By human nature, we yearn to live a life without restrictions, to be free, to show who we truly are. Whilst we are all individuals, it doesn’t matter your background, we are restricted. If you are working, you are restricted by that alarm clock that every morning screams at you to get up. Your morning commute is probably littered with restrictions.
Do you drive? You’re restricted to wearing a seat belt (admittedly for your own safety), the speed limit, the traffic lights. If you take public transport, you’re restricted to bus times, whether the bus is full, passes the stop, thus making you late, or even if it breaks down. You may be restricted by only being able to travel if you have enough money. You might cycle. That blasted tyre’s flat again, right? Oh, no. The chain’s come off. These things are all restrictions on your life floating along in the preciously calm state it should. Perhaps at work you are restricted on where you can park, where you can sit, where you can take your breaks, when you can take your breaks. Restrictions are all around us and prevent us greatly from getting the balance right in our lives.
If we think it is difficult for us, how must it be for our young people? They are bound by the same restrictions. Each day, up at a set time, wear a specific set of clothes, be at school at a set time, take your breaks at a set time, be restricted by how long lessons are, be restricted by the teachers of a certain lesson, by the people in the class. So many restrictions. On top of that, adolescent development, especially of the mind, says young people cannot actually function until about mid-morning. Perhaps school would be better if it started an hour later? Finland have shorter days and research has shown that the young people there function better than in the UK. Some academies in the UK have longer days but no homework. Are there any restrictions on young people that could be lifted or eased to make what is already a difficult stage in life just that be easier? I’m sure they have a view.
Many restrictions are there for a good reason, often safety, but what happens if you are restricted even more? Perhaps you are a young carer (approx. 700,000 in the UK alone), suffer a physical disability or special need, are a looked after child (roughly 70,000 are in care ), or have a mental health condition (1 in 10). All of these things are an extra restriction on young people. As an adult reading this, you may have lived within the confines of one of these, or may still be doing so.
Sometimes we need to break the confines of these restrictions and think (to use a cliche) ‘a little more outside of the box’ in order to keep the balance in our lives. Believe it or not, spending the first five minutes of each day, looking out of the window, reminding myself that I owe it to myself to have enough respect to say ‘I am capable, I am confident, I am strong, and I won’t force myself to waste all of my energy on everybody else before I consider my own needs’ has really grounded me before the day gets going.
I’m currently reading a very interesting book by Bill Hybels called Simplify. I will admit that it was from a Christian bookshop, which I had never been near but felt the urge to pop into one day when I spotted the book in the window, and whilst it does talk about how a higher being can guide us to declutter our souls, if you look past that, it offers some really sound advice. At the heart of it, I would say, consider yourself and how you really feel.
One of the biggest issues we have, and this applies to both adults and children is that a lot of us are quite incapable of truly understanding how we feel. I mean really feel. I am indebted to a dear friend of mine who guided me carefully through a workshop when I myself wasn’t feeling mentally healthy. One of the key ‘questions’ that regularly came up was ‘THINK about how you feel’. It is all too easy for us as humans to meet and greet with:
A:- Hello, how are you?
B:- Yeah, not bad. You?
A:- Yeah, the same.
B:- Fair enough. See you.
It’s almost like a British tradition, perhaps it’s similar where you are, but hold up. STOP. THINK. How do you REALLY feel? It really does make me wonder at what point the human race went from caring and compassionate to not giving a stuff about each other. More than ever with poor mental health on the increase we should be stopping and thinking for just a few minutes each day ‘how do I really feel?’ Once we know that, we can begin to make changes. Whilst we should take care of ourselves, what about our fellow man (or woman). If we really cared, we’d try this:
A:- Hello, how are you?
B:- Do you know, I’m not great. Not feeling it today.
A:- Sorry to hear that. If I’m honest, I’m much the same. Fancy a chat? I’ve only five minutes now but we could continue later. Perhaps have a coffee.
B:- I’d like that, thank you.
As for applying it to youth, we need to support them from as early a stage as we can. Why can’t we have the same conversations? Honestly, as a professional in a workplace or youth club I would have no issue with sitting down with a young person if they said they weren’t great to listen. Whilst there are instances of some youth not quite coping with the restrictions placed on the world, they still deserve a voice and a chat. A chance to explore how they really feel can help both them and you.
A positive affirmation daily can help. Find one that works for the individual and repeat it regularly. I have a quote stuck to the front of my notebook at the moment I found online which reads ‘Each day, in every way, I am getting better and better’ (Emile Coule). Coule believed saying this to yourself many times throughout the day eventually tricked the brain into truly believing it. Scientists have proved the theory. I can say this quote to myself over and over whenever and wherever I like. Perhaps you could try it or maybe, if you work with young people, it’s one they could try. Even better, let them find one that means something to them.
Whilst it can seem a bit of a daunting and crazy idea to keep saying a phrase over and over to yourself throughout the day, eventually you may just find your confidence and belief in yourself improves, you gain a greater insight and understanding of yourself and those around you, and can fully appreciate your life for what you have.
Here’s a simple exercise for you or someone you care about. Take a minute if you can, get comfortable, sit or lay in silence (or the best that you can manage), perhaps close your eyes, observe what your body is actually telling you. Not what you THINK it is telling you, but what it IS telling you. Notice that niggle in your leg, that pulsing in your ear, or maybe even that sense of wellbeing that washes over you at the end of the minute. Note: that’s not a cast-iron guarantee that it will. You might like to try for longer.
Whether you are an adult reading this, or a young person, I urge you today, be it sunny or rainy, still or stormy, to spend a few minutes finding the right affirmation for you, look out of the window or sit outside in the quiet, taking time for yourself, and once you’ve said your affirmation a few times, and perhaps completed the exercise above, ask yourself how you really feel. It might just surprise you.
I hope you have a really great day!