A while ago I spent some time blogging about how we can talk to people about Depression – or about mental health issues in general. But I left out a very important group of people. Kids.
How do you talk to kids about mental illness? How am I going to explain my Depression to the important children in my life? How do you explain it to those in your own? While people often worry about upsetting kids or frightening them by talking about mental illness – and I’m talking about the kids in your family or very close to you here; the facts indicate that most of the time children worry less about something if they understand it. Providing them with opportunities to talk and to find out what they think is happening is important. So is clearly and simply explaining what is actually happening in a way that they can understand.
But finding the right words to explain what needs to be said in kid language is a tough business. Plus, adults struggle to share their feelings. Again, accurate and age appropriate information are the best way to go – and this usually goes down best coming from a parent or another adult family member or close friend of the family.
So – how do you know when and how to do it?
If they ask questions about your or the other person’s health – this is a good opportunity. A number of resources suggest strategies like asking the child how they are feeling at the moment, if there has been an incident recently then perhaps ask them how they felt when such-and-such did this-or-that; or even if they thought you or the person were acting differently lately – depending on the age of the child. But whenever you do – pick a time and place where you’re all most likely to be comfortable and feel safe and where you won’t be interrupted.
It’s suggested that you explore the child’s understanding of what’s going on – not just accept their first reply because they could easily just repeat someone’s words without clearly them. Plus it’s important to know how they learned what they do know. Also, make sure that you’ve understood properly what they have told you.
Ask questions that are open – that is, they require the child to do more than say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Try to get them to say what they think in their own words.
Be ready to reassure them. They might feel awkward. They might feel distressed or disloyal or angry or be afraid of causing worry or getting into trouble. Make sure they know that this is okay.
Now when you come to the explaining part:
There are lots of good resources take a look through some of them to prepare yourself for the talk or use them with the child. (Please see links at end of post).
Keep some coloured pencils or pens and paper or some play dough handy. Something that you can use to illustrate what you are telling them about or that you can ask them to draw something to help illustrate a point or a feeling. You may also write down thoughts or questions or plans together later (or draw their understanding of things for you when you are exploring what they know).
Think about examples of illnesses that children are familiar with that could be helpful in your explanation eg asthma, diabetes, broken bones, colds, chicken pox (some will depend on what they or their friends/family have had). Be specific in the comparison that you make eg asthma and depression both have triggers and physical signs even though they happen in parts of the body, both can seem to come out of nowhere … ; it is not like a cold because you can’t ‘catch’ it.
Or a common example is to compare the body to a car with different parts – different things work together to make the whole car work, but if something goes wrong then it can make the whole car run badly or not start. In the case of Depression … (a good example of such an explanation can be found in Talking to Children and Young People )
The big ideas to communicate no matter what are:
Mental illness is nobody’s fault
It’s not YOUR (the kid’s) fault
It doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t love you or care about you anymore
It is not your responsibility to make the person better.
You can’t “catch” it
Just because someone else in your family has it doesn’t mean you’ll get it
It happens to lots of people, in lots of families – not just this person
The person won’t be like this all the time
There are treatments like medicine and people to go to for special conversations and doctors who know about this illness
It’s not just about the person thinking or feeling differently. What is happening to the chemicals in their brain is different.
Here is a summary of an outline that I found about how to explain Depression to a child in an Australian COPMI program booklet.
Children can sometimes understand the impact of your illness more easily than they can its cause. This means that it may be best to describe what the depression does to you rather than what depression is.
So you might tell them that Depression can cause:
no energy (making it harder to play)
difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much (making it harder to get out of bed or keeping you up late at night)
crying a lot (sometimes when there is no apparent reason)
losing or gaining weight (because you don’t feel like eating or you eat too much)
not enjoying the things that you used to (means that sport or dancing or cooking or whatever it is doesn’t make you smile anymore)
make you tired and cranky (can make you get grumpy at the children for no real reason)
What does your depression make you do?
Depression is an illness. It’s like having a cold or having asthma except it affects your brain. Your brain controls the things you feel, think and do.
Everybody feels sad sometimes.
Everybody thinks bad things sometimes.
Everybody has things that they wish they could do, but can’t.
What makes your/this child(ren) sad?
What sort of things do they think about?
