Hi, I’m Holly, I’m six and I struggle with anxiety. This is what it feels like to be me in my body and my head. Nobody understands that I have anxiety. I wake up exhausted because I find it difficult to switch my brain off at night. I sometimes take hours to fall asleep, I pretend to be asleep when mam comes to check on me because I know she is tired. Once or twice, I have stood in my parents’ room in the middle of the night watching them sleep wondering what is wrong with me? Why can’t I do that. I’m tired in the morning and the feeling starts. Mostly in my belly but sometimes in my head. It makes me feel so scared, but I don’t know how to tell my mam. That feeling makes me shout at her or demand different clothes because I need to get the feeling out of me. Just before I go into school is the worst, I’m scared of everything. There is so much going on, lots of noise and people and things I must do. I must pop my Jacket on the hook with my name on it and what if I do it wrong or fall. What if the feeling is very strong while I’m in school and I shout at another kid or the teacher? Then everyone will know there is something wrong with me. I know I’m smart because teacher say’s I ask great questions. But I know I ask a lot of questions. Play time is hard for me because I need to know details of games, it helps with the feeling, but the other kids tell me to be quiet and just play. The feeling won’t let me do that. I feel very hurt when kids tell me to stop being bossy or talking so much. I replay what they say in my mind at night-time, and I feel the hurt all over again. It’s easier for me to play in small groups but sometimes everyone wants to play football and I worry about falling over or missing a shot. There is something wrong with me, but nobody can see it or feel it, only me.
Hi, I’m Holly, I’m six and I struggle with anxiety. This is how I have learned to feel better in my body and my mind when my anxiety monkey (Amygdala) tries to make me feel bad or that something is wrong with me. My monkey’s voice is strong in my head, so I help him get ready for sleep using my body. My parents and I have a lovely routine we do together. We start with a little walk or jump on the trampoline. Then I have a snack, wash my hands, face, and teeth. My favourite part is that mam puts some lovely cream on my hands that smells like lavender. She massages it into my hands and then I do it for her. We turn down the lights in my room and snuggle on the bed to talk about the day. I tell her about my cactus friends and flower friends, and I remind the monkey not to feel so hurt about what people say to me. It’s not about me its maybe that they are just having a cactus day. Let’s send them some love and wish that they will be flower friends tomorrow.
My monkey is a bit bossy in the mornings. He tries to tell me that I am not good enough and I can’t do anything properly. I tell my mam when he’s trying to trick me into feeling bad. Some days we turn on the music and dance around the kitchen to distract him, or I’ll run around the house or I use my calm breaths. The calm breaths are when I pop my hand on my belly button, breathe in through my mouth for a count of four, hold my breath for a count of four and then blow out like I am blowing out candles through my mouth for a count of eight. I keep doing that until I feel my monkey relax. We usually then choose a positive affirmation to say aloud together. I am Happy Holly, or I am strong, super, loved or whatever makes the monkey quiet in my head. Sometimes mam asks me to say it in a funny accent which makes us laugh. Laughing makes the monkey shrink. We play games in the car on the way to school. Simple ones like the senses game where you try to remember five things you like the smell of, sound, look of or enjoy the feel of. I go into school feeling good, relaxed and my monkey part of my brain is not loud in my head. I now understand that when I help my monkey to be calm, I’m able to learn and think clearly and make good choices for me. I am now empowered to use my owl (Prefrontal cortex) part of my brain to learn. If I start to feel funny during school, I know I can do lots of different things to help my monkey. I can move, play, breathe, say nice things to myself in my head, pop my hand under the desk and give myself a hand massage or just ask one of my flower friends for a cuddle. I can also remember fun things I have enjoyed with my family so I can feel safe and loved. I use my elephant brain (Hippocampus) to do that. I know I have a powerful monkey that needs help to relax, be calm and feel safe, so that I can be all those things too. I’m OK, there is nothing wrong with me.
Our conversation around mental health needs to evolve to include the mind body connection and not just our heads. To normalise mental health then we must, I feel, find common shared language that is simple enough to be understood by all ages but also powerful enough to empower everyone to choose what it is that they need to take care of their mental health and wellness. Our greatest relationship we have in life is with ourselves, yet we are not taught anything about our inner voice or how to cultivate self-awareness. We are sending out children into school expecting them to learn and retain information. Its not possible to retain information if you are in a state if stress. You wouldn’t switch on an unplugged kettle and expect it to boil. Its time our curriculum was centered on health and wellness especially in the formative years of primary school. Our system needs to move away from viewing our children as units of productivity and expanding to seeing them as units of creativity.