by: Coach Julie Hartman
We can’t give away what we don’t have within ourselves! This statement may seem obvious, but when it comes to a strong urge and desire to help others who are in pain, anxious, and suffering it’s easy to jump in first and notice later what our own needs are.
Mental Health Challenges Affect Everyone
Watching our kids struggle can be one of the most difficult, helpless, and defeating things we can experience, especially if we don’t have all the answers they need. It’s in these moments that simple mindfulness practices can be a life
preserver for troubled waters.
– Coach Julie Hartman
It’s no secret that we’ve all been suffering through a shared difficult reality since March of 2020. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to create the sensation of being run through a wood-chipper with loads of uncertainty about how to put ourselves back together. Sadly, the impact on our children has been, and continues to be, dramatic and challenging. Current analyses1 show mental health to be at an all time low, particularly among elementary aged kids. We simply cannot overlook this fact or deny what is happening before our eyes. However, it’s at best difficult to know what the right thing to say or do is when we see others, especially tender young ones, overcome with fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Living in unpecedented circumstances, disruptions to school and social routines, and exposure to frighteningly sad realities have taken a toll on everyone’s sense of safety and security. And watching our kids struggle can be one of the most difficult, helpless, and defeating things we can experience, especially if we don’t have all the answers they need. It’s in these moments that simple mindfulness practices can be a life preserver for troubled waters.
In spite of everything, there always remains hope and tools to help foster security, stability, resilience, and a sense of well-being. However, if we are to be effective at guiding and comforting others, we first must acknowledge and validate our own emotions and feelings. Self-care and compassion are necessary for all of us, especially when we are overwhelmed and depleted from putting everyone else first.
When you love and care for others of any age, you simply cannot afford to ignore or back-burner your own self-care. – Coach Julie Hartman
If you’re having your own moment of fear, anxiety or sadness it’s okay to admit it! These types of emotions can be very isolating, but the truth is we all need to feel nurtured and safe. You’re not alone! And kids are very good at picking up cues from the adults around them. So rather than trying to stuff your emotions or ‘fake it’, perhaps instead look at these moments as an opportunity for open, loving conversations. This is a chance to model for others, even very small children, what it looks like to process difficult emotions in a healthy manner and self-regulate back to a better feeling place.
On airplanes they say to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping someone put theirs on. For situations outside of an airplane, this translates to first taking in your own mindful breath to calm your nervous system and bring you back to feeling grounded and stable before you try to help someone else do the same.
Give and Get Help
So how do we navigate these difficulties with those we care for? One example might be doing mindful breath work with a breathing buddy. A breathing buddy is simply another person(s) who needs loving support to ride the wave of an anxious or highly-emotional moment. As breathing buddies, you can be one another’s anchor while doing simple breathing exercises together. Having a breathing buddy means you can go to that person any time you feel you need a pause or reset. This is a beautiful opportunity to simultaneously calm your nervous systems, bring the focus from fearful anxious thoughts back to the present moment, and foster connection and compassion. “Mindfulness has been used with adults to reduce stress, bolster overall health and psychological functioning, and assist a return to wellness following adversity. We are learning that mindfulness may also support healthy adult-child relationships.” 2
Something To Try
Examples of breathing activities to try:
1. Breathing Ball: Start with both hands outstretched in front of you, fingers spread. As you inhale, bring your fingers into your palm to create a relaxed fist, as though you’re capturing your breath in an imaginary ball within your hands. On the exhale, spread the fingers out wide once again. Do this for a cycle of at least 5 to 10 complete breaths, and then check in. How are you both feeling? If you need more, keep going. Otherwise, I highly recommend high fiving one another or hugging your breath buddy as an added bonus! This exercise is helpful because it slows our breathing which can lower blood pressure; provides sensory awareness; and helps the brain switch from ‘fight or flight’ back to higher-functioning regions because the focus is diverted from the anxious thoughts and emotions. This is self-regulation in real-time!
2. Powerful emotions often result in very shallow breaths, which triggers the nervous system to be on high alert. To help calm both the brain and the nervous system, it’s very helpful to count. If you’re doing this exercise with your breathing buddy, you can each count on your fingers as an added visual cue and to show that you’re in sync. Don’t be surprised if some therapeutic giggling also happens. I recommend a 4 count breath (counting 1, 2, 3, 4 on inhales and repeating the same for exhales). Again, do this for as many cycles as is necessary to feel calmer and more centered or grounded into the present moment.
These are just a couple of mindful exercises you can do, even with very young children, to help alleviate some of the emotional and physical distress you may be experiencing. As stated in The Potential Benefits of Mindfulness Training in Early Childhood: A Developmental Social Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective Philip David Zelazo and Kristen E. Lyons, “Age-appropriate mindfulness training activities target both top-down and bottom-up influences on self-regulation. That is, training attention to one’s moment-to-moment experiences exercises top-down reflection. In addition, practice being nonjudgmental produces calmness and well-being, as does focusing on the present moment instead of, say, ruminating over a recollected source of anxiety.”3
Here for Each Other
Above all, please remember to be kind to yourself and others as you navigate your own troubled waters, and remember that you are not alone. I encourage you to develop your own daily mindfulness habit to experience the benefits and positive results for yourself. If you have any questions or need additional support, all of us on the Empower The Learner Team are here to help. Please contact me directly at email@example.com. I welcome the opportunity to be your mindfulness partner and breathing buddy.