How to use your emotional toolbox to support your mental health needs

We are living in one of the most unprecedented times in living history and it is important to recognise how exceptionally resilient we have been during the last 8 weeks in lockdown.  Take a moment to reflect upon that statement. Yes as humans we are naturally creative and incredibly adaptable beings. 

Without a doubt, there will have been times of fear, of anxiety and of hopelessness and despair, but amongst the tidal waves of raw and very big emotions, there will also have been moments of success, of hope, of love and laughter and togetherness.  

You will already have been using tools from within your emotional toolbox in order to navigate these uncertain days, but I hope that I will be able to awaken your sense of skill, as well as suggest some new and creative ideas to support you and your families

What happens to our bodies when we’re stressed?

In times of crisis, uncertainty and stress, our brains and bodies become dysregulated leading us to be in a fight or flight mode.  We are waiting for the “bear,” and these days illness, to come around the corner and our concentration and ability to focus, as well as our productive and creative brain, will be significantly impeded. 

Previous traumas, losses or anxieties may be reawakened in us and our behaviours and responses to our children and our own needs change or old unwanted behaviours become ever-present. If this happens, allow yourself the time to notice, to stop, to listen to yourself and your responses and reflect upon how best to help yourself and your children.

Remember that emotional responses will feel even bigger right now. That’s ok and to be expected but it is so important to remember that this too shall pass. I often like to think about how emotions change for adults and children alike during the course of a day just as the waves change as they reach the shore. 

We are under incredible strain as parents and employees trying to navigate working from home in a crisis while “home-schooling,” we need to dig deep.  Learning to manage these uncomfortable emotions is a lifetime’s work but being conscious of them will help you to feel less overwhelmed and stressed. 

In times such as these, we need to be mindful of our mental health needs in order to meet the needs of our children. It’s a case of putting our own ‘oxygen mask’ on first. Unless we do this, we’re going to feel very dysregulated much of the time. You need to nourish your own basic needs (such as food, water and sleep) where you can get it, in order to successfully meet, contain and validate the needs of your children. 

Check-in on yourself

Notice how your body is feeling. If you can, do a body scan. 

  • Are you feeling really tense? Where does the tension sit? In your hands? In your heart? In your toes?
  • For children a body scan can be completed in a very visual way – draw around their bodies either in chalk or pen and get them to label different parts of their body that feel feelings- for example does their heart feel love? Where do they feel anger? Hurt? Excitement or worry? Activities such as these open up opportunities for discussion and growing emotional awareness.

Place your hand where you’re feeling most angst and try and ground yourself in the moment. By this, I mean STOP, DROP AND BREATHE

  • STOP in the moment
  • DROP everything you’re doing
  • And take 3 deep BREATHS

This activity can also be used for children and helps to regulate yourself and them, before reaching volcanic explosions and responses

Grounding

Choose one thing to do every morning that will help you to feel grounded or have a giggle – such as doing a dance like no one is watching or stretching, going for a walk and standing and listening to the nature around you 


Notice and validate big emotions

This applies to our emotions and the emotions felt by your children. During these times, it’s to be expected that sometimes your emotions will overwhelm you and that of your child. 

Remind yourself it’s Ok to feel these big emotions and this too shall pass. Be compassionate with yourself and your children. 

Resist the urge to run away from the emotion, just BREATHE. Expect the emotions that you’re feeling, notice how they move and change. By doing this, you will be helping to regulate your brain activity and reduce the flood of cortisol. 

Every time you work through these big emotions, you are emptying your emotional rucksack. By developing your resilience, your children will mirror you and therefore you are doing an amazing job in developing their emotional regulatory behaviours too. Things won’t always go right, its ok and being reflective with yourself and your child about the less successful emotional moments is important too. 

Find activities you enjoy

To be expected to learn a new language or expected to clean and tidy our homes in Marie Kondo style is not necessary right now, but it is important to give yourself permission to do something that you love for a few moments each day. 

Encourage your children to think about creative ways to nurture their interests too. For example:

  • Plant sunflower seeds and water them daily, watching them grow
  • Create an obstacle course on the street using chalk on the pavement
  • Grab a paintbrush and some paint and just let the strokes of your brush flow.  It’s amazing what your unconscious can tell you through this activity. See where your painting flow takes you. 

Don’t think too far ahead

Our brains like to live in the moment. As soon as we start thinking about what ifs and what next, the little almond sized part of our brain known as the ‘amygdala’ starts flapping away. It controls the emotional response panel in our brains, and it doesn’t know how to navigate the future. 

It’s very much about trying to bring ourselves back to the present moment, which can be so difficult during such uncertain times. But psychologically, we know that our amazing, creative, productive and resilient brains work best when we are in the moment. 

For so much of this time, we have been navigating the sense of stress and worry that lockdown has brought to us as a nation. That said, we are incredibly adaptive beings and you will notice that over the course of the weeks your sense of heightened worry may have diminished slightly with time. Recognise your and your child’s amazing adaptability and whilst we continue to experience waves of emotion, congratulate yourself that you have come this far. Remember what you’re doing is good enough and hold on to that in the toughest of times.

If you would like a webinar to support the Mental Health of employees during this period of Covid-19, please be in touch for some ideas.

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