floating away. You don't even need an actual pot of bubbles; just use your imagination. Think of dipping your bubble wand into your bubble liquid, take a deep breath and blow out. Slowly, steadily, completely.
For many of us, the weather is leaving us feeling a little on edge or unsettled today. Strong winds and driving rain are causing difficult driving conditions and creating hazards as bins are blown about and trees are losing branches. It can be worrying and most of us are taking extra precautions or warning others to be careful on the roads, etc.
But for some, the feeling of anxiety and dread, due to the change in weather, is more severe. For those suffering from Ancraophobia (fear of wind), today is an especially difficult one.
More than feeling a little worried or concerned by the effects of the weather, those suffering with the condition may experience panic-like symptoms: a feeling of dread or anxiety resulting in physiological effects such as increased or irregular heartbeat, shortness or rapidity of breath, nausea, shaking, dry mouth and an inability to articulate words or sentences.
But there are treatments available. Whilst some chose medication to alleviate their anxiety, this may only reduce the symptoms and not address the underlying issue. Therapies such as hypnotherapy or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy are considered effective for many sufferers.
In the meantime, there are things that you can do to feel calmer, or to help a sufferer you may be with. *Please bear in mind that these are relaxation techniques, rather than a direct management of the phobia itself.*
Acknowledge and accept. It is important to recognise that the feeling is anxiety and that it is okay to feel anxious: it is our brain and body’s way of keeping us safe. The problem is, we don’t want it to become overwhelming, or stop us from functioning.
Breathing By slowing and regulating our breathing, we in turn slow and regulate our heartbeat and reduce the physiological symptoms of stress. Place your hand on your tummy so that you can feel your breathing. Close your mouth and breathe through your nose. With every breath in, notice your tummy rise, and with every breath out, it should fall. Breathe in slowly 10 times.
Self-talk Tell yourself that it will be okay. That you are strong and can manage this. The wind will die down, and so will your anxiety. It may feel a little odd talking to yourself, but the self-talk will replace the worried thoughts in your mind.
Distraction Find yourself something to do. Go and be with a friend and have coffee; focus on a task you have been putting off (clear out the wardrobe!). Focus your thoughts and energy on something other than the wind and your fear. The more you focus on the anxiety, the greater it is likely to grow.
For most of us, the storm will blow over, and we will relax. For others, it is but a short reprieve until the wind begins to pick up again. If you are with someone who is finding it hard today, don't belittle or dismiss their worries; try and help them ride out the storm.
For more about how relaxation can help you, please do get in touch.
The following links provide more information about phobias, anxiety and seeking help:
It's a scary old world, at times, isn't it?
I have had a number of enquiries from parents over the last few weeks, with a common theme: how to reassure their children. How do we have confidence in the words: "it will be okay"?
Children, like adults, often feel scared when they don't feel in control: when they have a different teacher in class; when a parent has to go away for a few days; when they just can't understand why "blew" and "blue" sound the same but are written differently. So, imagine how they feel when they hear the news or hear grown-ups talking about war, about refugees, about people trying to snatch children on their way home from school, about leaders of countries who seem to have no regard for the people they are supposed to be serving and caring for. It's hard to comprehend it as an adult and, to be honest, I don't have the answers. How do we know it will be okay?
My thought is this: it will be okay, because we have each other. It's a simple one, and some may think me naive, but I truly believe it.
There have always been "bad guys". In history, in films, in books. The baddies are everywhere: even the pups in Paw Patrol have to deal with the tricks of Mayor Humdinger and the Numberjacks have the Meanies to keep in check (for those unfamiliar with these programmes, consider yourself lucky!). And whilst those villains sometimes seem overwhelmingly strong or invincible, whilst the difficulties we face sometimes seem insurmountable, it doesn't last. The good guys find their strength or their power; sometimes alone, sometimes by joining forces and becoming united. And the villains? Well, they usually get their come-uppance or see the error of their ways.
And the ordinary folk become extra-ordinary as a result of the fight. Harry Potter, a seemingly ordinary boy, would surely not have become so powerful, had he not had to face Voldemort. Would Matilda have discovered her power, if her parents and Miss Trunchbull hadn't been such rotters? Consider Katniss Everdean, the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings, Tracey Beaker, Lisbeth Salander, Jo March, Atticus Finch, Xander Harris. All ordinary folk, doing their best.
