Connecting to nature, mindfulness, stress management

Mindfulness and the anxious child.

Anxiety disorders are the most common psychological problems among children of all ages. Anxiety triggers the psychological and physiological fear response even when a child is in a safe situation and this is where chronic anxiety becomes problematic. Taking time out in nature is one way to help reduce anxiety and encourage children to re-connect with nature.

If a child is constantly feeling anxious, the body is constantly releasing adrenaline and cortisol to counter the effects of heightened adrenaline. 

The body eventually becomes used to this heightened feeling of unease and this becomes a new set point – a new normal.   Learning to be more mindful helps increase awareness of the thoughts and bodily sensations that are part and parcel of this mental fear.  The benefit of this, is that we can learn to recognise when we are feeling fear over an event or situation which does not need to be feared, before the fear really takes a hold and we are totally caught up in our cycle of anxiety.

A direct route into the present moment is through our senses, which is why as parents we should look at different ways of bringing awareness to our senses whilst continuing with everyday life. Remember that when we are being mindful and are in the present moment, at that particular moment…feelings of anxiety are not at the forefront of our thoughts.

Keep it simple; when you next go for a walk, start by noticing sights, sounds and smells.

In the UK we are enjoying Autumn.  The leaves are a fantastic display of light to deep oranges and fiery reds.  It is a very beautiful season.  To connect with nature and inspire some mindfulness you could take a country walk and pay particular attention to sounds you year, the  sights you see and the smells you notice.

Sounds in the environment.   Ask children if they heard that sound (bird, aeroplane, car, insect etc.) and start a discussion about the noise they heard.  If it was a bee buzzing, you could talk about the importance job bees have in nature.  If it was a car sound, you could ask them what car they think it might have been?  You could turn this into an opportunity to play a game where they close their eyes and try and hear as many sounds around them as possible.

Sights all around.  Life tends to flash past us as we rush around.  Helping our children become more aware of their environment and “seeing more” not only enhances their life experience, but can also protect them from danger (ie. being more aware when crossing roads).   Children (and adults) tend to walk around mindlessly – either rushing or daydreaming.   In either “mode” we are not aware of our surroundings.  When you next take a walk, ask your child what they see (it could be flowers on the side of the road or in the park, beautiful trees, squirrels, insects – or it could be litter).  Either way, start a conversation around what they see around them.

What is that smell?   Admittedly some smells are not that great.  But if you are smelling pollution in the air, then it does give you an opportunity to talk to children about looking after the environment.  On the other hand, you could bring your child’s attention to the smell of any beautiful flowers you are walking past, or the smell of rain in the air.

When encouraging children to be more mindful, make a game of it and approach the mindful activity playfully.  Children may not want to be told that they are about to go out on a mindful walk and that the idea is that they pay attention to the world around them.  Cultivate their awareness in a gentle way so that they do not feel they are being observed or having to do something which reminds them of a school project.   Your child might not appear to be paying that much attention to sights, smells and sounds around them, but on a deeper level they are noticing and will be connecting with nature.  The more you walk outside and the more fun you make it, the more likely they are to take notice of life around them and may even point out things you are not seeing, hearing or smelling.

This week, before it gets too chilly out there, enjoy some walking in nature.

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.



stress management

Stress and today’s children

Don’t you wish that as a child you were taught practical ways of managing every day stress like dealing with frenetic classroom environments, bullying at school, overwrought teachers, busy and agitated parents, exams at school and potentially an abundance of extra-mural activities?  If we had been taught these skills would our own children be less stressed now?

For most children today, stress is a big part of everyday life as they need to cope with our fast paced, media orientated world and pressure from schools to participate in a long list of extra mural activities.  Along with parental and peer pressure, some children burn out.

Society places more value on “doing” as opposed to just “being”. Modern society judges all individuals on the quality of their wealth and status, with very little regard for a person’s physical, emotional or psychological health.  Our fast-paced life dominated by racing from one commitment to another, makes it very difficult for us to be fully present at any one time.  Instead of being mindful of what is happening in our lives we rush around and live life “mindlessly”.

There never seems to be any time for quiet reflection or “taking a breath” and I often hear children complain about having to rush from one activity to another, never having enough time to relax, play, or just “be”.

According to several new studies, the average child today is more stressed and anxious than their peers who were treated for a variety of psychiatric issues in previous generations.  The findings also suggests that higher divorce rates, concern about the environment and less face to face social connectivity is contributing to the stress children (and adults) are experiencing.

Children are developing physically and emotionally and although some stress is part of their learning experience, there is a point at which prolonged stress becomes harmful to children (and adults) and can lead to serious health problems.

Stress becomes a problem when it is perceived as a normal way of “being” and the child or adult finds themselves constantly living in emotional distress.  They have become so conditioned to feeling constantly stressed that this becomes their new “norm”.

Your child could be suffering from stress if they experience the following:

  • Constantly thinking they feel hungry (although do bear in mind growth spurts which cause hunger).
  • Experiencing or say they are experiencing explainable pain, especially if they have seen a doctor but aches and pains continue on a long term basis preventing your child from attending school or mixing with their peers.
  • Sudden development of shyness and loss of confidence in a child, especially if they are usually quite outgoing, sociable and confident.
  • Excessive emotional reactions like sudden temper tantrums and unexplained bouts of crying for no apparent reason, especially if they haven not reacted much like this before.
  • Noticeable intellectual impairment such as lack of concentration and the ability to retain information, especially if this has not been a problem previously.
  • Development of sleeping disorders.  For example; all of a sudden your child refuses to go to sleep (almost as if they know as soon as they go to sleep they are heading towards the next day which they feel they cannot face), or they toss and turn all night and then cannot get up the next morning.

You know your child and as the parent are the best person to detect if something does not feel quite right with your child.   You will have that little inner voice or gut feeling  that will hopefully alert you to your child’s stress levels.   Throughout our lives, both children and adults will have periods of un-ease, where we do not sleep well, we lose our appetite, we eat too much, we don’t feel like going to sleep or we want to sleep all day due to fatigue.   But the important thing is to learn how to be aware of how we are feeling.  So if you are not feeling that great, that is fine if you are aware of it, take notice and take care of yourself.  In other words you are mindful of how you are feeling now and through that knowledge will hopefully make some changes so that you feel better.

Our world is busy, loud, frenetic  and at times feels awfully frantic, but it is also beautiful and full of wonderful places to escape to for some peace and quiet. As the adult in your home, you need to step back and be aware that children get very overwhelmed very quickly (as do we) but they have not yet got the experience and have not yet developed the skills necessary to cope with all this “busyness” and therefore stress can take a hold.  It is up to us to look out for them in this regard and teach them the skills they need to cope.  Skills which are simple and easy for the whole family to learn.  You can follow this link to learn a simple breathing exercise. Just Breathe…

Contact me here to find out about developing your own meditation practice and learning how to facilitate mindfulness in children and teenagers.