Like a lot of people I was put into competitive situations when I was young to see what I gravitated towards. Because I won I was then encouraged to keep striving. But that sense of achievement then never left me. I have been ‘going’ ever since. Whether that was exercising, or in business, I didn’t really stop. Until I had to! There have been times in my life when i’ve been forced to stop or slow down (whether that was through accident, injury or the pandemic). Even the fact I am explaining these reasons as if they weren’t a choice just shows my reluctance to give in. But when I have stopped, my body, and mind, has rested. It has been the thing I needed most.

This post from @the.holistic.psychologist got me thinking:

‘When children are raised in environments where they’re always achieving, producing, competing – when they’re always “going” they enter into fight or flight. Parents are also within fight or flight. Unable to be present. Always overwhelmed.

Parents also need to be at work, get their kids where they need to go, + deal with all the things life naturally throws at them at the same time.

What happens? Stress hormones like cortisol + adrenaline are released into children’s bodies. And we now know that this (over time) structurally changes the brains of children. Am I surprised that ADHD rates are skyrocketing? No, I’m not.

Our environment shapes our brains + nervous systems. Here are some of the things I believe we can do to support a more *emotionally healthy* society (much of this means a flexible, adaptive nervous system).

1. MORE STILLNESS: more time for children to just be. You know how when we get rest time your mind tends to not even *let* you rest? This is the result of a hyper-vigilant nervous system. We need to prime children’s nervous systems to be flexible + healthy. Open to rest. SAFE to rest.

2. PLAY: without it being judged, scored, + without giving participation trophies. Pure, unstructured play without an end result.

3. LESS FOCUS ON ACHIEVEMENT, MORE FOCUS ON UNFOLDING CHILDREN’S NATURAL GIFTS: lack of purpose + meaning is directly connected to depression + anxiety.

4. EMOTIONAL EDUCATION: education on healthy family dynamics, emotional intelligence, + nervous system awareness. Note: education would lead use to an entire upheaval of current systems.

5. RELATIONAL EDUCATION: relationships create our wellness (or lack of it). Focus on healthy, safe, secure attachment education so children can create healthy families as adults (even if they are born into dysfunctional family systems).

6. COMMUNITY SERVICE: collaboration + community connection helps children to understand we are all connected. It also allows them to be exposed to marginalised people or others who are “different” to them. Meeting + connecting with people who are different than us is key to tolerance + empathy building.’ 

But what does sitting still with yourself do? It means you meet yourself and have to address those things that may make you feel uncomfortable. For me it was that I was still a nervous person. Through all my achievements I was trying to please other people, rather than meeting my own needs. Now, to my coaches, and people I have worked for, this didn’t matter as I was still achieving. But how did it make me feel? And more importantly how did it leave me feeling? I was doing everything for everyone else. Once that gets ingrained it’s very hard to turn back.

Personally what reflecting on this has taught me is that I do have choices. I can sit with myself – and actually like it. I can observe what makes me nervous – the constant bombardment of messages can trigger something in me that is unnecessary, but necessary for me to decide if I engage with or not. Because ultimately that is what we’re striving for – for peace, for freedom and a sense of choice that differs us as humans from being machines.

Some very insightful work is being done around these subjects by some amazing friends, including;

  • The North Kind – mindfulness to help children aged 5-11 become more confident, happy and resilient.
  • Mini Mermaid Running Club UK offer schools ready-to-activate programmes for girls, ages 7-11, which combine physical activity and mindfulness to strengthen girls self-confidence, self-esteem and self-compassion.