What do they wish they could do but can’t?
When someone has the illness called Depression, they can feel sad for a long time and not know how to feel better.
Depression can stop people being able to do things that they used to do and enjoy.
I hope that this gives you some ideas for some starting off points. Seriously – do take the time to check out some of these links. The first three have really informative and detailed guidelines in them. The resource lists include children’s storybooks, links and all kinds of things and the other links have some wonderful things in them too.
I have found some other FANTASTIC resources for parents, siblings, extended family and close friends of children who have parents (or family members) with a mental illness. Even one about babies for those with bubs or planning pregnancy. There are more out there just waiting to be discovered.
COPMI stands for Children Of Parents with a Mental Illness. It’s Australia’s national project over this area.
I do. Mine haunts me. I can never seem to beat it.
There are the odd occasions when I do really well against it and I win. It feels great. I could walk on air.
Sometimes they last for a short stretch of time – a few days, a week – two if I’m lucky. I could fly.
it all comes
And it’s not just me who is affected.
It’s not a small thing with small consequences.
What happens, you ask?
Okay I’ll ‘fess up.
I don’t wake up. Or if I do – I drop right off back to sleep before I can haul by backside out of bed.
Then I am late for anything that I have on for the day – visits, appointments, ….work.
And we’re talking regularly 30 – 40 mins late during the mid spring and autumn – and every now and then it’s a couple of hours. It affects other people when that happens – workers, patients … if I don’t get my work done it slows down the process of referrals going through, information getting to people in hospital and their treating teams for planning, people going home. It means groups can’t run or other people have to cover me. I nearly lost my last job over it. Even when well I’m often 10 – 20 mins behind my start time. I survive because I start before my boss and I always work back – but I can’t keep it up.
And it doesn’t seem to matter what time I ‘m supposed to start – I’ve adjusted starting times. It’s simply the process of getting out of bed and waking up in the morning.
Once I’m up, my sensory routines are helpful. I’ve started to experiment with some mindfulness exercises when I get time – which help a lot. But actually waking up and getting out of bed is jolly hard work.
The other thing that happens to me is that I lose time in the mornings. I do. Even when I’ve gotten up on time and have been running on time something happens – I space out in the shower or getting myself a drink and meds and time just vanishes.
I started a new experiment earlier this week that I think holds promise for the latter issue – I’ve started using a mindfulness breathing meditation exercise as soon as I get up that goes for about 10 mins to raise my level of alertness. If it keeps working at keeping me focused, I’ll be writing about that in a couple of weeks. But for it to work – I need to get up in time to have time to do it. It doesn’t need to be earlier – because I’ve worked out that I do everything else more efficiently when I do it. But I need to get up.
At present I use two alarm clocks set 5 mins apart – one to arouse my attention if I am in deep sleep so that by the time the second goes off I won’t sleep through it even if I sleep through the first. Part of me wonders whether it’s worth investing in a bed vibrating alarm clock – they make them for deaf people. It might be uncomfortable enough to help me move out of bed more easily. Has anybody ever used one?
I know the rules – go to bed early and get up and the same time every day. I’m awfully undisciplined at doing that.
Take your meds at the same time every day. I tend to get lazy and just take them on the way to bed – which admittedly is probably half of the problem. There are some very sleepy meds among my cocktail.
Every day is a new day with no mistakes in it – yet. Thank you, Anne Shirley – but other people remember and I need to work out the best way to deal with their memories and keep myself focused on the present so that I don’t drown in fright.
So here it is. My arch-enemy. The alarm clock. That moment in time that I’m supposed to get up. To get moving. To get started with the day.
Please – anybody with your own ghouls – what helps you haul yourself out of bed every morning?
The black dog had been pulling at the lead all week.
My work satchel was dragging down on my shoulder.
I was walking towards Woollies to buy the makings for dinner.
Then I saw it.
The massage therapy place in the shopping centre.
It was clean.
It was respectable.
It was affordable … with minor adjustments
And it was THERE!
And in only a moment so was I.
“Do you have an opening?”
There was an opening.
What did I want?
“Upper back, shoulders & head please.”
Back, shoulders and head I got.
I went in with my muscles aching, my shoulders set like concrete and my neck so tight that I’d not been able to comfortably look over my shoulder in days.
