|Photo credit: Ezio Geneletti/Getty Images (via The Guardian.com)|
Happily, I have also over the years been taught lots of different ways to deal with this: exercise, walking away, mindfulness, meditation, switching off the damn phone for a minute. Some of this came from working at Microsoft where, as stressful as I sometimes found the environment, I am forever grateful for the well-being courses that I had access to (including one with Nicholas Bate that was life-changing), some of this came whilst speaking to a doctor a couple of months after the birth of my daughter where a routine chat turned into a full on 'tell the next patient I'm going to be a little while' session, some of it has come from sharing stories and experiences with friends. Sometimes getting a good listening to or simply hearing 'me too' puts things into brilliant perspective.
Reflecting on my own experiences of dealing with stress had begun to form a bit of knot in my stomach when it came to thinking about what will happen when my children start becoming the beneficiaries of full-on hormonal surges. We've had the initial blips and lightning flashes associated with growth spurts and the 'having to do homework' that comes with starting school but oh god, what about when they become teenagers? How the hell will we cope?
And then I realised something. Something that should really have been blindingly obvious but I was too wrapped up with trying to find ways to encourage my children to do homework that didn't result in someone wanting to inflict damage on the nearest inanimate object. There I was, someone who had been taught all of these ways in which to cope with stress, to acknowledge anger and upset, or simply to connect with the world in a way that isn't about endless lists and obligations and I wasn't passing them on to my children - what a waste! I thought that by making sure I kept my own stress levels in check that by return my children would not be stressed. Wrong. They are experiencing their own stress, relative to their own world, and part of my role as a parent is to help them figure out their own way to deal with it. The homework won't go away, puberty is going to happen, they will have fights and fall-outs with their peers and the best thing I can do is not do their homework for them, infantalise them or fight their battles, it's to instead give them the tools to help them deal with these things themselves.
This was evidenced the other night when my daughter was struggling to get to sleep because her brain was very much awake with a million thoughts and I told her about a technique I was taught where you work your way from your toes to your head, tensing your muscles as you breathe in for three seconds, hold for three seconds, then breathe out and release. To my surprise to listened. To my amazement she gave it ago. To our joint delight, it worked.
Sound track: When I Grow Up - Garbage