The Importance of Self-Care

…building your own capacity to care…

July 2020 Early Years Education – Mental Health

Many of us are becoming accustomed to a ‘new normal’ after weeks of adjusting to managing the risk of Coronavirus COVID-19. Coping with significant changes to our practice such as these, at a time when we are living with uncertainty and threat to our own safety and wellbeing, is an enormous challenge.

We should not underestimate the impact that this time, in our personal and working lives, is having on our own mental wellbeing.

Educational settings have made many adjustments in practical terms. Some of us have barely have had time to reflect on our own wellbeing as we work out ways to stay afloat financially besides responding to the challenges of supporting the children of keyworkers, dealing with increased bureaucracy and supporting each other through this time.  Unable to see an end in sight, we have no choice but to continue to keep adapting to the challenges. It can take its toll on us.

Kate Moxley in Early Years Matters reminds us of the ways we can reframe the worry and uncertainty into things we can be sure about. Taking the time to look at what this crisis is teaching us and what we are creating, in terms of environment in our setting, is the lynchpin of all our coping mechanisms.  

Perhaps the physical contact issue has raised thoughts about the strengths of ‘Professional Love’ for you/ your team? It would be natural for your thoughts to gravitate to the risk attached to physical contact with the babies and children. Even pre-crisis we may have trod a wavering line between the belief in the nurture essential in physical closeness with children and the risk it poses to our own feelings as a secondary attachment figure and heightens our awareness of safeguarding when we are close with children. 

In response you might have created more space in your setting, reorganised play equipment and created new routines of sanitisation. Changes to our routine puts a strain on our brains until such time as these new routines become automatic. When we have so much more to keep at the forefront of our minds it is much like an overloaded device, too many apps open that slow down the processing speed. This can make us vulnerable to mistakes of judgement. As many of us do this work driven by love and dedication to children, we naturally fear any mistake on our part might jeopardise that relationship. The risks may feel overwhelming to us at times.

The natural concerns of parents and carers has no doubt fallen at your doorstep with the expectation that you reassure and inform.  A daunting task when the information we need to do this is changing daily. It’s not all down to us, the information is there for everyone, but as a provider we may feel a huge responsibility and seek to retain the strong partnerships we have worked hard to create with parents and carers.

When so much of the risk is outside of our control, how are you taking care of yourself? We need to nurture ourselves to balance our emotional systems before we can offer this to the children in our care. We need to find ways to balance our own RAGE, FEAR, PANIC/GRIEF systems  with our CARE, PLAY and SEEKING systems, (Panksepp, 1998) before we can support the child to feel safe with us.  If you have ever wondered about the science behind your secondary attachment with children in your care take a look at this video: The Science of Emotions Jaak Panksepp (clip)    

Full video: The Science of Emotions (full TEDx) (17 mins)  

Reminding ourselves about how we communicate safety to others is one step towards strengthening psychological safety in the partnership between us, the child and their carer.  We can become so distracted from ourselves by the practicalities that it’s worth cueing into our awareness of our own nervous and emotional state not just when we need it but on a routine self-care basis.  Perhaps consider the following on a daily basis:

Taking some quiet time for yourself to notice your current state ? It takes just 7 minutes of being still with your body and noticing, or even being more mindful in a daily chore.
 Yoga with Adriene: How to start meditating

How safe are you feeling at work? Notice your breathing, deepen it, extend the exhalation to gain instant calming effects. Communicate your needs. Early Years Matters – Buddy Scheme

How are you communicating safety to others? colleagues, parents, the children? Facial expressions communicate the nervous system state… the sincere smile (in the eyes) calms and reassures (self and others). The Science of Safety with Stephen Porges  

Thanks for reading, this is the first of monthly posts, focussed primarily of early intervention in mental health.