Stop to savour this heroic moment.
Maybe you got clocked in the ear with a flying shoe, and you took a deep breath instead of saying the choice word that came to mind.
Maybe you smiled and muttered some reassuring words as you mopped a full glass of water off your just-completed tax returns, even though the words “Watch out!” are still ringing in your ears and you are replaying the moment where your kid came racing around the corner at top speed carrying that glass they were told *not* to run with…
Shake it off… shake it off… sh……
If you’ve had a good night’s sleep, or a quiet afternoon, you’ll find it easier to focus on the positive and find a solution. However, if you’ve just woken up from a brutal nightmare, if you’ve been fighting traffic for way too long, or starting to get “hangry,” then you may have a little less grace and flexibility to work with.
You’ve stopped yourself exploding once… but what will you do the next time you hear a crash, a yell or a whine? How do you STAY in this moment of zen? Why do you keep running out of calm?
Keep reading for a quick chat about mental health
and an easy self-calming activity you can do in under a minute,
Is it healthy to keep anger on lock-down?
While it’s good to be able to make that effort and stop yourself from hollering, this isn’t a long-term strategy. As each new challenge pops up, your body gets another jolt of adrenaline, and if that level of stress keeps building, your voice will start to sound less like Mary Poppins and more like Batman or Severus Snape.
Actually, these in-between moments can be stressful too. As soon as you congratulate yourself for dealing with that epic moment, you start to ask yourself: “How much more can I take?” You wonder if you can make it through the rest of the day, and say, “Maybe it’s just too much. I don’t think I can handle any more of this.” Anxiety and anger are mixed from the same set of ingredients, so instead of fuming, you start to to worry.
Don’t suppress the stress
In this moment, you’re trying to behave and make decisions as you normally would, but inside, it’s starting to feel like you’re juggling burning hot coals.
This strategy might have worked for you in the past. Maybe you’ve been able to smile through gritted teeth when interacting with an entitled customer, or you’ve bitten your tongue instead of telling your sister-in-law exactly what you think of her “helpful feedback.” You keep a lid on those emotions, and save them until later, when you can type a series of flame emojis to a friend, or tell the story, blow-by-blow, over a glass of wine.
However, it’s just different with your kids. They are a part of you. They represent your hopes, your future, and all the decisions you have made in the past. They know most of your buttons and how to push them. They know the combination to that dusty safe containing your biggest fears.
Also, they know where you live.
(True, right? Now let’s figure it out together. Don’t forget to bring a friend.)
Finding calm: inside and out
It’s hard, I know. It’s very hard to stay positive when the blood is rushing in your ears, but life is calling and your children need you.
Fortunately, that same vagus nerve that triggered this whole avalanche of stress can also do the opposite. Your body can be cued to slow down your heart, relax your muscles, and bring all your higher brain-functions (like your creativity, empathy, hope, sense of humour) back online.
Your calm-down system is working all the time, but here’s how to give it that extra boost when you need it.
Using your senses to trigger your calm
Just as your stress-system (a.k.a. the sympathetic nervous system) can be put on high alert by noises and events around you, your calm-down system (a.k.a. the parasympathetic nervous system) can also be cued by what you see, feel, smell, and even taste.
If your thoughts are rushing ahead, pointing out all the ways this is ALL going to go DEFINITELY WRONG, tune into your senses. There’s something comforting about the senses. They’re so simple, so quietly reliable, so straightforward.
A Present Moment Awareness exercise
This might seem goofy, but here’s an actvity you can use to tune into your senses when you start to feel your thoughts racing and your emotions (especially anger and anxiety) climbing. Try it when you are calm, just for fun, and to get into the habit.
Let’s say you are standing in your kitchen. If you are actually standing in your kitchen, even better! Do you have a fruit bowl? Good (if not, no problem, this works with vegetables or even rocks, just bear with me.)
- What colours do you see? How many different shades of red, yellow, green?
- Do you have a minute to reach out and touch them? How do they feel? Smooth? Bumpy? Cool?
- As you touch them, do you notice a subtle or strong scent?
As you focus your attention on these simple things, slow down your breathing.
Look around again.
Are there any colours, textures or scents that you really love? A good hand lotion can provide an amazing sensory break. Even your favourite tea towel or mug can be a calming place to just rest your eyes and notice the details. If you have a lemon, you can treat yourself to a sliver. It’s so easy to forget what a real lemon looks, smells, and even tastes like. If you have some cinnamon sticks in your spice drawer, open it, feel the texture, look at the shape, and inhale.
Wherever you are, you can find something simple to focus on. It can even be the feeling of breath in your own nostrils, or a comforting item you keep in your pocket.
Why do sensory breaks help?
Sensory breaks do several really helpful things:
- They help draw attention away from alarming images and words that crowd our minds
- They give the body’s natural calm-down system a chance to work
- They help us appreciate the bigger picture, and remind us that we are safe
Supporting your body’s calm-down system (every other minute of the day)
There are so many other ways to keep our nervous system working at optimum levels, so we can get fired up when we need to, and cooled down when it’s safe. Every moment that you spend taking care of yourself is worthwhile. Here are some actions you can take every single day:
- Prioritize sleep (sorry Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook can wait.)
- Commit to eating fresh and whole foods
- Keep a container of water nearby so you don’t get dehydrated
- All kinds of movement helps, and there are so many options when you are with your kids, especially dancing, stretching or Yoga videos you can do together.
- Add more sensory excitement to your life, including music, crafts, or just walking around a florist shop.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness
Life has so many moments that will push us off-balance. When our kids are struggling, we struggle too. There is time to talk about strategy, diagnoses, cognitive development, and all of that stuff, but we also just need to be reminded that we are okay. We are safe. We are here.
If you want more strategies to help with finding your calm, or to support your children as they struggle with life’s many complications and expectations, make sure to sign up and get more articles as soon as I write them. Thank you for coming along this journey with me.