I came out uncrimped and able to move.
I happened to be lucky last week. I had a little money that I’d not budgeted on having. I couldn’t always just do that. Besides, I’m not usually the type to let someone I don’t know give me a massage. (Seriously, if you’d heard me coming on Thursday you’d have gotten out the DW40 ready to get rid of the creaky noises when I arrived)
The problem is, however – I have trouble getting a massage at all. Most of the time it doesn’t bother me – but when I say “massage” around my family and friends, they all turn around and say, “yes please!”
Yep, you’ve got it. I’m the one who grew up with the sooky Dad. The one that played sport too hard too far into his 40’s and 50’s and then moaned about the aches and pains all week. I was trained to massage my father’s legs when I was six or seven … and I am not exaggerating. There is no need.
My brother, who had once helped, grew callous and demanded payment at some stage, but I was still too gullible to get out of it – or figured it was easier to put in 5-10 mins of back or head massage than to listen to him grovel until he gave up. In the end I got to be not too bad at it and when I hit Uni and somebody taught me anatomy, I actually became quite good. Now, this was all fine and dandy for the family and the friends – but it did bugger all for me.
I’ve tried to interest some of them in learning, but do you think I’ve had any success?
The thing is – it’s not that hard to give a passable shoulder massage that will make someone very happy that you took a few moments out of your day to share it. There are only a few basic principles that you need to follow – and these are consistent pretty much anywhere you massage.
Apply pressure in long, slow, firm strokes.
Start light and increase pressure slowly over time.
If you’re worried about whether you’re working your strokes to quickly – slow them down, just keep your pressure even.
Except with specific muscle groups, plan to work the muscle along the grain of the muscle fibres ie the direction that the muscle goes.
Work from the surface muscles toward the deeper ones.
Always stay away from the spine, throat and other sensitive areas.
If it causes pain – stop.
Here is a rough picture of some of the muscles of the back:
If I were looking to spend five or ten minutes just helping someone to unwind, I might start by finding the bony landmarks on the person’s back and think about where the muscles are in relation to those bones. The spine is usually visible down the centre of a person’s neck and back. The easiest way to locate the shoulder-blade is to start at the tip of the shoulder and to trace it around with your fingers. Notice that the shoulder-blade has two bony borders along the top. This is because it’s not shaped only like the 2 dimensional triangle that you see in drawings, it has another edge – a bit like a fin (but not quite).
So, say a person is sitting in front of me – here I start by running my hands straight up the back to the neck one after the other, avoiding the spine and moving from the centre to the edge – first on one side, then the other.
I then follow this by focusing on the muscles coloured red and green on the left hand side of the illustration – initially the red Trapezius muscle which is large and often carries a lot of tension. I would massage predominantly in the direction of the arrows – in upward strokes along the muscle fibres.
After these muscles have been freed up a bit and feel less tense, then I might move my attention to the deeper muscles. If the muscles are not freeing, I would turn my attention to the blue muscle – Latissimus Dorsi. A person’s lat’s are large and often carry a lot of tension also, so you may need to break up some of this to get anywhere with the Trapezius. When working the Lats, I use a wide surface of my hand or forearm with long firm, upward and oblique strokes and then smooth them down and go back to the Traps again.
By now the person’s muscles are warmed up, so they are also tolerating firmer pressure as I target deeper muscles and the upper muscles are relaxed enough so that the pressure reaches them. The principles for the muscles of the deeper layer muscles are pretty much the same as the ones I use for the upper layer ones. The only exception is that I will often spend some time after warming up the Rhomboids (pink) working them across the grain of the muscle (ie across the muscle fibres, not along them because the Rhomboids get really, really stiff sometimes and need help to free up).
The other muscle to have a good look at that people love having worked is the Levator Scapulae. Again, just work it up the grain of the muscle fibres. It’s also helpful to just press on it at about the base of the neck for a few seconds or so. Also working the muscle inside the triangle at the top of the scapula is easier once the muscles are warmed up.
But if the deeper muscles look too confusing, don’t worry – even if all you do is loosen up the upper layer of the person’s back – most people will thank you.
What part of your hand you use is up to you – I often knead with the flat edge of my thumb while I rest the heel of my hand on the person’s back. I might sometimes use the heel of my hand to massage. Depending on the person and how long I have been massaging for I may gently use my knuckle. You can also use your forearm.
