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Schools a Safe Haven for our Children

9 Oct

HAPPY, CAREFREE – Words once  used to describe Childhood.

Not anymore !

Kids today bear the weight of adult sized problems. They face a lot more stress than ever before. No doubt some amount of stress can be challenging and motivating, But overwhelming issues which the child perceives as a threat to his self-image or survival can disrupt the engineering of the brain and put the child at risk  for various stress related disorders.

One stops to wonder what has changed so much that make our children withdrawn, anxious or exhibit signs of maladjustment.

Have our children become extra touchy and reactive to their circumstances ?

Or has the environment around them begun  demanding a lot more from them, more than what they can cope with?

Today, a child’s environment is surrounded with expectations – expectations to perform academically , to make friends and be accepted , to look a certain way, to be popular and successful, to keep up with the  current beauty standards and so much more.

They are the ‘too much ‘ generation – too much information to take in , too many activities to do, too many choices to make, too much attention being given to them

As they soak up life and begin to understand the world around them, they also internalize the feeling of ‘I am not good enough’

This coupled with a disorganized chaotic home environment where parents are  less responsive to the child’s needs make day to day living for the child difficult to cope with.

The fear, disapproval and instability they grow with take a toll on their self-worth, and many of them walk around with deep emotional wounds.

These scars may be silent and invisible to the world outside but deep down these children  plod along  through their daily routine feeling numb or hollow inside or as if they are carrying a heavy backpack over their shoulders.

 

So what do these children do? – Either reel under the pressure or put on an armour to protect themselves from being hurt or losing control.

This armour can take the form of avoidance, overreaction to minor issues, complaining of aches and pains, or acting out in school.

Left to themselves they will not take off this armour lest they get hurt

But when a caring adult steps in, these children feel safe and empowered to put down the weight of the armour they are carrying.

 

Other than home, school is the only other  place where children spend a good deal of time.  Therefore teachers have the onus, the opportunity and the potential to create safe spaces  in our schools and classrooms.

Teachers are  the guardians of the classroom – That space where students feel unthreatened when they walk in, for the day.

It’s there that they feel safe to take off the pressing weight of their armour, hang it by their desks and freely engage in and enjoy the day.

This safe haven may be the only place the child gets to wrangle with his vulnerability, get curious, burrow around and exhale freely without suffocation.

Consistent and supportive relationships between teachers and children and a positive school environment can buffer the effects of any adversity that the child is grappling with.

 

In the coming years schools need to look beyond transmitting only content knowledge.  Content knowledge though necessary is only a narrow sliver of the child’s overall development. What is more imperative today is creating a safe environment where children feel loved and protected. This will free their minds and allow them to exhale the fear or any other negativity they carry around with them.

So how does a school go about making itself a safe space for its students ?

  • Reinforce the school goals around respect and inclusion of every child.
  • Establish clear school policies on bullying and its consequences.
  • Assess how children in your classroom behave and develop meaningful action plans to help them maximise their strengths and address any difficulties they may have.
  • Identify the armours they wear; invest time to listen and connect with them. Its only by being approachable and developing meaningful associations can you encourage them to put down their armour
  • Having Art, Music or Dance as a part of the school routine everyday helps kids to feel good, work with their difficult feelings and consequently learn better.
  • Move away from punishing indiscipline to figuring out what’s driving the behaviour, understanding and moving in to help.

For schools this is a process which involves being aware and investing time in their children.

A safe classroom displaces any nervous energy that the child brings in.

It’s such a classroom the child looks forward to come to each day, Here he builds friendships, and feels empowered to seek support and remain in control.

 

It isn’t then an exaggeration to say that, when our teachers push through challenges to create a safe space for our children, they are changing the trajectory of a child’s life.

 

 

 

Ushering in a New Perspective through Questioning.

9 Oct

Life is one roller coaster ride with no two days being exactly the same.

Each day brings a myriad of experiences – some of which are happy while others that  are disappointing and frustrating.

These experiences elicit in us questions – questions that we ask ourselves silently, the answers of which influence our feelings, thoughts and actions.

The moment we ask our self a question, our brain is quick to answer. These answers have the power to reconstruct our thinking, making our mind either our best ally or our worst enemy.

