Taking care of your loved ones, while facing an exceptional challenge like the recent pandemic brings a significant worry about the impact this may have on you and your family.
Facing the 'new' reality may have taken you out of your comfort zone to a very unstable territory - feeling out of control, inability to predict the outcomes, lack or overload of information. As we emerge from lockdown and take tentative steps into the 'new normal' many of us are thinking about the return to school in September.
Parents with children at nurseries, pre-school, primary school, secondary school, colleges and universities will all have received emails advising how these institutions are managing the return to learning. Our children are ready to return; to see their friends, to learn and have the freedom of 'normal day' again.
Equally there are parents who have been juggling workloads, looking after family members whilst also homeschooling - they are also needing their own space and time back. We all want that feeling of normality again but still feeling so unsure of what that might look like?
There are so many questions that come to mind, how will primary school children fare with being taught in 'bubbles’ and staying in that bubble for break and playtimes? Our pre-teens and teens remaining in their tutor group rooms for all their lessons and staying in that bubble for break-times too?
It is very natural as parents to feel anxious about how our children will cope and to want to help them navigate their way through their feelings. Parents want to look for the best way to support their children with any worries about COVID19 as they return to school.
Despite The Economist recently sharing these very reassuring and factual stats, I know that for many (parents and children), their feelings of anxiety as the schools reopen are very real.
The under-18s are a third to half less likely to catch the disease. The under-10s are a thousand times less likely to die than someone aged between 70 and 79.
In Sweden staff at nurseries and primary schools, which never closed, were no more likely to catch the virus than those in other jobs.
A new study of 1,500 teenage pupils and 500 teachers who had gone back to school in Germany in May found that only 0.6% had antibodies to the virus, less than half the national rate found in other studies.
When you find yourself in a constant state of high stress and anxiety it can make you feel detached, disassociated and almost like your experiences do not seem real.
For me, this is the time to tune into tools and techniques that I have used for many years when working with patients facing a life changing situation. Strategies that will allow me to firstly restore the order, get rid of the overwhelming fear and anxiety and to move mindfully to safe space - deactivate fight and flight response and think clearly. Only then I can start to create my own personal health and wellbeing strategy.
Establishing order externally and internally is paramount to your mental health and wellbeing. Grounding is the number one technique that immediately connects you to the present moment and reconnects you to reality and grounding skills can be useful in managing overwhelming feelings like fear and anxiety which help to regain mental focus.
There are many grounding techniques you may be familiar with: breathing exercises, changing our physical state (walking/ running), noticing elements of the environment and using our senses.
I would like to introduce you to the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which combines multiple elements from the list above which is fast, effective and with long lasting results.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with worry, worrying about passing on any feelings of anxiety to your children then EFT Tapping techniques will help you to overcome these feelings. If you have an anxious child, you can use this exercise for them too. It will mean you will sleep better, be able to respond appropriately to your child and your overall mental health will be better.
The Emotional Freedom Technique is an evidence based tool known as ‘’tapping‘’ which involves gentle tapping on the particular parts of the body, sometimes described as psychological acupuncture. This is because the tapping points are located on the same meridian lines which are used in the traditional acupuncture.
Dr. Dawson Church, EFT Pioneer, says, “Acupoint tapping sends signals directly to the stress centers of the mid-brain, not mediated by the frontal lobes (the thinking part, active in talk therapy).”
EFT can rapidly change negative feelings, reduce stress and negative, self-limited thoughts and is an easy tool to learn. You can self-administer at any time and it combines elements of mindfulness, exposure therapy, acceptance and positive affirmation with somatic elements (tapping on the body itself).
Using EFT will not only allow you to reduce stress immediately but will also allow you to soothe past memories that may have contributed to the intensity of your current stress response. Because EFT simultaneously accesses stress on physical and emotional levels. Referring back to Dr Dawson Church, “EFT gives you the best of both worlds, body and mind, like getting a massage during a psychotherapy session.”
Basic technique for grounding using EFT
When you find yourself or your child in a distressed state use this basic technique, you begin with focusing on the negative emotion; a fear, anxiety, worry, sadness or anything that is bothering you.
Rate this distress or discomfort on a scale 0 to 10 with 0 being no distress and 10 feeling extreme distress - this is known as a SUDS score (Subjective Units of Distress).
To maintain the mental focus of staying mindful and in the present moment you need to create a simple statement. The reason for doing this is because you capture your problem within this statement.
Repeat the statement below, 3 to 4 times whilst gently tapping on the side of your hand (see diagram below):
‘’Even though I am ……( insert your problem / feeling).....I accept how I feel”.
The next step is to tap 7 or 8 times on each of the 8 meridian points on your body (see the diagram below) while repeating a short 'reminding phrase' to make sure your mind remains engaged. The reminding phrase is a shorter version of your ‘set up’ statement, where you focus only on the negative feeling, e.g. '’stressed’’, ‘’anxious’’ or ‘’worried’’.
Now, take a deep breath and re-rate your 0-10 score.
Tapping on these meridian points while concentrating on accepting and resolving the negative emotion, allows us to quickly restore a balanced state.
We are mindfully acknowledging the state we are in, using taping and breathing with compassionate acceptance and positive affirmation which immediately calms us down.
Tapping is simple, painless and empowering. It can be learned by anyone. And you can apply it to yourself, whenever you want and wherever you are.
Most importantly tapping gives you the power to manage your own stress and anxieties in a matter of minutes and its lasting effect will restore control for the moment and the future.
You can learn more about the Emotional Freedom Technique and Aga's EFT Coaching work here
You can also follow the EFT grounding exercise in this video: https://www.agakehinde.com/videos