None of the stuff I’ve shared today is particularly scientific or text-book. Simply hands-on learning. But I think that people being able to help each other break up muscle tension is worthwhile. So is nurturing.
When it comes to massage, all I can say is that lots of people like a treat. See if anything that I have learned adds anything to what you know – and please … you’re welcome to share your tips with me.
I don’t know about you, but I was very sceptical about relaxation exercises for a long time. I would always think back to school days when guidance counsellors would take us through guided imagery sequences featuring a calm blue ocean or some such scenic place and tell us how we relaxed we were while the class clown made farting noises, his followers giggled, the teachers reacted and everyone else just rolled their eyes and waited for the session to finish. At other times, attempting to relax has been more stressful than relaxing because the facilitator just wasn’t on the same wavelength as me. I find it annoying when that happens.
It took a long time to realise that relaxation was a skill that required practice. It has taken longer still to discover that there are many different types of relaxation exercises that you can do. Recently while looking for a site for someone, I found one that had a variety of sound tracks for relaxation exercises ( http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/index.html ). I decided that I would sample all of the relaxation exercises on this site to see what I thought of each of them – to give each a chance. Today, I’d like to share with you a little about the exercises that I did and my thoughts on each.
I thought that these were very useful. Each of them was effective, and they were particularly effective when used in series. The educators recommended that for those with anxiety disorders, your levels of anxiety will reduce by doing breathing exercises regularly as maintenance – and I can believe this given the difference that it made in the amount of tension in my body.
For those who do not have anxiety – like me … I did my mood diary scoring after I did relaxation exercises and my scores were significantly higher than they had been on any of the recent days leading up to these times. I have been experimenting recently with http://www.moodscope.com which is a computer based system – so I was not simply giving myself a better score out of 10.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is a favourite of mine. It essentially involves tightening a group of muscles, holding them tight and noticing the tightness, then releasing the tension entirely and noticing the absence of muscle tension. You then systematically work through to the next group of muscles and do the same thing.
I will usually start with my toes, progress to the soles of my feet and calves, the upper foot and shins, my thighs, my butt, then my hands, wrists and arms, elbows and biceps then shoulders; then I go back to my trunk and tighten and release my abdomen, then lower back, upper back, chest, shoulders (again), front of neck, back of neck, tilt neck left then right, then I work through my face so my forehead, nose, cheeks, mouth, jaw and tongue (pressed against the roof of my mouth). Then I finish by either breathing exercises for a while or by standing and shaking out my arms and legs and stretching. But that’s me and that takes anything from 10 to 20 mins depending on how many repetitions you do of each muscle group. Sometimes for really tight groups, I’ll repeat the actions a couple of times eg shoulders.
The progressive muscle relaxation sequence on the All About Depression site goes for 8mins40sec and is nice and efficient while still covering what needs to be covered (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/pmr/pmr1QT.html ). I found it satisfying and was pleased with the result at the end of the session.
I need to be frank here and admit that I am not someone who is a great fan of guided imagery sequences. I find someone else’s descriptions of a place that they think should be relaxing for me to be kind of distracting. I’d much rather be left to breathe or if there needs to be an image, then I’ve done sequences where the person guiding the sequence has left room for the person relaxing to select a place they like and guided by asking questions like “what can you see?”, “What can you smell?”, “Look around you and explore the colours.” I found that kind of guided imagery more engaging.
I came to this exercise expecting it to be grossly annoying and to loathe it. It was actually one of my favourites. I’m not sure whether it was because of the sequencing of the exercise, or the conscious repetition of phrases (I repeated most of them in my head because I found that doing it out loud made it difficult to breathe deeply and evenly), but this exercise really worked for me. I want to go back and learn the phrases and the sequence to use at any time. http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/phrases/phrases1QT.html
Mindfulness Oriented Relaxation Exercises
Mindfulness is about being ‘just in the moment’. In this context, the relaxation exercise is about focusing oneself on relaxing just into the moment. A lot of the rationale for this is that a lot of distress occurs surrounding things that have already happened or have not happened yet and that sometimes the sadness, anxiety, pain or negative feelings are easier to bear in the immediate moment if we are not contemplating past or future at that point in time.
