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54321- The Self Soothing Plan

Isolation: Week 1. The 54321 plan for self soothing.

I am ‘stuck’ indoors with my family: 2 kids (15 and 5), a crazy-mad puppy, an angry/feeling displaced cat and my husband. What could go wrong – apart from getting ill or running out of loo roll?

Well, lots. Let’s face it, it’s a weird situation being at home all together, all day. Trying to work, trying to contain stressful feelings, trying to keep some sort of normality flowing. Getting used to being all together 24/7, getting under each other’s feet, needing some personal, peaceful space etc…

The day it was announced schools were going to shut my husband and I drew up a brief plan of how we were going to sort out family life. Synching diaries so that we could manage phone calls around the children, writing up a loose study plan for the 15 year old and a list of ideas of things we could do for, and with, the small one. It was all fairly relaxed and easy going but even on day 1 it fell apart. The eldest rebelled against the pre-agreed schedule, I got annoyed for feeling like I was holding down the fort being mum, teacher, housewife and counsellor while everyone else just got along in their own little bubble, some phone calls were rearranged at last minute, some went on for a bit longer than planned etc…

So, what to do when it all goes to pot? Usually I do a bit of meditation and a bit of Reiki for myself. If angry cat lets me, I try some on him too. God knows he really needs it! But it’s hard these days when there is no peace or space to do this.

So here’s something I do with my trauma/anxious clients to help them self soothe when I’m not available and when life becomes too overwhelming: the 54321 plan. It helps to bring them back to the present, the here and now. It helps to refocus and bring the front brain back online and is a really good way of bringing peace and calmness to body and soul. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t take long and once you start recognising the signs that you need a bit of a breather from a stressful time, or need to soothe, it can become an automatic part of your mental health first aid kit.

I use this myself when I feel a bit angry, agitated or busy inside and need a little bit of me time to get into a calm, recharged place. I particularly like doing this outside with my bare feet in the grass as it seems to help me to ground myself. If you cannot go outside then find a space, any space and get as comfy as you can. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes.

Take a deep breath in and release. Now

5: name five things you can hear

4: name 4 things you can see

3: name 3 things you can feel

2:name 2 things you can smell

1: Take a deep breath in and release.

Try not to rush this. If you find that the calmness has not come, start again and this time really try to describe the sensation and extend the answer. For example: Name 3 things you can feel? One response might be ‘my clothes’. So, what does they feel like, what are the textures like? Are they uncomfortable, itchy, soft, warm. Are there zips, draw strings, buttons? And how do they feel?

You can mix it up a bit. Next time try 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel etc…there is no set rule as long as you start at 5 and finish with 1 big breath.

Remember, we can’t plan for every event, every situation, every outcome. All we can do is try and accept that things may change at any given point. And when that happens, and it becomes overwhelming: 54321. Then feeling more grounded, calmer and recharged, rethink, refocus and go with the flow.

Hopefully this will help you get through those hard, stressful times.

 

Family Influences

The other day I was out walking with my husband and we started talking about our retirement- I have dreams of moving to the coast, my husband said he wanted to be wherever the children (and hopefully) grandchildren were. It sparked off a long discussion because a) I hadn’t even considered grandchildren in the equation and b) I was perhaps a bit too happy at the prospect of being several hours drive away from our kids. It brought into question what kind of grandparents we would make. Him, door-step availability, close enough for impromptu get-togethers and me, far off and living my life while trying to foster ‘independence’ in our children. Two extreme viewpoints but both with validity.

So, what kind of grandparent would I be?

If our primary caregivers have a considerable amount of influence over the way we turn out, then it stands to reason that now, the way my mother behaves as a grandmother should inevitably influence and provide me with some sort of blueprint as to how I might eventually be with my future grandchildren. So, check this out for a start: my mum lives at least 7 hours drive away and, when considering my husband’s need to be near his progeny…..yep, his mum lives round the corner. Coincidence?

What I mostly find myself wondering about is the extent to which our future grandparenting roles are influenced by the way our parents behave as grandparents. I find this particularly fascinating because my parents never got to experience watching their parents be grandparents. And recently, watching my mother with my kids, it strikes me that in many ways, she behaves like, well, a mother and it irritates me because,  I’m their mother and the parenting is my role. And yes, this causes friction between us.  But isn’t this understandable? How could she possibly know what the role of a grandparent is when she has nothing to compare it to? Simply put, she just knows how to mother.