And it's not just in fiction. Malala Yousafzai, a young girl from Pakistan, rose up and spoke out against the injustice she experienced. When the Taliban took control of her region, stating girls could no longer attend school, listen to music or go to the market, she spoke out. She fought for her right for education. There were attempts to silence her; she was shot at pointblank range as she boarded her school bus. She continued to fight. She survived and a UN petition was launched in her name, demanding that all children worldwide be educated. Malala is the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize and a symbol in our world that one person can inspire and create change.
Ben Smith, a victim of bullying at school, decided to raise money for anti-bullying charities, by running 401 marathons in 401 consecutive days.
Ted McCaffrey, a 6 year old boy, waiting in hospital to undergo open heart surgery, wanted to watch a bit of television to help pass the time. But when he discovered the TV wasn't working, he thought about the next child who would be in that bed. He told his mum that as soon as he was out, he was going to raise money to buy a new TV to help distract other kids from their treatment. Ted raised £1,028 and was asked by Alder Hey to be a children's ambassador.
There are so many stories of real-life heroes that we can learn from: Oskar Schindler, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Jeff Parness, Emily Davison, Witold Pilecki, Bury's own "Super Josh" and his family. A dear friend of mine lost her mum recently to MND and is running to raise money for research, to fight this devastating illness.
If you look for them, you will see the heroes walking amongst us. The ones who make the news with their actions, and the "unsung" heroes. Those who campaign for human rights, those who devote their lives to caring for others. The mum who suffered from Post-Natal Depression, and set up a support group for other sufferers. The child in the playground who asks the child on their own to play. The person on the bus who gives up their seat for a pregnant lady or elderly gentleman. The nurse who, though she has a raft of paperwork to complete, takes a few extra minutes to talk to the lady, scared and afraid, in her hospital bed. The friend who knows you've had a bad day and sends a funny gif to make you laugh. The mum who says, "it will be okay" as she strokes her son's hair, desperate for him to sleep so she can get on with the jobs she needs to do, but knowing he needs to hear it, just one more time.
I don't believe we need to shout or rant, become aggressive or hateful to conquer the bad stuff. I think we need to continue to be the heroes, using the powers we have to lead the way, doing what we know to be right, treating others the way they want to be treated, and having faith in each other and ourselves. A little bit of kindness goes a long way and helps our children, and us, to believe that it will all be okay.
I discovered a new word last night. And the way in which it occurred was unexpected. Serendipitous, you might say.
My daughter was tearful at bedtime; her daddy is still away with work, she has returned to school this week after the Christmas holidays, and she is tired. She'd also been to Brownies, so was later than usual going to bed. She was a little weepy, and asked me to stay with her and stroke her hair. This is something I have done since the children were born, and I've always found it to be soothing; not only for them, but also for me. It helps me to feel more connected to them and the gentle, repetitive action helps me regulate my heart rate and breathing, which they respond to by slowing their breathing, too.
In our Relax Kids and Baby Mindful classes, we use touch or "feel" as one of our 7 steps to relaxation. We show how touch can be relaxing and reassuring. We explain how we can use our sense of touch to soothe and to help regulate our emotions, often through peer or self-massage. It was the first session of a new term for my Magical Adventures class yesterday and, with new children in the group, we revisited why and how we use peer massage. I thought about it a lot on the way home, too, reflecting on how it always makes me smile to see the children be so kind and caring towards each other in that moment, and how it is so sad that they are often warned against touch, being told to "keep their hands to themselves" rather than being shown how to use their hands more positively, or that teachers and carers are so often scared to touch children, for fear their intentions may be misconstrued or allegations may be made.
We have so many ways to communicate positively through touch: the gentle squeeze of a hand to say "It's ok, I'm with you"; the gentle nudge to say "make some room for me"; the steady hand on the back to guide through the crowd; the fierce hug when you've been away; the high five to celebrate success.
Touch is important. Important for our physical health and emotional wellbeing. Accepted physical touch releases oxytocin, a hormone which promotes bonding and trust. It also reduces the release of cortisol, the stress hormone, reducing blood pressure and lowering the heart rate. When we massage and relax our muscles, we can also boost our immune response. There are numerous benefits to people of all ages, from babies who receive "skin-to-skin" contact after birth, to people who suffer from Alzheimers, receiving massage or touch therapy.
