For the day when it ‘just couldn’t get any harder’
For #SelfcareSummer, one of our Parent Champions writes about the power of a pause in helping your mental health.
During lockdown, when we were in the midst of all we had to cope with and juggle, there were many bleak days. Much of what I seek to do now stems from not wanting another person, parent or carer to feel the deep sense of bleakness that I experienced. It was a time when our parenting differed from the more standard path. However, if there’s one thing that 2020 has brought, it is a knowledge that resilience is an essential go-to skill. Sadly, when you are struggling, life sometimes has an unfortunate way of making that day just that little bit harder.
Those days are the worst. So, while no one publicly wants to acknowledge such days exist (and you will certainly never see it portrayed on social media platforms), what if today is that day for you? What if you just knew from the moment you opened your eyes this morning, or had a sense of the daylight creeping in, that this day was going to be extra specially tough? Then what? How are you going to get through, between now and bedtime?
Well, I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, because I don’t. But I can tell you that I have been there and what works for me as a person, and of course a parent. For me, that’s important to acknowledge because it is step one of knowing you are not alone. But now what? There is you sitting over there, and me sitting here. Each of us knows we have been through or are going through the worst bit. So what next? Pause, simply pause.
Pausing won’t get the jobs done that day. If that’s what you’re thinking, you are right. Pausing won’t give the child the toy they are after, or the urgent answers they seek. But pausing will allow you to refocus. It is just for a fraction of a moment, just a tiny part of your taking time and breathing in. But it is a very precious moment. Even if you have to pause throughout this extra tough day all the way between now and bedtime, you will get there.
What I have found is that a pause will let me reset for one very small moment. It lets me gather myself, refresh my breathing, my posture, my outlook. But why is this so important? Well, because when things are really tough, your body, face and tone of voice will react for you, no matter how hard you try not to let them. By adding a pause, you get to double check yourself. Then you can give out a more reflective reaction, because this way you are stopping momentarily and then responding.
Once I have paused, it can break that cycle of action, reaction, even bigger reaction, and back again. Check that your tongue is not clamped to the roof of your mouth and your shoulders aren’t up to your ears. Be sure that the next breath you take in is a really big breath and, more importantly, make the breath bigger going out. You aren’t going to have time to get a yoga mat out (you probably won’t get a hot drink today either, and I know because I have lived it too). But this pausing really can be done anywhere, as many times as you need. Better still, no one around you will realise you’re doing it.
This will take practice! You will forget and the day may spiral. It may be as tough as you feared it would be. But as soon as you remember, put a pause back into your day. It is all good. We never told anyone what we were doing anyway, so there is no pass or fail in this skill. Once you have grasped it, why not pass this skill on? It may get you moving on from feeling like you are failing, to now helping the next person!
Anyway, truly sorry if this is your ‘it just couldn’t get any harder’ day – I hope it passes quickly.
The Anna Freud Centre has a self-care page that has over 90 self-care strategies to help young people when feeling low or anxious.