How Can Sophrology Help Working Fathers?

d&i strategies fatherhood managing working parents self care work life harmony working parents Jul 10, 2019

During Men's Health Week (10 – 16 June in the UK), we read many of the excellent articles and personal stories shared by men. In our work at Thriving Talent, we hear daily how stress manifests itself when working fathers are trying to juggle personal and professional lives.

Working fathers often cite feelings of overwhelm, guilt, failure at work and at home and working 4 shifts: shift 1 being the morning pre-creche/school, shift 2 being at the office, shift 3 being back at home hopefully in time for children’s bedtime and shift 4 logging back on. None of which tends to leave space for taking care of oneself. Every time we run “New Fathers” workshops, men exchange on the challenges they face and how sports/friends/health/fun becomes a distant memory. As we remind them, if they don’t take care of themselves and have a ‘full battery’, they are unlikely to be the father/partner/professional they want to be.

Organisations are starting to recognise that to attract, retain and engage fathers today, they need to make it easier for them to better integrate personal and professional commitments. Fathers face many of the challenges mothers have been expressing for years and yet they often face greater stigma and judgement as country and company cultures dictate whether it is really possible. Even with better paternity leave policies in place, the % uptake by men is often low because they are concerned about how the company (leaders and peers) will judge them and question if it is career suicide.

Although we are busy helping organisations create cultures to enable “caring and career” irrespective of gender, we wanted to provide some immediate support to those needing to press pause and manage their stress. We asked one of our team, Caroline Dykes, who amongst many of her talents, is also a qualified Sophrologist to share how Sophrology can help us all manage moments of overwhelm and stress. This is what she shared, with a simple but very effective breathing exercise and some ideas of short exercises you can do anytime/anywhere!

Let me start with sharing: what is Sophrology? Widely known and followed in Continental Europe especially in French speaking countries, Sophrology was initially created 60 years ago in Spain by a Doctor to treat war-traumatised victims suffering from trauma and depression and it achieved excellent results. Over the years, the techniques have been refined and improved so that it not only can be used as an effective treatment for these key mental health issues and many more besides, but also as a form of prevention.

Decades ahead of the recent popularity of mindfulness, Sophrology can be described as a dynamic mindfulness or relaxation. And because its roots are medical, it is often more accessible to sceptics of spiritually-driven scenarios.

It consists of a series of easy to do physical and mental exercises that can be done anytime, anywhere, and when practised regularly they typically lead to a healthy, relaxed body and a calm, alert mind.

With stress and anxiety at very high levels nowadays, Sophrology is a great way to restore a sense of calm into people's lives. Its ultimate goal is for participants to become fully present, fully alive and fully participating, comfortably and happily, in all areas of life. It speaks to the deep need for people to reduce stress, clear their head and focus.

For many people, it can be very hard to switch off the mind by sitting and trying to meditate. With Sophrology however, the combination of structured exercises (simple movements and then a 'pause') is a great way of helping people. It opens our minds to new perspectives and helps us face life challenges in a positive way. It helps us to find balance and calm in our busy lives and to ‘act’ rather than ‘react’.

One of the very first exercises we do in Sophrology is to simply be aware of our breath. Let me share an exercise with you – you can take even just a couple of minutes for this and it really is very effective, giving you a sense of space and calm.

With this exercise, close your eyes, one hand on your chest, one on your stomach. Breathe in and out naturally to establish your rhythm of breathing – just do what feels natural, don’t force your breathing through your nose or mouth or particular. This is part of Sophrology – just noticing what is happening, without judging whether good or bad – just notice how you are breathing now.

Now notice the movement of your hands with the inhalation and exhalation. Do you feel motion in the chest and stomach area or just the upper part of the body? Also notice how you are feeling emotionally – stressed, relaxed, tense, calm. Just notice.

Next, try to imagine you have a balloon where your stomach is, and as you inhale, the balloon inside grows bigger – and when you exhale, it goes smaller. Sense the expansion and retraction as you inhale and exhale.

Think about your observations and try again at other times. Where is the movement? Are you chest breathing or stomach breathing? Stomach breathing is also called deep breathing and is linked with many health benefits. It is very good for relaxation and calming the mind. This and other breathing exercises will help you reset your breath. If you always breathe more from the chest than from the stomach, it will take a bit of time to transform. Don’t force it to change quickly – just start with noticing it and things will naturally shift when your mind and body are ready through the practice.

It is our inner state that determines our daily experience of life, how we respond to the life we live and therefore how stressed we are. This is one thing we can have control over. When we are calm and clear headed we lose less time on things that don’t matter and we are less likely to get drawn in to actions we don’t want / need to do. It allows us to connect with a sense of clarity.

Many of the ‘guided’ Sophrology exercises are around 20 minutes however you can find noticeable benefit from even 10 minutes a day. An example of a very simple 10 minute exercise could be starting with a breathing exercise, then a detailed head to toe ‘body scan’ (bringing awareness to each part of your body individually) and then a tension release of the whole body: breathe out, then in, tense the whole body for as long as you can hold your breath, then breathe out and release. Do this 3 times. Regular Sophrology practice gently and efficiently helps us to learn to be more present and happy in the current moment. Through this practice, we invite calm and clarity in our lives, and it helps us to connect with our resilience and improve our mental and physical health. We start to be able to tune in to the state of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ all the time, as we go through our day, completing our tasks. The world becomes clearer and the result is greater self-esteem and self-confidence.

In Switzerland, Sophrology is widely used in business, high level sport, the medical professions (especially for childbirth), schools, universities and families and the good news is that it is also covered by many Swiss insurance companies.

If you read this and you are curious as to what your organisation can do to support working fathers, please don’t hesitate to ask us to share expertise and best practice.

If you read this, have maybe taken that 10 minutes for yourself and you recognise that you do indeed need to press pause and find a greater balance, then prioritise your well-being and ask for help. There are so many resources, specialists and tools available to you as you would have also read in the many articles.

If you are curious to learn more about Sophrology, then contact Caroline directly as she is clearly very passionate about this topic: [email protected]

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