This is one of my favourite relaxation exercises. It starts out with breathing, then gradually asks you to notice things with your other senses, in particular where your body has contact with other surfaces, the feel of your clothes and the sense of the weight of your arms and legs as you’re supported by your chair (in my case) or where ever you are resting. I loved the sensation of my clothes on my skin as I was breathing – I was wearing a particularly soft shirt the day that I did the exercise for review. A definite must in my books (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm21QT.html ) although regulars will know that I’m a fan of mindfulness as a strategy in general.
Mindfulness with Guided Imagery
Remember what I wrote earlier about guided imagery? Well it’s no less true where the imagery is attached to mindfulness strategies. That said – in the first exercise Sending Thoughts Away on Clouds (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm31QT.html ) I found the clouds a great way to dismiss unwanted or intrusive thoughts – the idea being that where a thought that was a distraction from the scene or your breathing came into your consciousness, you were to send it away on a cloud. I could picture this as though just blowing the thought away. Sending Thoughts Away on Leaves (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm41QT.html ) didn’t feel as natural, although it kind of worked. In this guided image I was taken to a clear forest stream to enjoy it.
The final image was quite different in what it did with distracting thoughts. In this the idea was to be Sorting Into Boxes (http://www.allaboutdepression.com/relax/mindfulness/mm51QT.html ) thoughts that intruded, the boxes being one for thoughts, one for emotions and one for sensations eg aches and itches. This was more bizarre to start with and I found myself distracted by the boxes – but after a while I settled down and just focused on my breathing again and that helped. For a while however, I think I was almost inventing itches and filing the thought ‘this is stupid’ over and over again. Once I went back to breathing and visualisation the boxes became background scenery – a bit like a picnic basket when you’re not actually eating. I can imagine this being helpful though if you were being flooded by intruding thoughts and feelings – you could just label them without processing them and put them to the side by the rules of the exercise without it being an intrusion on what you’re supposed to be doing – which is staying in the moment, just breathing and picturing a scene.
MY TOP 3
My favourite three out of these audio tracks in no particular order would have to be:
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Why not take the time to try a few? What were your favourites?
I have been reading a lot lately that has reminded me how frail humanity is. How vulnerable we are. Our bodies, our nervous systems, the balances of the chemicals in various systems that keep us functioning are so finely balanced. And so, so often is our sense of self. Our sense of our own competence and worth. We become vulnerable to so many thoughts and perceptions that we may once have never thought possible – may once have thought weak once this is penetrated.
I have been reading people’s writings – people who are feeling worthless, yet working daily at moving forward – at overcoming illnesses that sap energy and personal reserves like parasites. For as surely as I breathe Depression and Bipolar Disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorders, Psychosis, Schizophrenia, Personality Disorders and Anxiety are parasites that draw upon the heart and soul, the will and desire, the sense of purpose and confidence in one’s own capacity.
And yet as I read I see evidence that these illnesses and disorders are liars. I read words written by brave people who are still wrestling, still fighting, still entering the ring round after round. Sometimes they come out on top. Sometimes they come out feeling hopeless and defeated. But I say this. While people are still willing to step into the ring, they are not losing the war.
The human body, while fragile is also amazingly robust. We survive enormous things. Our bodies fight infections. It is well designed to protect its more fragile organs. It is our sense of self that is the fragile part.
Each person is unique.
Each person has a different combination of qualities – of strengths and weaknesses to the next.
Each person has something about them that is admirable. Worthy of respect.
Each person is entitled to dignity.
It is hard to breathe, hard to grow, hard to believe any of these things amid the lies of mental illness when it is out of control and where it has left its scars. It is hard to believe that friends still care when they are getting on with their lives while you are feeling stagnant and stuck wrestling just to keep your head just above water. If they haven’t been here they can’t possibly understand that you are feeling left behind. And so friendships grow fragile too.