And, if we apply mindfulness to the sense of touch, those benefits can be even more powerful.
So, back to last night . . . When I had settled my daughter, I came downstairs, made a cup of tea and sat down to flick through a magazine (a rare treat!). I turned to the back page (I am a little peculiar, in that I often read magazines and booklets from back to front), and there was a list of words that have no simple translation into English. And the one that jumped out at me was a Brazilian Portuguese word: "cafuné" - the act of tenderly running your fingers through someone's hair.
And I wanted to share it. This one, small word, that describes a gentle, affectionate gesture, that can bring so much pleasure. Don't take touch for granted. Cherish it.
I haven't set New Year's Resolutions this year. I thought about it, wondering what to choose; I went through the usual, eat healthier, exercise more, etc, but realised that, actually, what I need to do is not to dwell on the things that need improving or look for the negatives, but rather focus on the things that are working for me, and the things that I want to do more of.
So, I've cleared a little space in our kitchen and placed 4 containers upon it. One is a Memory Jar. The idea is that we will write down the positive things that have happened, the memories we make together, as well as our achievements and accomplishments. These might be getting good marks on a spelling test, getting Star of the Week, a promotion or a winning a contract, or it might be a challenge we have overcome; starting a new swimming class and coping well with the mix of nerves and excitement was my daughter's first contribution to the jar. And, some of these we will write as a family, but others can be put in secretly; a moment in which we felt particularly proud of, grateful to, or loved by a family member. On New Year's Eve, we will spend time together, opening the jar and reflecting on the contents, looking back at a year full of achievement and happiness.
Two of the jars are "Warm and Fuzzy" Jars. The children have one each, and the idea is to visually capture the moments that they have done something to make us feel "warm and fuzzy". So, every time they do something helpful or kind, they receive a "fuzzy" (a pompom). This helps us to take notice of their good behaviour, rather than picking up on the things we aren't happy with or want them to change. It also gives them a sense of pride in doing the right things, which encourages further positive behaviour. And, yes, they get a treat when the jar is full. Sometimes, this is a toy (blind bags are great for this!), sometimes it's choosing a day out or a new film or game. But, we noticed with our daughter, that the end reward seems to be less prominent in her mind; she genuinely seems to thrive off the praise she gets for her kind and thoughtful actions. And don't we all?! It's the first time our son will be joining in, so we'll see how it goes!
And the fourth jar? Well, it's my Rainy Day fund. I'm not saving for anything in particular (although with the zip on my favourite coat breaking today, a new coat may be in the running!) I will add to it throughout the year (and the children are on alert for Daddy leaving pennies around the house!) And then, it may get opened before Christmas, or I may leave it until the New Year. It may go towards a day out (I'd like to say holiday, but am not sure if that is being overly optimistic!) or a night out for me and Mr M. I'm not setting a goal, as who knows what this year will bring. It will just be a nice surprise to end the year on.
So, there you have it. No specific intention or goal. Just 4 little pots of potential.
There have been many losses this year, and today, we heard of the death of Carrie Fisher. As most of you who know me personally are aware, my family and I are huge Star Wars fans. The photo here was taken by my husband at Star Wars celebration in London in July. Our children adore the films, the stories and the characters. And Princess Leia, well, what better role model for my daughter could I ask for?!
We first meet Leia as a princess, being "rescued" ("This is some rescue!") but there is no doubt that she is a strong, independent character who can clearly hold her own. She is a politician and a General, as well as a princess. She is discreet and loyal. She is an effective leader and treated with respect by those who follow her. She keeps calm in the face of danger, remaining rational and logical, when others panic. She is funny and compassionate.
And yes, Princess Leia may be a fictional character, but Carrie Fisher did such an amazing job of bringing her to life, that I am grateful. Grateful that my children can see what a powerful yet compassionate female leader looks like. Asked who her favourite Disney princess is, my daughter now will undoubtedly say Leia.