Let’s say, you weren’t able to stick to the diet routine you chalked out for yourself. Along with feelings of frustration, your mind would be flooded with questions like –  why can’t I control my eating ? why can’t I be more disciplined?  No sooner you ask these questions than the brain pipes up with answers like ….’you have no self-control, you just can’t stick to plans…and so forth. At this point it is difficult to quieten the mind or redirect your thoughts and what follows is feelings of inadequacy, regret ,anxiety and guilt.

This negative self-talk and limiting beliefs slowly begin to be the lens through which we see ourselves and the world around us – All precursors to a life of heartache and a feeling of ‘I’m not good enough.’

Now if you were to reframe your question –‘How can I stick to the my diet plan’ or ‘How can I resist snacking between meals?’  You would come up with answers like – Attach a reward on days you follow the plan or talk of your plan with a friend so you feel the accountability.

The answers you get to these questions are solution oriented which make you feel empowered and positive.

When the questions we ask ourselves have ‘ Why Can’t’ in them, we set ourselves up for receiving answers that create suffering.

The words we use to probably understand ourselves or relieve our agitation does quite the opposite, it sends us spiraling down the vortex of negative self-talk, which eventually leads to despair and discontentment.

On the other hand questions with the words ‘How Can’ help tap into our own creative powers and come up with answers that makes us feel confident and capable.

Regularly asking yourself ‘How Can’ questions create a positive atmosphere around you and you will see your life beginning to transform.

You begin to develop a mindset that is solution focused. As you learn to lean into your own inner strength, your self-worth improves and life looks encouraging.

For the last few weeks I’ve tweaked my morning routine a little bit. Instead of leaping out of bed to attend to the various tasks of the day, I lie in bed and ask myself a few questions and the answers my brain gives me get me buzzing with enough positive energy to preserve and work towards my dreams.

Here they are –

How can I make today a joyous day ?

How can I use my talents to make a difference at my workplace?

What can I do to take a small step outside my comfort zone?

How can I show the people around me that I am grateful for their presence in my life?

It  takes only  3-5 minutes, but spending these few minutes asking yourself the right questions allows you to direct your focus onto how you can purposefully create a roadmap for personal growth.

If this became a habit, like brushing your teeth every morning, then, over time, merely waking up would put you in a positive state.

Each day presents us with opportunities to break old patterns, overhaul certain areas of our life and be the choice makers in living the life we were meant to live.

When the intention we create through the right  questions direct our focus … Then – Magic Unfolds.

 

 

Your Brain Needs a Breather – Take a Break !

9 Oct

Most people I know are aware of the benefits of good mental health; And that’s a good thing because it makes us nurture our mental health the way we do our physical health.

All the same when it comes to juggling the demands of day to day living, caring for our mental health falls by the wayside. So yes, awareness is good, but it takes conscious effort and motivation to move from awareness to substantial change in behaviour, which is what then leads to good mental health.

Good Mental Health isn’t just the absence of mental illness. It determines how you cope with day to day stressors, relate to others, make choices. In short its about Feeling Good and Doing Well.

No doubt the quintessence of positive mental health is all about tweaking your lifestyle so as to achieve mental fitness but the benefits of taking a complete break to quieten your inner chaos is unmatched.

Not all of us can hop onto a plane and take off to an exotic holiday spot but I’ve figured that I could be right here in my home and feel the endorphin rush, and that’s what I’m excited to be sharing with you — A stay at home vacation !

· Firstly decide on the days you plan to take a break, Weird as it may sound — you need to schedule relaxation. Mark them on your calendar. Attend to all the pending work that needs to be done before you head off so you don’t need to spend your holiday dreading the work that’s waiting for you when you return. Along with freeing your mind it will make you feel good about taking a break.

· Unplug all your devices and switch off your alarms — There can’t be a vacation if you have your phone ‘pinging’ all the time or the alarm pulling you out of bed. So turn off your wi-fi. Be with yourself and your surroundings. Allow your body to rest and reset by itself.