Families tell us anything from we “just need to try harder” to telling us “not to push ourselves” because we’re too fragile. Sometimes they expect the world of us – and sometimes they seem to expect nothing at all. I’m not sure which is worse. Those who push too hard make us feel like we are inadequate and seem to think that we are just lazy – and that does wonders for our sense of self. Those who seem to think that we are too fragile to try don’t inspire hope that anything will ever get better although they mean well. How hard it is for a family to understand if they have never been here. They usually mean for the best – which leaves us feeling guilty for being annoyed by at their lack of understanding. How do we deal with this? Most of the time when we’re not well we’re not in a state where we feel eloquent enough to express ourselves well and we fear that it will all come out the wrong way. Sometimes it has before. And so some of us feel that our family is far from us.
And so we stand; feeling as though we could break at any moment. Our lives, our friendships, our relationships with our families, our very selves.
Hear me say – I believe that people who make it to this point can still be strong. Simply deceived.
Yes, your situation may be fragile. This does not mean that you are weak, undeserving of hope or inadequate.
You don’t have to believe me. You don’t have to believe it’s true as though you have had some kind of epiphany.
But treat the thoughts with the suspicion they deserve. Perhaps the same suspicion that you treat my claims. Keep stepping up for another day. Keep looking for tools to arm yourself with – mindfulness, sensory strategies, CBT, relaxation (see the link in today’s poll), self-affirming statements, support people, distraction, your medications – whatever is positive and works for you.
You too have strength within you. Even you – the one who doesn’t believe me yet.
An area that is starting to grow in mental health is an intervention called Sensory Modulation. It is used in a number of different ways and some people use it only in part. Some people may have come across ‘grounding techniques’ and ‘self-soothing techniques’. There is a cross-over between Sensory Modulation and distraction as a technique to deal with difficulties. It is a sub-branch within the world of Mindfulness and involves use of activity and engagement of the senses for therapeutic purposes. It is a big area for Occupational Therapists, Diversional Therapists and is starting to feature in Nursing literature, particularly for use in hospitals to try to find ways to reduce people’s levels of distress without having to resort to extra medication and seclusion. Studies are showing promising results.
Despite the way that we usually talk about five senses, we have actually have seven senses. We are used to thinking of our senses in terms of taste, touch, sight, smell and sound. However there are two more that we very rarely talk about.
The first of these is called proprioception. Proprioception is communication between your muscles and your brain. This is how your brain knows what your muscles are doing – when they are stretching, flexing and where your body is in space. It is proprioception that enables you to match the position of one arm to the position of the other with your eyes shut.
The second is a vestibular sensation. This is what gives us our sense of balance and the sense that we are moving in space like when we are in a car. It is also the sensation that gives us the feeling of dizziness and nausea when it is out of kilter.
Some people also differentiate between deep touch and light touch when working with the senses because your body often responds differently to the different types of touch. Think of the difference between being massaged and being tickled.
What is Sensory Modulation & how does it work?
Sensory Modulation involves using different types of activity or stimuli to calm or alert one or more of the seven senses. This in turn can feed into the way that a person is feeling or reacting to a situation, a stressor or the environment. So if feeling anxious and having anxious thoughts churning over through ones head someone might choose to do something that they know will engage the senses in a soothing way for them eg using a rocking chair, listening to music that they like that has a tempo of approx 60 beats per min whilst being mindful of the sensations; or they may choose to ground and/or distract themselves with something that alerts the senses and redirects their attention, perhaps using the tension in their muscles by going for a run or walk, again engaging awareness of the movement of the muscle groups and the engagement of the senses with the environment around.
Essentially, you take control of your senses and use them to serve your advantage.
Mindfulness & the Senses
Some of the ways that you can use your senses with mindfulness include:
Grounding techniques are active techniques to help you to orient and focus on the present and to distract or self-soothe when you’re feeling distressed. When you are feeling ‘out of sync’ they can help emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. If you know what you respond to best – you can even be prepared for times of crisis or for prevention if you are feeling triggered.
