I can’t lie but when I go on social media or watch television, I feel pretty rubbish about myself. It’s a constant barrage of “look at how amazing my holiday is” or “look how much weight I’ve lost” or “isn’t my child just so talented”, forgetting to mention that it rained 6 out of the 7 days in Kavos, the weight loss was thanks to a bout of stomach flu, and that little Lillyrose also extends her talent to drawing all over the walls.
If it is tough for us as adults, then I have now idea how hard it must be for children growing up in this modern digital world, struggling against a stream of unending pseudo cultural nonsense, designed purely to induce insecurity and the fear of missing out (…or “fomo” for those of you down with the lingo). A hyper reality where everything is both increasingly interlinked but and the same time where everything is being forced further apart.
If it’s not some a computer game encouraging them to buy new skins (costumes) for their character then it’s other cultural echo-chambers such as YouTube with its videos of spoilt kids unwrapping toys, or social media where popularity and success are quantified by how many ‘likes’ you receive. When we have a world where even our forms of escapism are designed to make children insecure it is no wonder that we are seeing them carrying an ever-increasing weight on their shoulders. Combine this then with the normal stresses of growing up with schoolwork, relationships, sports, bullying it is impossible to know how deeply and in what ways it could be affecting them.
What on Earth is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzz word these days, used by self-proclaimed ‘life gurus’ (…not a thing, by the way!) offering it as a solution to all aspects of your life from increasing your financial success to relieving constipation. The fact is there are no cures, everyone is so unique that it is impossible to offer any miracle blanket ‘cure-all’ when it comes to mental health and well-being. Mindfulness on its own is not a cure to anything; however, it does have the ability to put you or your child in a place where one is able to discover how to heal themselves.
Mindfulness, quite simply put, is the awareness of what is around you without getting sucked into the emotion of it. This is obviously not a process that you want to constantly live your lives, we’d all still be sitting in a cave counting raindrops if that was the case, but to occasionally stop every once in a while and to examine the world around you can be an invaluable experience. It allows you see that any emotions that you might be feeling as a response to the world, stress and such, does not in fact define you. I guess it could be described as a sort of barrier that we can put up that turns the world into a mirror that enables us to reflect back within ourselves.
I fear I am slipping into the ‘hippy-dippy’ here but this unfortunately is the kind of subject in which there aren’t the words to describe what it truly is, an arena in which poets and artists have spent lifetimes battling within and for which I am armed with only the dullest of weapons. Perhaps the practice is best looked upon as a whole, as an entire journey rather than a series of specific moments. Ultimately its definition is not important but what is however is how it can help us all with our mental health, especially when it comes to anxiety.
Please let’s not talk about anxiety, it makes me nervous
Anxiety has always existed but it’s only recently that it’s become so prevalent. For a long time, it was merely side-lined or something people were ashamed of admitting they had because of being as overly nervous or ‘having the jitters’. Many were told just to man-up or pull yourself together, but how can you when you feel like you are falling apart and you don’t know how to even begin to grab all the pieces?
We now know anxiety is far more than that. With the recent drive in the news and media, many more people are now aware of mental health and the causes of mental illness, and we are slowly learning the seriousness of these issues and how they affect us all.
We should also say that anxiety is a natural part of being human and our ability to survive. When we are walking toward a growling dog or something potentially dangerous, it is good to be a bit anxious and to have our senses on alert and to consider our options. The problem in our modern world is that our anxiety buttons can be pushed all day long, especially for children; criticism from your teacher, your coach questioning your commitment, not enough likes on your Instagram picture. It goes without saying that non-stop, never-ending anxiety is not good for our or out child’s health or their mental development.
A quick guide to get you started
This is where the practice of mindfulness comes in. Here is a basic guide to get you started but know that as you continue your practice will naturally evolve. Hopefully it will reach the point to where you can slip seamlessly into a mindful state anytime you feel that stress building.
First, it’s important to acknowledge that we are feeling anxious. Acknowledging our feelings without judgment is always a key first step. Without trying to worry you further but anxiety can sometimes exist within us without us realising it, manifesting as something like a rash or general fatigue, so be just aware.
Take in a long, deep, filling breath. Then flush out the air, taking the negativity and tension with it. Visualise it if you can, perhaps like blowing out smoke that has been sitting heavy inside you.
Focus in on the anxiety you feel. It is a sad emotion? Why is it there nestled within you? What is the anxiety a symptom of? Is that source something you can speak to someone about? Is it something you could handle on your own? A lot of the time when we talk about our problems, we are not seeking solutions from others but simply giving ourselves the opportunity to externalise them allowing us to see them for what they really are.
Breathe. Breathe in full and deep.
At the end it might be that you cannot see the solution to your problem, but that just might be. There’s no need to be anxious about it. It is going to be that way. Acknowledge that as something to accept for now, the same as you would accept a rainy sky or a fizzy can exploding all down your suit. For every bad thing that happens there are a billion, trillion good things that happen that keeps the sun shining above the clouds… and the dry cleaners open late during midweek.
Once you have learnt this you will be able to then pass it onto to your children. If you ram it down their throats, they’ll only spit it out, so start by doing something quiet and contemplative together. Sit down and draw a picture with them, bake together, do some gardening, maybe even some Yoga. Nobody knows your children better than you do, and these are just a few ideas to generate a quiet environment that will allow you to start conversations that will get them to articulate their emotions or address anything that mind be on their mind. From there you can build up to explaining how they can be more mindful and what practices can help then to relax.
I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely mindful-up for now! Come back again soon for more tips and information about mental health, and how mindfulness can help you and you children. Please send us your own tips and experiences with being mindful with your children.
Images copyright of James Ballance.