Anxiety management

Is my child stressed?

It has been reported that more than 70% of children 10yrs and under have sleeping difficulties attributed to feeling stressed. That is a lot of children who are not getting enough good quality sleep. Research 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 can become harmful to children emotionally and can lead to serious health problems.

How stress affects the mind and body

When the mind perceives itself to be in a stressful situation, the sympathetic nervous system is triggered.    The body responds with fast shallow breathing, muscles tighten and the heart pumps faster as adrenaline circulates throughout the body affecting every organ. These feelings are also referred to as “fight or flight” and are more appropriate when faced with a tiger in the wild, than a bad day at school or in the office.  Unfortunately, in our modern society, individuals have become so accustomed to feeling stressed, that their reaction to “less physically dangerous stressors such as a boring or busy day in the office or at school” is perceived as strongly as the fear they would feel if really faced with the tiger.  The problem with this, is that the body becomes so accustomed to operating in this heightened “state”, that it settles at a new “set point” and this level of stress is then the new norm.

To reverse these effects, the parasympathetic nervous system is triggered,  creating a restful and calming response as the body reacts with slow deep breaths and the slowing of the heart rate.  Digestion once again becomes active and the immune system is less strained.

So how do I know if anyone in my family is stressed?  

If an individual suffers from stress real or perceived, it can result in the following:

  • anxiety disorders
  • depression
  • lack of sleep
  • nightmares
  • loss of appetite
  • insomnia
  • emotional detachment from friends and family
  • irritability
  • memory loss
    …and any number of other mind-body disorders.  Stress can also result in individuals becoming addicted to substances.

Emotions are triggered by the central nervous system.  Often when children are faced with a stressful situation they react by either feeling fearful, angry or experience bouts of crying.

Below is a simple five minute relaxation technique.

Here is something simple you can easily practice at home to help you and your children relax and help reduce that overwhelming feeling of being stressed.  It might help if you record the script below onto your phone to play it back, so you can relax and join in as well. If you choose to do this, remember to record yourself speaking lowly.

  • Find a comfortable place in which to lie down.
  • Close your eyes and take a couple of moments to see how your body feels. Check your breathing – are you holding your breath or breathing normally? Can you feel any tension in any part of your body?
  • Allow yourself to let go of any worries. Breathe naturally.
  • Starting with your feet, focus your attention on your feet only and notice how they feel. Taking a deep breath, tense the muscles in your feet – hold it – and then release as you breathe out.  Breathe naturally.
  • Now focus your attention on your legs and nothing else. How do they feel?  Breathe in as you squeeze your legs and release the tension in your legs as you breathe out.
  • Continue in this way, tensing and relaxing the buttocks, stomach, hands, arms and shoulders, back and face. Take your time.  Try not to rush through it. Once you have practiced this a few times you may not even need to listen to the script.
  • As you work your way through this exercise you are learning how to focus your attention and by focusing on the different body parts  you are encouraging the muscles in the body to relax. Once you get the hang of what you are doing, you may replace your verbal script with  some relaxing music.

Try this relaxation technique for a few days or a week and then let me know how you get on by commenting below.

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

Creating a space at home for family meditation
Meditation home practice

Meditation spaces at home.

If you are a busy parent you may not have the luxury of being able to attend a yoga or meditation studio for your daily or weekly fix of calm and tranquility.  But with a bit of thought, you might be able to find a space at home, however small, which you could dedicate to your own meditation practice or a family meditation practice.

In an ideal world it would be wonderful to have a spare room which you could de-clutter and convert into a meditation room.   In a busy household where space is scarce, you might not be able to “lose an entire room” to the purpose of meditation, but you might be able to create a multi-purpose room which can be used by the whole family.

Here are a few ideas for “room-sharing”.

You could turn the room into a reading room by day and meditation room in the evening or morning before school and work.  The room could also be a “non-electronic playroom”.  By this I mean a space where children can do puzzles, colour-in or build Lego.  This is exactly what I did in our previous home.   I encouraged my daughter to use the room but for relaxing and reading, or games which did not require electronic gadgets such as iPads, phones, X-box, Play Station and so forth.   I had a sofa in the room, but otherwise it was pretty much empty which meant there was lots of floor space for Lego building.  When children came over to visit, they tended to congregate in there and spread all the toys out to play with as they enjoyed the simple clutter free space.   Clearing up was quick too.  With some clever storage to reduce clutter and minimal furniture the space can be quickly converted into a meditation room once play time is over.

Designing your meditation room can be great fun and needn’t cost a lot of money.  With a few pictures on the walls, a small table or shelf for a couple of candles and incense and an empty corner to stand a few yoga mats and cushions in until needed, you have your space.   If you do have the luxury of a dedicated room, then you can enhance and deepen your quiet time by creating just the right atmosphere for you by painting walls and accessorizing the room to your taste.  You could choose a minimalist theme, a cosy warm theme using deeper colours, or a room which is open, spacious and full of natural light.   When choosing a room in your home, try and choose a room where noise is at a minimum from TVs, the kitchen, children playing outside and traffic.   Traffic noise can be the most distracting and depending on how busy the road is, completely disrupt your meditation practice as a beginner.  As you become more used to meditating, noises will recede and be far less noticeable.

But what if space at home is really scarce?

If space in your home is at a premium, you might need to find a “quiet corner” where you or you and your family have enough space to sit on a couple of yoga mats or cushions during meditation time.   If you do not have any space at all to dedicate to a meditation practice, then sitting in bed to meditate will do just fine.  Just try not to fall asleep, but do not beat yourself up about it if you do.   Children can practice their breathing and listen to guided imagery meditation whilst lying in bed before they go to sleep.   You can also practice mindfulness as an individual or a family which will not require you to have anywhere special to meditate at all, but instead encourages you and your family to bring awareness to how you feel and pay more attention in any given moment regardless of where you might be at that moment.

If you would like to know more about how to incorporate meditation and mindfulness into family life, join me on the next Chilled Out Child programme or contact me to discuss individual mindfulness coaching.