· Treat Yourself. I took this time to treat myself to a relaxed lunch at my favourite restaurant. Afternoons are now left for you to do what you want. I enjoyed pampering myself at the spa, Rejuvenating facials, Relaxed Massages and movies with a bucket of caramel popcorn. You deserve it all

· Pull out a diary. Write down all the things you are grateful for, the people who have touched your life in so many ways, the dreams and the plans you have for yourself. The written word has a great deal of power and just writing these things can churn within you a cauldron of positive emotions.

· Explore your city. As much as I love travelling to other cities, I’ve discovered how little I know about my own city. There are so many places in our city which we haven’t been to. Visiting neighbourhoods I haven’t been to, Walking around museums and art galleries and Capturing the many moods of the city on my camera, allowed me to soak in the beauty that surrounds me . What was particularly enjoyable was sitting in a local park, having lunch and watching the world go by!

· Do something new. Calligraphy is one of the many things I’ve always wanted to learn. With a brand new set of pens and loads of energy and excitement I spent time engaging in this new experience. Pottery , Learning Spanish …The possibilities are endless when it comes to doing what you’ve always wanted to do.

· Enjoy your hobbies. In a world where you always feel pressed for time, pursuing hobbies get left on the back burner. Spending time doing things you enjoy doing not only captivates you but also makes time stand still. I spent an evening sketching, which took me back to the days where i spent hours drawing and colouring. The joy i felt was what experts refer to as ‘Being in the flow’ — Being completely engaged in what you are doing.

· Catch up with friends. ‘Cya soon’ ; ‘’We should catch up some time soon……all familiar phrases I text while chatting with my friends. This break gave me just that opportunity- There was so much to share. Long excited conversations -Exaggerated versions of things that’s made us laugh, cry, complain or drove us crazy, made me feel connected. I love the fact that friends are always our support team. The smile, the hand clasp, the embrace …all affirmations of the fact that I am so privileged to have met such wonderful people in my life.

People seem surprised when you tell them you are on a vacation- After all vacation seems to imply that one should be out of their familiar surroundings. But whether you are in Bali or in your bedroom, taking a break , spending time with yourself will restock your energy drums and infuse in you, a renewed zest for life.

Go ahead and give yourself the consent to douse yourself with some TLC; and just so that I am better at my job, more ‘present’ in my relationships and more enthusiastic about life, I’ve decided to give myself this downtime, prioritizing rest, fun and quiet contemplation, as often as possible.

When life gives you Lemons…..

15 May

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

This maxim has been around for a long long time and nothing wrong with that. It reminds us of the benefits of an optimistic, can do attitude in the face of adversity.

The nagging question that keeps coming to mind is –  why should we always attempt to change an unpleasant situation into something more acceptable, why shouldn’t we just stay with the discomfort?

Life is complicated and has its share of painful situations. Most of the time we are not just handed lemons but pelted at with lemons when we least expect it. Making lemonade may not even be possible.

‘Stay with It ‘is what I’ve learnt. This doesn’t mean lying there helplessly wallowing in self pity; instead it means moving along in life with the lemons by your side. This extra appendage may be heavy, cumbersome, cause you to move slower, or even force you to change course, but keep going.

Stinkers aka lemons come in varied shapes and forms. They could be work related or personal that lift up their ugly heads and punch you real hard. Undoubtedly your initial reaction is shock, anger and even panic. Calm down, Hang in there, Place a hand on your heart and breathe. Cry if you feel like but know deep down that you will survive. Talk to someone you trust

Over time, you will notice that the sourness of the lemons will wax and wane over days, weeks and months. The despair that you feel during those difficult times is not constant and yes you will learn to handle them.

There is no rush to have all the answers on how to deal with them.

Pause. Keep moving, doing the things that you need to do in everyday life. When painful reminders of your loss throws you off balance remember that these feelings are normal.

Indulge in something that relaxes you.

Am I saying that this would make the elephant in the room go away – Absolutely not. Your mind may be filled with numerous thoughts. Stay with them. I’ve found that it helps to write down your thoughts and decide to pick the best option a few days later. These are all the ‘along the way stops’ as you slowly move past the pain you feel now. The best you can do is to accommodate the discomfort you feel into your life trajectory for now, and move forward with all the grace and gratitude this fragile you can muster. Navigating through pain can no doubt dent us but it also has the scope to shape us into a stronger version of ourselves.

