Mindfulness expert & SMT client, Ciaran Ivanovic, gives us her top tips for dealing with your own and your children's anxious feelings.
Most of us usually have a certain amount of control over our lives; this can help us to feel secure and grounded. Yet right now we are (again) facing uncertainty.
First it was the pandemic, triggering feelings of worry, sadness, fear and anxiety, and now there is the war in Ukraine. It is no wonder that people, young and old, all over the world are feeling anxious, fearful, drained and overwhelmed.
So what can we do to manage our own difficult feelings and also our children’s? One effective way of staying grounded and calm through challenging times like these is by practicing mindfulness. Whilst it might not necessarily seem the right time to commit to something new, by gently weaving a few mindful moments into your day you will be supporting your own mental well-being as well as those who practice with you.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
* Begin your day with my ABC breathing to ground yourself, boost your mood and bring your attention to the present moment. Each step only takes one minute so this practice will appeal to even the busiest of parents. Here’s how it’s done:
A: Awareness of how you’re feeling right now – perhaps tense and tired or loose and relaxed. No-tice any physical sensations in your body (warmth, coolness, tingling hands…). Simply observe and accept them just as they are.
B: Breathing. Focus your attention on your in-breath and out-breath. Each time your mind wanders gently bring it back to the breath.
C: Cloud. Expand your awareness of breath to your whole body. As you breathe in imagine floating up on a cloud and as you breathe out imagine sinking down into the cloud letting everything go.
* 1 mindful minute. With eyes closed, focus on the sounds around you for one minute. What can you hear? Really listen… perhaps the sound of a clock ticking, passing traffic, birdsong, people talking… This practice is a fantastic way of bringing your attention to the present moment, taking your mind away from anything that is causing you stress or worry. Try practicing this at different times throughout the day.
* Be mindful of how much news you and your children are exposed to – on the TV, on the radio, on social media, in newspapers – overexposure only intensifies fear. If your child asks questions about the war, answer them as best you can, and then move on.
* Get outdoors! Being in nature reduces the stress hormone cortisol and makes us feel happier as we reconnect with ourselves and nature. Build a den with your kids, climb a tree, cloud-watch…..engage with your senses to appreciate the natural world around you (what can you see/smell/touch/hear?).
TOP TIP: If you find that your mind is wandering all over the place and you’re finding it hard to be present, try focusing on your breathing as you walk – breathe in for five counts as you take five slow strides, and breathe out for five counts with the next five strides.
* Try your best not to pass your own anxious feelings onto your child. Just because you might feel anxious about something, it doesn’t mean that they will too.
* Coffee / hot chocolate meditation. Take some time out to quiet your mind, breathe, taste and con-nect with yourself during this calming mindfulness activity. Simply engage with your senses as you enjoy your hot drink: what can you feel, see, smell… enjoy the comforting sensations. This is a great one to do with the kids and will give you around 10 minutes peace and quiet!
For your child:
* Breathe! Slow, steady breathing lowers our heart rate and helps us to feel calm. Invite your child to place their hands on their tummy and breathe in slowly and steadily all the way in to their tummy and then out. Notice how the tummy gently moves in time with the breathing. Try this for a minute and increase the time as and when you feel your child is ready.
* Encourage your child to stay ‘present’, remembering that we can’t change the past and we cannot force the future. One effective way of doing this is starting a gratitude journal: what are you grateful for today? (a hug/a favourite meal/a sunny day/going for a walk with a friend).
* Try anything creative together such as colouring, baking, origami, puzzles, stone painting. These mindful activities are not only bonding, but they use both sides of the brain helping us to feel more balanced & calm. They give one a sense of accomplishment and boost our happiness, and the creating part keeps you in the present moment.
* Give your kids (and yourself) screen-free days to unwind, re-energise and reconnect as a family.