Finding the eye of the storm

It always happens doesn’t it? One day you can handle everything that life throws at you, you’re calm, you’re organised there is no problem too big or too small for you and your super duper efficient approach to everything.

Then the next day rolls around. Everything is sent to try you, nothing works right, everything is piling on top of you, there are jobs and chores left right and centre that need doing right nownowNOW and you feel like you’re drowning while everyone else calmly moves on past you getting on with everything in a way that makes you want to claw out their eyes for being so calm when OBVIOUSLY the world is ending all around you (or is that just me?).

Now I will fully admit to being of an excitable nature, usually I need a moment to have a quick rant about how horrible and awful the situation is now and then I calm down and get on with it. It’s not the most efficient way of dealing with things but over the years I have found that if I don’t vent straight away I repress the feelings and they bubble underneath the surface for DAYS afterwards. This is extremely trying for my poor partner Tom as it then comes out in little bursts constantly until I’ve finally expressed everything I felt, this happens regardless of how big or small the situation was. I’ve found this to be especially the case now that I’m a mum and back working full time. I’m sure other parents can agree with me that when there’s a small child in your life there is never enough time for everything you need to do, let alone all the other things that you want to do. You often find that you’re so busy getting everything else ready for the house, for the child, for everyday life that you neglect yourself. For example I often try to be efficient and make my lunch the night before, but am so busy in the morning that I leave it at home, d’oh! Any tales of rushed around absentmindedness to share from anyone?

But back to my excitable nature! Recently I drove up to Coventry for a childcare expo, they were doing sessions about games on a budget and some seminars which looked pretty relevant to my job (more to come on that in another entry). Now I am an okay driver over long distances, even by myself. What gets me wound up and anxious though is going somewhere I do not know, specifically in big cities. I learnt to drive in Norwich so I became intimately familiar with it’s one way system and which lanes were best for which direction. I fully remember the frustration caused by people who didn’t know where they were going and would often switch lanes at the last minute or proceed at a snails pace trying to figure out which way to go. When I drive in a city I am unfamiliar with, I remember this frustration and I cringe every time I go wrong knowing that the driver behind me is undoubtedly rolling their eyes, heaving a deep sigh or even cursing the very day I was ever awarded a drivers licence. Add in the the fact that I’m often trying to get somewhere for a certain time and am convinced that I will be lost forever and therefore late, and there’s some major anxiety going on in my little Tallulah (what? Everyone names their cars don’t they?). So given all this you can imagine how calm and serene I was whilst on the work placement for my Social Work degree, which involved navigating the back roads of Norfolk at times, and then in my first job in Cambridge as a Gymboree instructor, which involved finding nurseries in places I had never even heard of let alone know vaguely where they were! My old house mate Rob has my eternal gratitude for letting me have his SatNav on permanent loan until I could save enough money for one of my own (code for steal my boyfriend’s!).

So how do I calm myself down? First things first, know thyself. I know for a fact that if I’m running late then that will wind me up before I even start heading anywhere, so I make sure I leave in plenty of time. Even if leaving at that time means I’ll be early, it gives me a buffer for if I do get lost and need to find my way again. I also make sure that if it’s somewhere I’ve never been before I’ve looked up the route on google maps, written down directions/addresses and also have a satnav to prevent me from having to slow down too much in order to read street names etc. I recognise that these are all props but they help me from descending into a whirlwind of “ARGH” . The second step is to recognise when I’m becoming stressed out and to talk myself down, to carry on with this example, if I miss the exit on a roundabout just go around again. If I miss a turning it’s not a big deal just find a safe place to turn around and go back. So what if it takes a little bit of extra time, that’s why I left early. The final step occurs when I reach my destination, I take a minute to just breathe. Particularly if it’s been quite a stressful journey, a few minutes just to myself are enough to ground me again and I’m ready to go ahead with whatever I need to do.

In our classes you may have noticed we regularly do an exercise with the children called Silent Masters. We use this as a way to calm them down after a high activity class and game, it’s also another way for them to learn how to control their bodies. As those of you with young children will know, getting them to stay still is just as hard as getting them to perform certain movements. With this exercise they are learning how to keep their bodies still and under their control. It’s a good opportunity for them to destress, particularly if they’ve found some of the new form moves that week quite difficult. When I run silent masters I like to encourage the children to imagine they are breathing in their favourite colour and breathing out their least favourite colour. When they breathe in they are breathing in positive feelings like happiness, being relaxed, feeling energised etc. When they are breathing out they are getting rid of any negative emotions they might have like being upset, frustrated or angry so that they can experience the rest of the day without having those feelings weighing them down.

However sometimes a situation is too much for a child in class and it needs to be dealt with before Silent Masters. In these instances our instructors give them some one to one attention so the child can tell us what is wrong e.g. they’re scared to join in the game, someone keeps pushing them on skyscraper or they’re having a lot of trouble with a particular move, and we do our best to help them resolve the problem so they can join back in with the lesson. Sometimes however that is not enough and they need what I need occasionally: some time away from the situation. If this is the case we give the child the option to sit out and observe the class and to join back in when they feel ready.

All of these techniques that we use are nothing special, but we hope that they make the classes feel like a safer space for the children while they are with us. They are also easily transferable to everyday life and can be used by anyone not just children. You don’t need to lie down to do silent masters, just sit back in your chair now, close your eyes and take a deep breath imagining that everything is relaxing and all of the tension is leaving your body. Bad day at work? Don’t sit there and stew in the toxic environment, take a walk and get away, when you come back you’ll have a clearer head and will be able to approach the situation much more calmly.

If you would like to do Silent Masters at home with your child here are some tips that I have personally found useful that you may want to include in your practice:

  • If you are only just introducing Silent Masters at home don’t expect your child to naturally fall into it. Allow them to find their own way to be comfortable rather than insisting they sit or lie in a particular position. You will find they start focussing much quicker that way!
  • Try not to go too fast through each step. Allow your child some time to get used to one idea before progressing onto the next. For example, allow them to focus on their deep breathing first of all for a few minutes (which naturally relaxes the body) before then asking them to visualise something. Moving too quickly means they can’t get used to one thing before having to move on.
  • Meditating is a hard skill to master. You need to show the same patience you are expecting of your child. I have often found trying to push them into one aspect of silent masters then sabotages everything else you try to do. Rather than getting irritated that they are not listening or focussing for the length of time you think they should be, shorten it down and increase it gradually. Like any skill, meditation will become easier the more it is practiced.

Now if you don’t mind I’m off to do some relaxing of my own. The deep relaxation that can only be brought around by a box of chocolates and the developing love of a Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy and a Miss Elizabeth Bennett. Poor Mr Darcy condemned forever to look like Colin Firth….although in my opinion I don’t really see that as too great a hardship.