It’s important for me to think about this because (as clearly noted by the mere geographical location of my mother) the influence that she is already exerting over my idea of being a grandparent, is pretty strong and, up until recently, completely subconscious. And, if by watching her ‘grandparenting’ style I just assume or, perhaps accept, that the way she interacts with my children and the way she treats them is ‘normal’ grandparenting, (whatever that means) then that will inevitably have some influence over my grandparenting style and subsequently, my children’s future grandparenting style etc etc…… and so on down the generational line. And in all honesty, I’m not that happy about the way it is as it can be a very confusing ‘Is she my mother/grandmother?’ type of relationship thing that my children have going on with my mum. So, it falls to me to change this, to find a way of perhaps defining another type of grand-mothering role so that I can start laying down some kind of blueprint for future generations. Perhaps that means aligning myself more with my husband’s idea of being ever present and readily available.

Which brings me to the following thoughts: what am I learning from watching my parents interacting with my children? And perhaps more importantly, what behaviours am I taking and what am I discarding?

Who are your influences? How deep an impact do they make in your thoughts, behaviour and decision making? What will you change, if anything?

Life’s little challenges

A few months ago I was asked to do a small presentation about some of the work I do with visually impaired children. Now, I’m not a great fan of public speaking. I get nervous, sweaty, croaky voiced just thinking about it and no matter how much I practise beforehand, I know I will inevitably fluff a bit or simply miss an entire section completely. My initial reactions to doing any public speaking have always been to run far, far away, bury my head in the sand and pretend I don’t exist – must be a different Alma they are asking! However, this time I said yes without even batting an eyelid.

Why, when I was still so scared of doing it?

Well, the thing is I had literally just finished reading a poster that said something along the lines of ‘instead of running away from your fears, run towards them’ and I was nodding vehemently in agreement when I got that email inviting me to speak. “Time to put your money where your mouth is”, I thought. And also, I’m a great believer in life sending me ‘signs’, scenarios (or opportunities if you will) to teach and help me get over whatever barricade I immediately start building whenever I feel fear.

So, with plenty of time ahead of me, I began making a small, rough plan of ideas peppered with a few anecdotes and then, partially parking it, I got on with getting caught up in Xmas festivities.

By the time I was back at work, I had succesfully managed to do a 5k run and my website had gone ‘live’. All that was left was this talk, yet somehow it didn’t feel as scary as before, though I wasn’t sure quite why that was.

Then, crunch time. A week to go I was asked to send my final draft with attached powerpoint slides for approval. Gulp! Looking over what I had so far managed, I realised that my entire presentation centred around giving children opportunities to face fears, be challenged, discover inner abilities and thus emerge triumphant, more resilient, courageous and empowered. That’s when I realised that over Xmas, I too had been setting up challenges for myself: to take up running (never run in my life), press the ‘live’ button on my website (eek!) and accept doing the presentation (although I freely admit to having had quite a few fantasies along the way of pretending I was sick that day, or that my car had broken down, or that I had a family illness/bereavment, my cat was in surgery etc). And because I had confronted and ovecome my own challenges, I too experienced triumph, courage and was now feeling pretty empowered. Ok, so not huge challenges but still, I had to start somewhere!

And so, on that big day, with these feelings of ‘yes I can’ uplifting me, I walked into that room with a smile on my face, a laptop in one hand and a usb stick in the other. (FYI, a few nerves did get the better of me and I inevitably overlooked those anecdotes, but who cares!)

From now on I will aspire to move towards my fears –  while donning my new running shoes of course 🙂

Takeaways
  1. By doing smaller, more attainable challenges, I gained the sense of achievement and the little confidence boost needed to face a bigger task.
  2. It doesn’t matter what the fear or challenge is. What matters is taking any  opportunity to face it.
  3. The fact that I didn’t do the presentation perfectly is OK,  what counts is that I still did it!
  4. And remember, FEAR stands for Forget Everything And Run or, Face Everything And Rise.