Overwhelmed by overwhelm

Overwhelmed by overwhelm

I don’t know about you, but this year has started with a bang for me. Family health challenges, mental health issues, work stress, pressure to start the year well, etc etc. There never seems to be a let up. My children sometimes question why they should chip in to help around the house and I get that. They are young people who don’t have the responsibilities that we adults have; especially when they are younger all they should be worried about is time to play, learning and enjoying time with friends and family.

Of course, for lots of our children and young people that may not be the case. They may not be un-incumbered in their lives. They may not be able to just wake up and not worry about the day, come into school and enjoy their friends and learn. Many may actually have had a fit-full nights’ sleep, woken up to no breakfast and no kindness, had to get siblings up or care for parents. They may be terrified to come into school and to speak to other children or to try and learn.

Talk about overwhelm!

I did an observation in a school earlier this week and it was a lovely small school. The child in question was a complex child with many challenges to her day. Looking at her I couldn’t help but be sad at the heaviness of her life. Even at such a young age life can be intense and difficult. School can be a refuge from that but unfortunately it is often the battlefield.

For my 17 year old struggling to find a path every day can bring overwhelm too. It seems to not matter what age we are, we are all susceptible to overwhelm.

So, what do we do? I’ve spoken about this before in previous blogs probably because it feels like a regular part of my life. A model I’ve come across recently though on the Trauma Informed Schools and Communites course has helped me in this area. This model talks about four areas that we need to work on to create a trauma informed practice. These four areas are huge actually and I am going to do a blog series over the next few weeks on the four elements and how we can embed them into our cultures in schools, communities and homes.

Today though I’ll just outline them and relate them to ourselves. They are primarily about how we support and help young people BUT I know we cannot do these things unless we can apply them to ourselves and continually shine the light on our own self-care. Self-awareness is the key, and what I believe our aim is for the children and young people around us; to enable them to protect, relate, regulate and reflect on their own lives.

So, the four areas are:-

PROTECT – This is focusing on the environment and building trust for young people. As we turn this onto ourselves though and overwhelm – for me I know I need to protect my time and energy sometimes. For example, my Mum is very ill presently and I have to be careful to not take on too many things so that I can’t help her when I need to. This protects my own mental health and physical health but also gives me peace of mind.

RELATE – The ability to relate to others is so important for us all. When I feel overwhelm I often have to resist the urge to hide away and withdraw from people. Connecting with others can help us to feel less overwhelmed. Knowing we are not alone, that others understand and are with us is massive.

REGULATE – This is a daily challenge for me. To find ways to manage my emotions and to find stillness in a very chaotic world sometimes. Understanding our own triggers, our attachment styles, and what helps us to regulate can be life changing. Life will always be full is the conclusion I’ve come to, and I will need to find ways to regulate myself in the moment as well as finding ways to build regulation into my lifestyle. I’m starting to approach this as if it were a physical ailment. If I was diabetic, for example, I would take medication daily and follow a plan, I would get a check-up regularly and not make unhealthy choices in order to keep myself well. Our mental and emotional health is the same. What acts as a medication to you? For me a change of pace and a change of place gives me perspective – I’m writing this in a coffee shop instead of my office as it gives me a different perspective. Eating well, sleeping well, enjoying the moment, exercise, the outdoors – all contribute to my regulation plan.

REFLECT – This is something I’ve found people seem to do a lot of or not at all. I’m the first and sometimes it can be exhausting. It’s my 50th year this year and I can’t help but reflect on my life and worry about the future – that’s not necessarily the kind of reflection we mean here. In terms of managing my overwhelm I reflect on what I am carrying that I shouldn’t be, or how can I carry my load in a lighter way. I often reflect on situations with my children particularly and after reflection I can see my part in whatever might have happened and can gain my empathy for them. Without reflection we just hop from one thing to another and don’t actually learn.

This week then I encourage you that if you are in overwhelm or just worried about things then take a step back and look at these four areas – how are you protecting yourself, who are you relating to (don’t withdraw), how are you regulating and take time to reflect.

Nicola Marshall
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