And Carrie Fisher herself is an amazing role model to have in so many ways; she was open and honest about her mental health difficulties, writing novels and memoirs satirising and detailing the struggles she faced. She suffered with bi-polar disorder, and encouraged her fans to get help and support, when they wrote to her, sharing that they, too, had mental health problems. Earlier this year, Harvard College awarded her its Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism: "her forthright activism and outspokenness about addiction, mental illness, and agnosticism have advanced public discourse on these issues with creativity and empathy." She wrote that “living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls” and it's “something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
When interviewed for Rolling Stone magazine in December 2015, she was asked what she would tell her 19 year old self (when filming Star wars):
Just relax! That wouldn't be possible, so … something else. Oh, I know! What I always wanna tell young people now: Pay attention. This isn't gonna happen again. Rather than try to understand it as it's going along, have it go along for a while and then understand it.
She will be missed. May the force be with her.
November is a tricky time for me. The nights are drawing in, the days are shorter, and less daylight means that, like many people, I feel a little more tired, a bit less energised. I often think that we should have a period of hibernation!
But it's also a difficult time for me and my family, as it would have been my Grandad's birthday today. The anniversaries of three of my grandparents' passing take place between now and Christmas. November is often known as the month of the bereaved; we have All Hallows' Eve at the end of October, All Souls' Day at the start of November. It's also the season where the leaves start to fall and many plants are no longer colourful and vibrant.
But, there is still beauty to be found. The colour of the leaves is beautiful right now. A carpet of orange and red covers my garden. There are sensory delights to be found everywhere: the crunch of the dry leaves underfoot; the smoothness of a polished conker; the smell and taste of hot chocolate; the soft blankets or scarves to wrap up in. And, we have Guy Fawkes' night, setting the sky ablaze with colour. And though it's not a UK celebration, there is Thanksgiving, a time to reflect and be grateful for the blessings in our life.
Similarly, in the sadness of mourning, there is also a certain nostalgic comfort to be found. The memory of my Nanna's beautiful yet mischievous smile; my Grandad's quiet strength and love; my Gran's knitting needles gently tapping together and the stories she and my Grandad told in the most wonderful double-act.
"Time is a healer". It may be a cliche (all the best phrases are), but it does offer a sense of comfort. In time, the leaves will grow, the flowers bloom, the joyful memories seem brighter than the sadness of loss.
There is a certain beauty in being able to let go, as the trees let go of their leaves. Being able to let go of the sadness of grief, means being able to focus on the happy memories. Letting go of negative thoughts allows us to move on to more helpful, productive ways of thinking. Letting go of bad habits allows us to be more healthy, stronger, happier.
It's important to take a moment, every now and then, to watch the leaves change. To reflect on what we are holding on to, and what we can let go.
I'll be having a slice of cake today for my Grandad's birthday, letting go of the sadness, and thinking of the joy I had in knowing him.
Whilst my daughter isn't back to school until Tuesday, some of you might be experiencing those back to school niggles today, in anticipation of going back after half term. It may have only been a week's break, but even a week can be enough to cause some children to anxiety.
So I wanted to share something with you. One of the things I have done with my little girl, when she gets a bit anxious about going back to school and being away from me, is to think about the stars. Stars are a beautiful visual image to use, in so many different ways.
We can talk about how, just as the stars seem to disappear in the day, (they are always there, we just can't see them as clearly), I am still present and thinking of her, even though she can't see me. We also use the Relax Kids "star breathing" sheet, following the star with our finger and breathing in and out steadily as we do so, slowing our breathing and helping to regulate our emotions. I have given her a small glow-in-the-dark star, one of those you can stick to their ceilings, which she can keep in her pocket and use to trace the points and remember to breathe steadily when she feels a bit overwhelmed at school. And it works as an anchor, too. For those unfamiliar with the term, "anchoring" is an effective way to train your body to quickly relax by making an association in your brain between a state of relaxation and peace, and touching a specific spot on your hand or wrist. So, we've used the star as a source of comfort and calm for her.
And we talk a lot about being a "star". Relax Kids have a wonderful range of cards and CDs which really help children to recognise their qualities, and help them to choose how they are going to act that day, or prompt them to think of an affirmation: healthy star, kind star, courageous star, calm star . . . And sometimes, just reminding her that she is a loved, beautiful, caring star, can give her the boost of confidence she needs to walk tall through the classroom door, shining brightly.
