This month in our Fresh Air Friday sessions across the country we've been talking about relationships and exploring ways we can deal with relationships in our lives which challenge us.
Healthy relationships and good social connections are some of the most important aspects of life, we thrive through connecting with others. Strong relationships support us in difficult times and it is essential for our long term well-being and happiness to have positive relationships.
Each of us is different, we have our own individual way of interacting with the world around us and how we interpret what is happening around us. There can be times when mis-understandings lead to difficulties in relationships. We also tend to run patterns of behaviour with certain people based on what has happened in the past. During my Fresh Air Fridays sessions in March we spent a lot of time talking about patterns which play out in the various relationships in our lives. Many of the ones we discussed were in families and in groups of friends where we know each other well.
An example that came up for me is my relationship with my sister. I don't see her often because she lives abroad, but when I do it doesn't take long before I get irritated by her. We see the world in very different ways and some of the patterns we run with each other go back to our childhood. As well as patterns playing out between the two of us, there are also behavioural patterns going on at the family level.
Here are some of the ways I've looked at our relationship and changed how I feel:
None of us can change another person's behaviour, but by taking ownership for how you feel about the relationship, thinking about things from the other person's perspective and being open in how you communicate, you can create foundations for building better relationships.
Consider a different perspective
I can't change my sister's behaviour, but I can choose how I respond to it, particularly when she does things that annoy me. One thing I've been doing since talking about this on a Fresh Air Fridays session, is to look at things from her perspective and see if I can understand her intentions.
One thing I thought about when doing this is that she lives in another country away from her family and has lived there for 20 years. What this means is that when she comes over to the UK she wants to catch up with everyone and have big family gatherings. She lives in the Mediterranean where both the working and leisure culture are very different to the UK as well as the weather.
These things combined lead to her flitting in and out at all times of the day and I'm never sure when she will be home. I want to be a good host, be sociable and provide her with nice food, however I'm not sure what time of day or night she will be around.
Last year when she visited I was going through a particularly stressful time which meant I easily reacted to the not knowing when she would be home.
By re-framing it and seeing what might be going on for her, I've been able to let go of my annoyance and have a conversation around what works best for both of us plus the practicalities for her of travelling around the UK and visiting all the family when she is here.
Something one of my members said whilst talking about her challenging relationship was that she now treats all her interactions with this person as a learning opportunity. I'm now learning how to respond when my sister pushes my buttons and take a more realxed approach to her stays.
Give yourself permission to experience the emotions that come up
Some times even when we look for the intention behind someone's behaviour, it is still difficult to change how we feel about it. On these occasions it can be good to get out for a walk and give yourself permission just to feel the emotions that are coming up for you. We don't often give ourselves the time or permission to reflect on how we feel about situations and be kind to ourselves. I spent some time whilst out walking letting myself become aware of the emotions I was feeling after a phone call with my sister. It was good to recognise my irritation and annoyance, realise what message it was giving me and then move on to something calmer.
Be kind to yourself
Finally, many of us spend time doing the best we can for others and taking responsibility for how we behave towards others, yet we don't think about how we treat ourselves. Whilst addressing some of the difficulties mentioned above, there could be the voice inside your head being very critical about what you are doing. Take some time every day to write down three things that have gone well for you that day.
Remember.... The only person we can ever change is ourselves - ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’.
I’ve just got home after running my third Fresh Air Fridays session this month and have been reflecting on our theme which is being present.
So often we spend much of our lives rushing from one place to the next and either thinking about what is next in our plan or ruminating over what went wrong in the past. Then, when we do stop and notice what is around us, our brains are busy making connections for us rather than staying in the current moment.
For example, this week has been very muddy and as I played with my foot in the mud feeling the squelch and watching the muddy water go over the top of my boot, I was transported to a memory of being at my grandparents farm when I was a small child. I got stuck in the mud in the farm yard and my red welly wouldn’t come out. I was scared because there were cows close by and I thought I was going to sink into the mud and be walked on by the cows.
My grandad scooped me up in his arms and bent down to pull out the stuck welly, so all was well. Unfortunately for me, my brain had already registered danger and started up the fight or flight response and this is what happened to me this week as soon as I felt the mud get sticky under my foot. I could feel my heart quicken and my body tense even though I knew I was perfectly safe.
As soon as I noticed this, I was able to bring myself back to the present and focus on what I could see that I enjoyed. Also, I know as an adult that I am safe and was quickly able to smile at the memory of being with my grandparents. I have been practicing mindful walking and staying in the present moment for a while so am able to use these skills whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by things going on around me.
However, I do find it hard to be mindful, my mind is often busy with thoughts of my day and ideas for projects which makes it challenging for me.
Since finding Fresh Air Fridays and doing more mindfulness practice outdoors, I’m finding it much easier to be present and stay in the current moment.
A lot of our pain and discomfort comes from thinking about the past or future and taking time to be present in the current moment gives us a break from this. Tuning into your senses whilst outdoors is a great way to start learning how to be present. For example, next time you go out for a walk spend a few minutes noticing what you can see, then switch your attention to what you can hear and finally to what you feel. If your mind wonders, it doesn’t matter, the fact that you have noticed this is the first step in becoming more mindful.
We spend some time on all our Fresh Air Fridays sessions being present and enjoying our surroundings. Get in touch if you’d like to come along and try out a session.