Being very honest, it’s been a difficult week. I’ve been debating what to write about in my blog this week; looking for something to celebrate about home schooling and wellbeing, something new and worthwhile to share but maybe it’s ok just to say, ‘it’s been a difficult week.’
As a family, we are heading into week 7 of home schooling. Lots of things have just felt hard this week. We have adapted our home schooling routine a little to meet the need to balance more effective home working. Our new routine is now working well but adapting to this hasn’t been easy. My husband has continued to be more involved in home schooling and at times this has been challenging for him and my son is learning how best to work with ‘Daddy in a new role’. At times, (and not others!) I’ve found it challenging being less involved. Keeping up to date with daily government updates and reading Covid-19 –based articles in the media, has caused some anxiety in our household this week as we deal with the uncertainty of what might or might not happen next. Family and friends around us are having a difficult time and it’s been hard to not be able to support them in the ways we usually would because we can’t see each other face to face. Whilst acknowledging all of the above, I recognise that we are so lucky to all be at home safe together as a family at this time. Recognising this though can cause unhelpful feelings of guilt – ‘I shouldn’t be struggling this week when I know that I’m lucky.’
We have found ourselves starting to struggle emotionally at least once, over the last few days. This is very normal but particularly so given the current pandemic. One way of thinking about this, and to help us consider how we can best help ourselves to stay emotionally well now, and in the long term, is to think about the ‘Window of Tolerance.’ Dan Siegel pioneered the concept of the Window of Tolerance; it’s often used to describe normal brain and body reactions to adversity. The concept suggests that we have an optimal arousal level when we are in the window of tolerance which allows for the normal ups and down of the emotions we experience. Despite feeling fear, anger, pain or anxiety, we are usually able to use strategies to cope and stay within this window of tolerance.
When we are experiencing extremely difficult times or prolonged adversity (for example for many people during a pandemic) our senses can be heightened and our experiences and reactions can be more intense and our strategies to stay on an even keel are less available to us. Adverse experiences can also shrink our window of tolerance meaning we can become overwhelmed more quickly. We might then be tipped over into a hyper arousal or hypo arousal state and we need strategies to then be able to regulate back into the normal range. Sometimes people can get stuck in a hyper/hypo arousal state when feeling overwhelmed for an extended period of time.
So what can we all do to help ourselves to stay within the ‘normal range’ where we can be appropriately responsive to our thoughts and feelings, especially during such difficult times? Firstly, it’s vital to notice and identify your emotions. Dan Siegel refers to this, as ‘name it to tame it.’ Children and adults need to be encouraged to notice how they feel and how their body feels at the time that they are experiencing that emotion. Children will often need adults to model this and support them in identifying their emotions e.g. ‘It looks like you are feeling overwhelmed, let’s go for a walk and get some fresh air.’ It’s then important that children and adults learn how to tolerate these feelings; know that the feelings themselves aren’t dangerous and then find individual healthy coping strategies to support themselves to feel better. The Window of Tolerance Animation by Beacon House provides a useful overview and suggests how to support children’s emotional regulation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wcm-1FBrDvU
Different things work for different people; some commonly cited supportive regulation strategies include mindfulness, grounding exercises, yoga, music, exercise, dancing and the use of scented objects or weighted blankets.
It’s been really important for me over the past few months to experiment and find out what works for me. This week, I’ve focused on being honest about my thoughts and feelings, noticing them, writing them down and talking to friends and family. I’m also continuing with my introduction to mindfulness and practising some relaxation techniques when I can. I’m prioritising being outside and daily exercise, knowing that this exercise is something that really works for me. All of my self-care strategies have really helped this week and I’ve been able to relax and unwind this weekend ready for the week ahead. It’s vital for all parents and teachers to take proactive steps to look after their own wellbeing; it isn’t selfish or putting your own needs above others. To sum it up, ‘Self-care is giving the world what’s best of you not what’s left of you.’ (Katie Reed)
For my son, keeping a diary and using a simple daily feelings’ chart helps him to identify and communicate how he is feeling. We are also continuing our daily gratitude practice as a family. He finds some mindfulness relaxation techniques regulating, exercise and rocking or swinging is helpful as is a weighted bag on his back when he is walking. We talk to him regularly about the things he can do to help himself to relax and calm down particularly when he is feeling anxious. As a family, we’re going to keep prioritising the things that help us feel calm and happy. It’s more important now than ever to put family and wellbeing first.