For more information about our classes, products, or the Relax Kids programme, please do send me a message. You can find the Star Breathing sheet here: http://www.relaxkids.com/store/downloads/Relaxation)
I don't know how many times that phrase, or words to that effect, has come out of my mouth over the last 7 years. Having a small human or two around the house seems to have had a negative impact on my ability to drink a cup of tea whilst it's still at the desired temperature. Not so hot that it scalds your mouth and you can't taste anything else for the rest of the week, but not cold, so you end up spitting it back in the cup! A warming, soothing, refreshing brew, that I can wrap my hands around, breathe in and surrender to.
When I go to the hairdressers, which isn't as often as I'd like, and I get asked if I'd like a drink, my inevitable answer is 'ooh, yes, I'd love a hot brew, please!' You see, sitting there, with nothing else to focus on, I can drink it whilst it's still at that perfect temperature (although obviously in between the snipping and blow-drying - no one wants hairy tea!).
I met up with a fellow self-employed mum not so long ago (a networking meeting conveniently arranged at a local chocolate themed cafe . . . ) and I ordered a mug of tea, a 'hug in a mug' I called it, as I was cold and a little run down.
Tonight, I've been working, The small humans are sleeping, the tall male one is out with his friends, so I have some time to get back on top of the to-do list. I made myself a brew, sat down at the computer, got cracking. Time passed and I reached for the cup. It was cold. Not even a smidgeon of warmth emanating from it.
And I realised something. I had a brew-reka moment, if you will!
That "hug in a mug" is exactly that. It's a hug. It's a gesture to myself that I am looking out for me. I am taking the time to meet a need, to refresh a thirst, to give myself a moment of comfort. Much as a physical hug from a loved one is comforting, nurturing, warming, that cup of tea represents so much more than a drink. When I drink it hot, it's usually because I'm doing something FOR ME; I'm relaxing with a friend, having my haircut, reading a book, making time for me. And when I've let it go cold, I've not looked after myself. I've not taken the time to drink it whilst it's warm. I've neglected me. It's not a hug, it's more of a limp handshake.
So, next time you make a brew (and it doesn't have to be tea, you know, coffee, hot chocolate, a warm Ribena - any of these will do!), sit down and drink it. Wrap your hands round it, savour it, drink it mindfully. Be aware of you, in that moment, doing something for you. Taking 5 minutes out of the day to stop, rest, refuel. Give yourself a hug. That warmth, love, compassion and energy you give freely to others? Maybe it's time to give some back to yourself. If you want to find out more about my Just Relax classes for adults, please click here.
This is something I've been talking about a lot recently. Whether it's the fear of falling off a bike, starting school, being rejected if you ask someone to play, delivering a presentation, or starting a new business venture - fear can be crippling. It can feel as if it is taking over, rendering us helpless. And yet we know, in our rational mind, that if we can overcome that fear, there is something wonderful awaiting us on the other side.
Fear is important. It keeps us safe. We look when we cross the road; we don't accept lifts from strangers; we shield our PIN when we use a cash machine; we make our kids wear their bike helmets; we take out insurance. But when fear grows too big, too fast, it can be dangerous.
Fear causes us to react physically; we get headaches, sweat, shake and can feel rooted to the spot, or feel the need to run. Our "fight, flight, freeze" reaction kicks in. But knowing WHY we react that way can be truly empowering, and help us on the first steps to conquering our fears. Understanding that we CAN regain control, through using our breath, self-talk, visualisations, can be the most powerful feeling in the world. And that's one of the things we do in our classes; show people that they CAN be in control and can work through their fear. And it's beautiful to see them blossom, shrugging off their fear and embracing their courage.
I have just watched "The Good Dinosaur" with my two children and my daughter was able to relate how Arlo was feeling to how she sometimes feels, but that getting through that fear can leave you feeling amazing, powerful and in control (if you've not seen this film, I can definitely recommend it!) The fear of falling of a bike, could mean you never have the feeling of whizzing down a hill! The fear of failure may mean you never get that awesome feeling of success.
"There is freedom waiting for you, On the breezes of the sky, And you ask, "What if I fall?" Oh, but my darling, What if you fly?" - Erin Hanson