As my mum used to say ‘healthy body healthy mind’, and it is so true. When we exercise our body releases happy hormones and although it’s hard to get motivated, one motivating factor can be that you will definitely feel better after exercise. Exercise is proven to increase self-esteem and also sleep quality, both of which contribute to feeling well. One thing I have noticed now for the better is that when we ask how someone is, we don’t just want to know if you have a cold; mental health has a much higher priority, and we see mind and body far more as one intertwined entity. Daily exercise is about looking after us and our children as a whole, and exercise comes in so many forms but setting yourself a challenge is a good way to get the most out of exercise and having FUN.
Understanding how our body reacts to stress and how it can make us feel, especially at these uncertain times can be helpful. Bodies feel ‘funny’ and this can evoke thoughts of panic, it’s important to understand why this happens to help us manage. The best place to start is with a bit of David Attenborough. As mammals we have lots of hormones and primitive traits that are there to help us survive. If you think about it from a zebra’s perspective, there are limited watering holes in the Savannah and a zebra has to drink so he toddles off to the watering hole. In contrast, from a lioness’s perspective, she’s hungry and has cubs to feed. She’s sitting there waiting for food to arrive at the watering hole. In both these animals at that point the lioness is going to try to eat the zebra, and the zebra isn’t going to want to be lunch. This immediate and autonomic response is called the fight flight response. The zebra will try to flea and the lioness will try to fight to eat the zebra. As humans we have this response but the immediate risk to life isn’t always there like for the zebra and the lioness. This response increases your heart rate (palpitations, headache, sweating); breathing faster; circulation concentrates on central organs (pins and needles, stomach butterflies, nausea); dry mouth. We and our children can sometimes find ourselves feeling sick, headachy or just hot. This is normal, our brains respond physiologically but we aren’t in danger and we interpret this as being unwell thereby entering a cycle of stress due to being unwell. Understanding and labeling of these sensations is key. This is also where physical activity can help by knowing the feeling of exertion and being able to respond.
Talking will always help and communicating with family and friends is different now. I find I am probably communicating more than I did before lockdown, and although not much has happened there is still plenty to say. Be as open and honest as you can with those around you, help your children label how they feel, emotions are complex and can happen at the same time in conflict with one another. Being good at anything only comes from understanding and practice. There are some unknowns for our children - when are they going back to school, when will they see their friends? But these are all things we can share and by sharing we connect with others, demonstrate problem solving and feel a bit better.
It sounds obvious, as we do it every second of every day, but breathing is good, and deep breathing especially is good to aid the release of happy hormones. Awareness of the helpfulness of meditation and mindfulness is on the increase in managing stress. There are now so many resources in school and online. When we get stressed our body starts to increase its level of activity and thus our breathing, it is important for us and our children to be in control of our breathing and practising taking deep breaths is important – try blowing bubbles, blowing up balloons and concentrating on breathing in and also out.
The new normal, as it is termed, is strange and as we start to come out of lockdown it is changing. Predictability is really important for us as humans for us to manage; children don’t then wonder or worry what will happen and learn to ready themselves for their world around them and learn to regulate stress which aids brain development. So even if it’s what time and what you’re having for tea then that’s a good start. The sun will come out again tomorrow.
I know I’ve already talked about stress and managing it but stress is good as without it we wouldn’t move or do anything. Hunger is a stress and without it we wouldn’t eat, as humans we get bored, believe me I’ve heard that a lot during this lockdown. But boredom is good. Boredom and restlessness is an opportunity to be creative and stimulate yourself. We’ve done some fun things this lockdown and in some ways it’s been an opportunity, and as we move back towards the new normal of work and school, I’m going to miss scavenger hunts, zoom quizzes and the like. Try to stimulate all senses, so hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting.
Outside time – The most fortunate thing we have had during lockdown is we never lost our freedom to go outside. The colour green has an impact on your mood, but also the difference and enrichment of the outside environment is beneficial to both your mental and physical health. Being outside has a similar effect as meditation in that it lowers your heart rate and blood pressure and also reduces long term health risks. Just remember when you plan a holiday you don’t plan to go somewhere based on a room. Being outside can also offer so much in terms of the total learning experience, hence the reason why forest/outside classroom research is on the increase. It offers rich visual, auditory and olfactory stimulation, enhancing brain development.
I hope these muses are helpful to some and if you need urgent help there is always someone out there to help and listen.
The NSPCC also have lots of information in these challenging times and are there for parents too
Most of all, remember that every day can start afresh and you are not alone in the challenges we face and no one has managed to ace this adventure we are all on. Take care and stay safe and well.
Written by Vicki Oldfield, Mental Health Nurse (R.M.N. DipHe, BSc(Hons), MA) turned Water Babies franchise and specialist swimming instructor for under fives.