Some activities that people use to help ground themselves include
A hot or cold shower
Eating hot balls or sour balls, chilli, lemon – alerting tastes
Using a balance ball
Wearing weighted item eg back pack, ankle weights
Petting dog or cat
Warm or cold flannel to the face and neck
playing with a stress ball
Holding or chewing ice
Jumping rope or doing star jumps
Running or walking
clenching and unclenching muscles (isometric exercises)
playing drums or other musical instruments
Rocking in a rocking chair
Listening to music
Other activities that can be used for self-soothing or for orienting and alerting oneself capitalise on the calming and alerting features of the stimuli. Some examples of these include:
Calming Sensations Alerting Sensations
Hot shower/bath Cold or cool shower/bath
Holding/petting a pet Holding ice in hand or to face
Warmth of fireplace Being in a cool room
Wrapping in a heavy blanket Wrapping in cool bed sheets
Soft materials/textures Rough or prickly materials/fabrics
Rocking in a rocking chair A bumpy car ride
Swinging on a swing Spinning on a swing
Slow rhythmic motions Fast and/or jerky movements
soft/low lighting Bright or flashing lights
Decaf herbal teas Drinking coffee
Chewing gum Biting into an icy-pole
Chewy or crunchy foods/ lollies Sour or hot foods/ lollies
What to do with these activities – A bigger picture
The idea then is to consider the primary areas of difficulty that you encounter. Do you
Struggle with negative thoughts
feel triggered by something …?
Think about a) things that you can use to alert or distract yourself;
b) things that you can use to do to calm or comfort yourself;
c) things that you can do to help improve the moment; (something you enjoy, a treat, something to make you feel better)
Often you may need to do all three in that order – but not always. Regulating your reaction, however, may be more than a single step process.
What senses do you respond to most strongly?
Different people are more responsive to different senses. Some people love touch. Others squirm. Some love movement. Others enjoy scents. We’re all wired differently. How do you think you are ‘wired’? What are your preferred senses for comforting and alerting yourself?
Think about what kind of movement you enjoy (eg exercise, rocking chair, doodling, shopping, cleaning, theme park rides, skating, building, sports activities)
What kind of Touch & Temperature do you like (eg massage, sitting by fire, shower/bath, knitting, sunshine/shade, lotions, playing instruments, art, fiddling with things, doing your hair, heavy blankets/quilts)
What kind of auditory/listening stimuli you like (eg silence, running water, music, rain, relaxation soundtracks, wind chimes, theatre, a purring cat, people talking)?
What kind of visual stimuli you like to look at (eg scenery, photos, lava lamp, movies, window shopping, reading, fish in a tank, art)?
What kind of scents do you like or respond to (eg scented candles and oils, coffee, perfumes and aftershaves, flowers, fruit, herbal tea, fabric after being hung out to dry, chopped wood, forests)?
Think also about what kind of gustatory, tastes and chewing sensations you respond to (eg chewing gum, crunchy food, sour food, sucking a thickshake through a straw, yawning, deep breathing, listerine, blowing bubbles, hot balls, drinking coffee or hot chocolate, fizzy drinks, sucking a lollypop)
Making a Plan
When you have thought about the types of activities that you respond to. Make a note of half a dozen things that you think would be most helpful when you are distressed.
Why not set aside a place or a kit where you have some if not all of those things ready to go and on hand when and if you need them?
Knowing how your senses work can help you tap into them better for relaxation, recreation and for giving yourself a jolt if you need one. I have found ideas from studying this stuff that are great for my recreation, rest as well as helping me when I am worked up or struggling to focus. I hope that it’s useful to you also.
If you are interested in more information, information about making a sensory kit or a questionnaire about your sensory profile, please leave me a message in the comments and I will get something back to you.
(Credit to a lot of the lists goes to a combination of published resources that I have referred to, some of which have no author attached, majority of examples listed resourced from Tina Champaign’s website)
My parents have come to visit – so I didn’t think I’d have time to blog.
But here’s the thing …
I’m too interested in the things I blog about to leave it alone.
I’ve enjoyed sharing some of my early experiences of Mindfulness. I hope that some people have found it valuable and that it has helped some to grasp a little more clearly the concepts behind it.
Being present in the moment, self-aware and able to be aware of your environment or choose to filter what you attend to. Being able to focus your attention, your thoughts and meditate on or observe things. To be deliberate in all of this.
It is a refreshing experience and helpful for many things from distraction to relaxation, to stress management and through to managing early warning signs and symptoms. If you’ve not had the chance to learn it, I would highly recommend it. It is a more concrete skill than it sounds at times.
I have had fun today. I enjoyed having my 5 and 3/4 year-old niece do my hair for me this morning (one must not leave out the three-quarters!). When I got home (after driving for a quite a distance and stopping to get out of the car and fill up with petrol) I believe that I pulled 7 elastics and 2 clips out of my not-so-very-long hair (ie it had bunches sticking out in all directions).
