Proverbs 20:12, “Ears that hear and eyes that see—the Lord has made them both.”
School is starting back up. For those of us who no longer attend school, how would we know? Besides the pumpkin spice lattes and cooling weather, the “Back-to-School sales” get my attention the most. And this year, I couldn’t resist—I bought the long-coveted AirPod Pros. When they were first released, I was working at the Apple Store. In a packed pre-pandemic store, I put in these earphones and heard nothing—not my colleagues asking me questions, not the customers trying to get my attention, nor the crying child. It was bliss! Since this moment, I’ve been craving this bliss and now, I can finally cancel out the unwanted noise.
Today, I had my earphones in before I even left the house, so as I walked past the construction site, down the main street, and onto a bus, I existed in a happy muted bubble. But just before I arrived at my destination, I took my earphones out and WOW. A flood of noise came crashing into my eardrums. It felt a little overwhelming! That amount of sound around me would usually have gone unnoticed but after acclimating to a quieter environment, it was not only noticeable but bothersome. When we first left our relatively quiet homes after lockdown, you may have felt something like this—like the world you used to exist in every day was now louder and more overwhelming than it used to be. If you did, you’re not alone. In a survey conducted by Sensory Friendly Solutions, 91% of respondents stated that COVID-19 has made them experience more sensory overload.1
Over the past few months, students have settled into a lifestyle with little-to-no routine, sleep-ins, longer days uninterrupted by the classroom, loads of free time, and fewer hours of compulsory socializing. Once school hits, it’s like the noise cancellation feature turns off and it’s an overwhelming flood of alarms and bells demanding them to move, peers giggling and yelling, new information and jargon they’re trying to read and comprehend, not to mention the inescapable scent of sweaty-teenager as they sit in hard plastic chairs. There is no doubt that their senses will be overwhelmed and they will be exhausted. And unfortunately, as a parent, you will probably get the brunt of the irritability, tears, restlessness, zoning out, and overwhelm that comes with this flood. So how can you help support young people when their senses and minds are overloaded? How can you support yourself?
At Sanctuary, staff are encouraged to take a day off a month to support their mental health, and to aid this time, we have a list of resources we draw on. One of my favourites comes from Leslie Roberts, our Communications Director: “When Elijah was overwhelmed, an angel met him and told him to have a snack and rest. Sometimes that’s just what we need!” (See 1 Kings 19:3-9). Sometimes it is just what we need and we don’t even realize it. Post-church on Sunday, someone asked the usual, “What are you up to the rest of the day?” And I wasn’t sure. I had made it to Sunday and had no plans (an unusual thing for me). I started listing a number of things I might get up to—laundry, grocery shopping, meal prep, reading, start writing this blog… What did I end up doing? I napped. For four hours! I couldn’t believe it. Admittedly, as I roused every hour or so, it felt like a waste of time and poor use of the day. But my body was loud and clear—we needed sleep.
Listening to our bodies, what they need, and the information they are telling us is crucial for mental wellness. In her latest book, The Wisdom of Your Body: Finding Healing, Wholeness, and Connection through Embodied Living, Dr. Hillary McBride writes, “Our bodies… tell us what feels good, when we feel alive, when to eat and sleep and cry, what is unsafe (or what has felt scary in the past), what matters to us, and how we are different from or similar to the person next to us. All of these messages are resources, giving us what we need to get through the day and the journey of life” (page 45). It’s important, especially in such a digital age, to help your children connect with their bodies and pay attention to its messages. So, here are some suggestions for how to tune in.
I suspect that as your kids go back to school, whatever their age, they might be good for little more than eating and sleeping, especially in their first few weeks. Don’t resist this! Instead, resist making plans for that first week. Stay in and let your kids’ senses take in the familiar sights, sounds, tastes, textures, and smells of home. And make time in your family schedule to rest. Get to Sunday and have that space for your kids to wonder what they might get up to, and don’t be surprised if you find them napping on the couch after a big lunch.
The second thing you can do is something my own father did for me after listening to a talk by psychologist Rod Wilson—ask, “What are your favourite things to see, smell, hear, taste, and touch?” Have a family discussion about it, share your own favourites, and be curious with one another—What is it you particularly like about that sensation? Why is it your favourite? When was the last time you experienced it? These questions will help your family tune into their senses and will reveal the things that are restful and restorative to them. Do they love the taste of a particular chocolate bar? Surprise them with it. Do they love the touch of water? Run them a warm bubble bath. Do they love looking at clouds? Lie in the backyard together and stare at the sky. Whatever our age, when we really engage our senses and are attentive to the pleasant sensations they are taking in, we become more connected with ourselves and better resourced for the days ahead.
Amy has a passion for seeing young people thrive and has been working alongside them voluntarily and in paid positions for close to 15 years! She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, a Masters of Social Health and Counselling and is about to finish a Masters of Theological Studies (Applied Theology). While working as a youth minister in Sydney, she developed training for youth groups and the broader church around how to understand mental health theologically and how to practically support one another.