By and by you will roll up the strength and objectivity to assess these lemons, choose whether you want to make lemonade, flavor your cake with its rind or simply throw it in the garbage. Its entirely your prerogative. You have the insider’s track to how you feel. You are the expert on your lemons.

So with due respects to this maxim – I don’t think it applies in every situation. When life gives you a lemon – you toss it into a basket and carry it around until you decide what you want to do with it.

 

 

 

 

When Its Time to Let Go

24 Apr

Ending your marriage is one of the most difficult decisions to make.

How do you know that its time to let go of a bond that you thought was forever?

Despite your best intentions and hopes, carrying on in a disconnected marriage can be painful.  Is divorce then the best option for you?

One can never really tell. As a therapist I have seen relationships heal, couples rebuilding their lives together and unexpected shifts happening between two people.

Beyond the obvious – that is Communication and Counselling, there are, in my opinion, two other factors you need to consider before you throw in the towel on your relationship.

Firstly, your deep down intent to revive the relationship.      In the midst of all the toxicity, if you are able to see some positivity in the relationship and willing to work at healing the relationship regardless of the challenges, only then will you be able to move from what you once defined as irreconcilable differences to a new connect laced with empathy and understanding.

‘Conflict’ doesn’t always equal to ‘end of a relationship.’ Its what you do with your conflicts that matter. Both of you need to revisit your areas of struggle, keeping in mind that your spouse also wants to be in this relationship as much as you do. Give room for imperfections and allow healing to take place.

The pain and its scars can be glaring but are you both willing to work at going beyond it? That’s what matters.

Secondly, take some time off to introspect – how much of the problems are due to the relationship and how much due to you and the phase and stage of life that you are in.

Being in a satisfying relationship requires you to take care of yourself emotionally. Do things that boost your self- esteem. Do you have a fulfilling life outside of your relationship? What are your trigger zones?

Spend some time alone to rediscover and reconnect with yourself. Figure out what exactly you are looking for in your marriage. Maybe all these years you haven’t tended to yourself. Start now. Journaling is an effective way to bring clarity to the mind.  As you write you will be sorting out your thoughts, identifying your non- negotiables [needs] and determining the areas where you can be flexible. This clarity and self awareness will help you know and understand yourself better. It will help you to express yourself and your expectations more authentically.

Self awareness can change the dynamics of your relationship which could lead to you putting in more energy and effort to revive your relationship or drift apart realising that you have reached a point of no return.

Sometimes after all the soul searching you come to the conclusion that divorce is the healthier way out. Oftentimes walking away from a marriage can be the best gift you can give yourself especially if there is addiction or abuse. But divorce isn’t easy, it brings about intense emotions like hurt, anger confusion and even guilt. Make sure you have a safe space to sort out these emotions in a safe space.

 

 

A Well Deserved Break

3 Apr

I come from a subcontinent where the customary belief is, that for any kind of personal success, top grades in school are an absolute necessity.

Top marks is just one of the criteria, there is of course the added expectation of having to participate and succeed in sports, music, debates, all of which go to measuring up in the admission game to the popular colleges.

As a result, the final year in school whizzes by, with tuitions, classes, homework assignments, studying for tests and so on. If you are good at sports ..which translates to – playing a sport for the school /state, then you would then be one of the lucky ones who could include play in your weekly routine, else, at this point life beyond text books doesn’t really exist.

For so many students the day begins early with extra coaching classes even before school hours.

A well thought out menu is put in place to cater to carrying additional eats beyond the usual lunch and recess snacks.

The day then steadily plows on with regular classes, homework submissions, lab work, and a scramble to complete the tuition assignments.

Classes are never done even after 7 hours of school done – Post school hours, students have yet another parallel study center to attend.

These study centers demand rigorous work, charge steep fees, have periodic evaluations, teach you easy methods to remember formulae, and instill just one mantra – Push beyond your limits; Nothing but stellar performance will be rewarded.

Back home after more than 10 hours of poring over various subjects, one would think this young person would be entitled to just laze around …but there’s homework submissions to complete and if that’s not there, then parental reminders about not wasting precious time force children to get back to the books they have barely put away.

Not only parents- uncles, aunts, neighbors, family friends all have just one piece of advice- ‘Your parents are doing so much for you …so all you need to do is study well and not let them down.’