I don’t think that she believed that I was really going to leave it all in until I actually left.
Playing hairdressers with one’s niece is a lot like a dare. She knew I looked silly, and didn’t really think I’d leave her handiwork in – but wanted to see if I would.
What she doesn’t know is the kind of things I did to my own hair for the hell of it when I was in my teens and went out with still in just because I was bored.
My niece is good therapy for me. When I am with her I forget to be anything but open to what she wants to do (except if it involves running too far or something against the rules). I lose most of my inhibitions and allow myself to play like a kid again. She lets me enjoy the moment in her company for just that little while – and while I am with her I feel whole.
One of the factors that I have spoken of recently that has affected my mental state is the change of season. I become more vulnerable to symptoms of Depression and need to be careful not to be taken captive by them and dragged back under the control of the black dog as he strains upon the lead. October this year has been fraught with tension as the dog hauls away at the lead while I wrestle endlessly to bring him to heel and keep him there. While each time he strains, I have brought him back – it takes a lot out of me and he knows it as he waits impatiently at heel for the next opportunity to pull away. I have had a tiring month.
How do I know when things are starting to get too much?
One of the things that I have decided to work on is paying closer attention to the cues that my body gives. It’s very easy not to be aware of these until I have a nasty headache, my shoulders ache, my muscles are all sore, I have a noticeably palpitating heart rate that makes my chest feel hollow and heavy or I feel exhausted.
I commented in my last post in closing about Mindfulness that one of the areas that I need to work on is that of noticing what is happening in the moment. This is what I am working on at the moment. To start with – to notice the cues that my body is giving me. For instance, when is there a change in the level of tension at key points in my body like my neck, shoulders and jaw? Am I breathing deep, medium or shallow breaths, what kind of rate am I breathing at? Am I aching anywhere? What is my heart rate like?
Now I don’t do this as a checklist and step through it or try to determine these things in a specific way. What I am learning to do is to try to do what is called – in Mindfulness language – a ‘body scan’ at regular intervals.
What does a body scan involve?
Essentially all I do is start out by observing my breathing until I am into the mindset of observe – not control. I then move my attention to my heart and notice and feel the rhythm of my heart beating inside me and the sensations that arise from that and enjoy that for a little bit. From there, I start by noticing the feel of the clothes on my skin, the shoes on my feet if I’m wearing any and then move my attention to my muscles. To scan my muscle I start by placing my attention on my toes of one foot and paying attention to them, noticing any tension or pain or other sensation, acknowledging it and – if it is tension, consciously releasing it from the muscles by either picturing it draining away or stretching and/or wiggling them. I then do the same for the other foot and move on to the next section of my leg and do the same thing. And doing this throughout I might move through the body in a pattern something like:
Lower arms and wrists
I figure that since the shoulders bunch up so easily, it doesn’t hurt to check them again. It doesn’t really matter what order you do it in though, nor how big or small the groups you break them up into are to a certain extent.
After scanning and relaxing all of the muscle groups, I then observe my breathing again for a moment or three before drawing my attention back to what is in front of me to do. It doesn’t take very long, and with practice it should take perhaps a minute – maybe less. If I try to do it when the little ‘beep’ goes on my watch on the hour (when I hear it), I should get lots of practice and stay well on top of these cues.
The goal is to be able to notice the tension before it becomes problematic and to be able to question whether I am becoming stressed before I get there. A lot of people who do this regularly swear by it. I guess it’s a bit like paying attention to when there is tension growing on the dog’s lead when walking a dog. As it grows, it cues us in to the idea that the dog is growing more likely to want to get away from us. Thus it is living with my black dog. I must be wary of tension.
So – here’s to my next excursion into the world of mindfulness. Noticing physiological changes and discomfort and either accepting them or letting them go without blame for their getting there.
Here’s to the next step into managing my Depression. Noticing the cues that early warning signs are present so that I can act. Perhaps October will improve from here on in.
I live with a black dog. It follows me everywhere. My philosophy now is that I need to plan for its needs when I plan for my own. I also need time out and restful places to enjoy the warmth of the sunshine on my shoulders.