Compassion is the key
Our ability to stay as calm as we can in challenging times increases with the compassion, appreciation and care that we are able to give ourselves.
Whenever I get irritable or start feeling stressed, or I notice my mind drifts off to thoughts that are not helpful, I use a wealth of tools that help me to become calm while also strengthening my Baseline.
When my Baseline is low, I try to refocus on myself, taking care of my own needs (as far as possible) before giving to others. When there is a lot going, this might not be easy, but we can easily use accessible tools like the Awareness Mantra and the 4-7-8 breathing technique (see below) to rebuild our Baseline.
“We are always the best person we can be, and that is good enough!” Simone de Hoogh
If we are already overwhelmed even before a specific trigger, and that is no wonder in the current challenging time, it is handy to have some go-to strategies for dealing with mental and emotional overload. Below are some ideas that work for many individuals and families – and me too!
The Awareness Mantra
The Awareness Mantra is a simple and fast tool, that can bring calm in a challenging situation. It stops me in my track for a few seconds. Every time I am aware I am feeling overloaded, or have a negative thought, I just say (out loud if possible) “I’m proud and grateful to be to be aware that I have an unhelpful feeling (or thought)”, creating some space and giving myself a real felt compliment. It helps strengthening my Baseline and create more calm and harmony int he family. For more information on this please see The Awareness Mantra.
The 4-7-8 breathing technique
The 4-7-8 is very simple and quick to do, and highly effective. Put simply, you breathe in to the count of four, hold for the count of seven and breathe out through the mouth to the count of eight. (The out breath needs to be performed with the tongue on the roof of the mouth and teeth closed). This sequence should not be performed more than four times in a row. For more information on this please see ‘Breathe the 4-7-8 ‘ and ‘The 4-7-8 Alarm‘.
Distraction can be a useful tool in escaping the cycle of negative thoughts and overwhelm. One of my favourite displacement activities is to play BlockuDoku on my phone. I disable the sound (I can’t cope with sounds when in overwhelm) and disappear to another room (or toilet) without any explanation and play a game. BlockuDoku and similar games help me to stay calm, or get calm if the primal part of my brain gets overactive, by forcing my brain to think and thereby redirecting its activity. And, of course, a great side effect is that I get better at the game! If you are interested you can find BlockuDoku in the PlayStore or AppStore.
Similarly, playing games can help redirect our brains into calmer waters. It is useful to make these a little more challenging to distract you effectively. So, instead of playing chess or Happy Families with the normal rules, change them to make it more interesting and therefore demanding of your attention. For example, if playing chess, change it so that the winner is the person who loses with the least number of moves, or gets either both the towers or knights.
Keep on changing the rules by giving the loser the right to change the rules to their liking, but remember to keep it simple!
When we are in overwhelm it can be useful to switch off inputs into our nervous system for a while.
Our brains are on alert all the time, even though we may not realise it. Small changes in our environment can start many levels of processing, for instance if we see something moving out of the corner of our eye, or hear a noise, our brains get busy trying to make sense of this new information.
Creating a sensory time-out is done by preventing new sensory data entering our brain, so nothing has to be processed and our brain can have a break.
If we manage to carve out a bit of time during this challenging period to create a daily time-out daily, it will help to strengthen our Baseline, which in turn defines how well we are able to keep our cool in a challenging situation. We can create sensory space by:
Visual signals pass through more than 10 stages of integration, involving many different areas of the brain. They perform signal-processing functions that include feature detection, perceptual analysis, memory recall, decision-making and motor planning. (Source)
So no wonder that looking up activates our nervous system. Closing your eyes even for a small while will help you become calm and rest your brain.
To strengthen our Baseline when feeling uncomfortable or anxious it helps to look down (below eye level). Ensure you do this while keeping your head level so you don’t constrict your ability to breath freely, which can further activate your central nervous system.
Noise-cancelling headphones are a great help in calming down our and our children’s nervous system.
People with sensual Overexcitability (OE) might be “hardwired to produce an “excessive” emotional response”, and can often they overreact to noise. This article Misophonia: Scientists crack why eating sounds can make people angry shows that science has demonstrated what many of us with OE already knew, that certain noises can be physically and emotionally painful for some people. For many, this gets worse when we are tired, worried or hormonal, which is one of the many reasons why keeping up our Baseline is so crucial. Wearing noise-cancelling headphones (US) or ear defenders (UK) can be a good way of protecting ourselves or our child from being overwhelmed by an emotional reaction to noise.
We all love singing, and there is plenty of research to show that it does us a wealth of good. Singing makes us feel connected, even when we sing alone. It also helps us breathe properly and releases feel-good endorphins.
“The neuroscience of singing shows that when we sing our neurotransmitters connect in new and different ways. It fires up the right temporal lobe of our brain, releasing endorphins that make us smarter, healthier, happier and more creative. When we sing with other people this effect is amplified.” Source
We can sing alone, as a family, or join or even organise a singalong in our street, which in this time of self isolation can join us together even though we are singing apart.
We can even join one of the growing online choirs: e.g. The Sofa Singers is a free weekly online singing event from James Sills that brings hundreds of people together from around the world to spark joy and human connection. See Online choir spreads joy and togetherness during coronavirus outbreak – Positive News
Kindness is contagious (especially in times of crisis)
Many people have joined the Kindness Campaign, giving from the heart to express gratitude and increase the feeling of their own and other’s empowerment. Lovely gestures that help self-isolating vulnerable and elderly people resonate as much for us as they do the person we are helping.
We can offer to get the groceries for an elderly neighbour, offering a phone chat etc.
The high we experience when exercising is linked to endocannabinoids (the same chemicals mimicked by cannabis) — what neuroscientists describe as “don’t worry, be happy” chemicals. What more do you need to get motivated to move! Five Surprising Ways Exercise Changes Your Brain
1. The exercise “high” primes you to connect with others
2. Exercise can make your brain more sensitive to joy
3. Exercise makes you brave
4. Moving with others builds trust and belonging
5. Trying a new activity can transform your self-image
The value of the PowerPose
“Fake it until you make it”
The PowerPose is a universal way of expressing triumph and success, and by making the gestures we will induce the feeling that comes with it – and children will join in very naturally as they love it.
As Amy Cuddy says in her TED talk: “Fake it until you make it.”(See the talk here – Your body language may shape who you are ).
This article ‘The proven way to feel less anxious, more confident & more empowered in two minutes’ gives some background information and this is the research it’s all based upon.
Continued support to all neurodiverse families and individuals
During these challenging times PowerWood facilitates access – also to non-members – to all information, tests, strategies and tools.
PowerWood offers to (self)-isolating families understanding, simple tools and strategies that enable us and our children to support ourselves and our children through emotional overwhelm. If you enjoy reading the articles please support PowerWood by becoming a PowerWood Community FreeBee or Friend member. Thank YOU!