Life can get pretty hectic at times, with busy schedules and lots of opportunities to take part in. We all have good intentions to slow things down, say no to the rush and be more mindful of our time, but we also know that it’s not always possible, or controllable. Whether it’s the late train or busy crowds, the cascade of appointments or parties, lessons, the latest work deadline or the myriad things that can make demands on our time – life doesn’t always go at an ideal pace! In these busy moments, we can often feel like our peace has been lost in the commotion, and the balance of our days can sometimes seem a distant memory! Whilst I cannot wrap you up in a bubble of calm as you meander your way through your calendar, I can offer a suggestion for a creating a calm space at the end of your day. A chance to carve out a small piece of time to ground you and your loved ones, slow things down and shed the excesses of the day!
“The quiet room was too peaceful and comfortable to worry in.” – Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
I have always felt that books can have a calming effect on the mind and body. We can lose ourselves in the story, and allow all the outside distractions that press and vie for our attention to fade away. It is an opportunity to step outside ourselves and into another time and place, creating new images and seeing the world through another’s eyes. We are also doing good to our brain – exercising our imagination and enhancing connectivity in the brain, improving our concentration and reducing our stress levels. According to a study conducted in 2009 by researchers at the University of Sussex, reading a book before you go to bed can reduce stress by 68%, clearing the mind and preparing the body for sleep. Neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis found that it can take just six minutes of reading to significantly relax your body and mind. I hope this does much to allay any guilt you might feel that you don’t read “enough” – there is no such measure for what makes you a good reader, in fact there is no such thing as a good or bad reader in my eyes. You read as much as you are able or even want to! In just six minutes you can make a significant impact to your stress, so look for those little moments – reading on your lunch break or on the daily commute, or while you are sitting in a car-park waiting to pick your children up – those pockets of in-between time.
“This is more than merely a distraction but an active engaging of the imagination as the words on the printed page stimulate your creativity and cause you to enter what is essentially an altered state of consciousness.” – Dr David Lewis
Bedtime stories are an excellent addition to any night-time routine. They allow you the chance to slow things down and create a calm space – to snuggle under the duvet and share some quiet time with your little one. There is no age limit for when to start this routine – the very young will often fall asleep to the soothing rhythm of your voice. It creates a loving bond with your baby that will only develop as they grow – a shared moment of undivided attention with stories. But which stories do you choose? If you are trying to create a peaceful mood then I would certainly aim for a book that has a quieter and calmer nature rather than the loud, bright picture books. It is one thing to have a story before sleep but if that story is full of laughter and chatter, then you can easily undo the peaceful atmosphere you were trying to create!
There are many amazing picture books out there, so do take the time to read through the story and get a feel for the style – does it have a gentle rhythm, soft illustrations and a soothing story? Look for books that have a night time theme and give a peaceful message.
“In this modern world where activity is stressed almost to the point of mania, quietness as a childhood need is too often overlooked. Yet a child’s need for quietness is the same today as it has always been–it may even be greater–for quietness is an essential part of all awareness. In quiet times and sleepy times a child can dwell in thoughts of his own, and in songs and stories of his own.” – Margaret Wise Brown
Reading the quote from Margaret Wise Brown you would imagine that it was written today, but Margaret died in 1952 and wrote her children’s books during the war and post-war years in America. Our modern world is sadly no different and schedules can get pretty hectic at times, so if you can carve out a piece of your evening with no distractions it will only be to everyone’s benefit. From birth, your baby will connect with your voice and the contact, and as they grow it will be a way to unwind after the day, reconnect after time apart or just slow things down in readiness for sleep. And of course it doesn’t have to end when they are old enough to read their own stories, you may find that you raise a reader who delights in stories as much as you do and continues the routine into adulthood. You will have given them an important tool for good mental health, and an outlet from the stresses and pressures that may arise in their lives.
For me, it’s how I end every day – it helps me sweep aside the worries (most of the time that is – we all have our moments!), settles my mind, and I can feel my heartbeat slow and my body relax. Because it has been part of my routine since childhood, it is also a well-rehearsed signal to my brain that it is time to slow down and prepare the night. In those quiet moments before sleep takes us, there are no demands on our time – we can rest and reset.