For most students …..this is a year of constant stress. There are times of respite when one set of exams are done or when a submission is turned in, but then again that comfort is promptly overshadowed by thoughts of the next test or homework.

Their busy schedule reminds you of factory workers trying to wrap bar after bar of soap as it speeds down the conveyor belt

Is it then any wonder that so many of our teens today go through the best years of their life with increased anxiety, eating disorders, self harm or being sleep deprived?

Finally, when the exams are all done and joy is throbbing through their veins, some of the immediate exclamations made by these hollering youngsters include –

“It feels like a great grey load has been lifted off my shoulders”,

“I feel like I am finally off a treadmill”

“It’s a terrific feeling to finally feel free”

One young man actually went on to say – “I now need a nap year – A year to recover”

As I watch them, I can’t help but wonder if this board exam paranoia is something that’s so woven into our system that it is a predetermined path our youngsters need to take.

Right now, none of these thoughts matter to these delirious highschoolers. Their immediate focus is on the new 3 R’s – Recover, Recharge and Reset.

To our youth ide like to say – Go ahead release that playful child that has been lying dormant for over a year. Sleep till late morning, invite your friends over and binge watch all your favourite films, Swim, dance or whatever else you feel like. The current empty space in your lives use it to learn more about yourself. The only statutory warning being – Not a thought about the results!

‘Soaking Up the Good’ – Getting Rid of our Negativity Bias

24 Feb

Our penchant for focusing on the negative stuff happening in our lives is a hand me down from our cave-dwelling ancestors.

Back then, being alert and focusing on the dangers in the environment helped them survive, but today, favouring the imprinting of negative information in our brains for long periods of time, end up muffling all the positive experiences we’ve had.

Imagine, you’ve spent the day out with your family, watched a film, shopped, and ended the day with a dinner laced with laughter and bickering. Going home, your son reminds you of something he needs for school the next day – and then, you argue, and your spouse joins in and he picks on you and chooses that very moment to highlight your flaws; You get home exhausted and in a bad mood. For days you aren’t able to get over all the negative comments made on that day. You peg that day as a negative experience although only a small part of the day was turbulent. The rest of the positive experiences you had on that day takes a back seat.

This is what psychologists refer to as a ‘negativity bias’ – Our in built tendency to give more attention to the negatives rather than the positives – in ourselves, in others and in our daily experiences.

Which means, the bad stuff stick faster and lingers longer in the brain, than the happy stuff.

That’s why when I am shown pictures of me having a great time with my friends, I am quick to spot all the flaws – my hair not curling the right way or the tip of my nose looking so bulbous or me looking shorter than the rest of my friends and so forth. The good times are pushed to the back and I end up letting my thoughts focus on how unflattering my photographs are.

The very same negativity bias that served our ancestors well, is now a hindrance to our wellbeing and productivity, as all it does now, is keep our brain obsessed with the adverse experiences of life.

That’s why they say that it takes more than three compliments to make up for one criticism!

Who says you need to accept this bias? You can counterbalance this disproportionate focus towards negativity by-

  • Being Mindful of the daily happenings in your life. How do you observe the world around you? Are you one of them who pays more attention to the negative happenings in your life?
  • Making a conscious effort to value and appreciate all the positive things happening in your life. Savor them and allow them to soak into your memory and feel good about them.
  • Recognizing when negative thoughts like juggernauts begin to take over your brain. At that time break the pattern of negativity by doing something that keeps you from feeding these thoughts- go for a walk, listen to music or call a friend.
  • Talking to that inner voice which points out all your shortcomings. Be calm, gently change his perception and point out to him the bigger picture where both positive and negative experiences coexist. Be kind to yourself.
  • Practicing gratitude. Life has innumerable challenges but there is a multitude of blessings beneath the surface, which is taken for granted. Train your mind to look for them and shine your spotlight on them. It is an antidote to focusing on the negatives.

The good news is that our brains innate neuroplasticity make it possible to retrain it to spot the good things in life. We construct our reality. A large part of how we feel depend on where we choose to put our attention.

With conscious awareness and practice we can find many opportunities to weave in the sunny moments of our lives, into the fabric of our brain, thus overriding its natural tilt towards negativity.