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What do you think about when you hear or read the expression “mental health”?  Do you think about your own experiences of joy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, feeling down, low or depressed, longing, elation, satisfaction, desire, hope and any other emotional state you might experience? Or, do you only think of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar, suicidal feelings or self-harm?

A new Understanding of Mental Health

Because, mental health is the daily experiences of feelings, sensations and emotions across a spectrum that ranges from mild to intense and positive to negative.  For so long, the new discipline of Psychology studied the human condition at its most dysfunctional.  It created models of mental health skewed towards a lack of function and normality.  Now, Psychologists are researching the functional mind as well, high achieving people, not just those paralysed by trauma and abuse, happiness not only depression, the neuroscience of joy as well as the factors that contribute to low self-esteem.

We all have Mental Health

This has opened our understanding that we all have mental health.  Yes, there are those that struggle with severe mental health conditions.  That can make it hard to function at a high level in day to day society- schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder for example.

But most of us feel mild experiences of being low, finding it hard to focus, indecision, seeing the negatives in situations rather than the positive, lacking creativity, productivity and resilience as well as battling with our inner critic.  These are daily battles that almost all of us face to a greater or lesser extent.  We lose sight of what is truly fulfilling and meaningful for us as individuals, and our sense of self and mental health suffer as a result.

Sometimes you don’t sleep enough, exercise sufficiently, eat healthily, drink too much alcohol or take more recreational drugs than is good for you and that all leaves you a little under par.  Chronic stress can erode your mental health too, leaving you low in energy, a little jaded and bruised, less responsive and tolerant as you’d like.  Even short-term stress, brought on from moving house, separation and divorce, grieving, illness and financial pressures for example, can negatively impact your mental health.

The Spectrum of Mental Health

So, mental health is not a condition.  There is only the condition of your mental health.  It lies on a spectrum and you are moving along that spectrum at every moment of every day.  Some mornings you’ll get up and you’re humming a tune to yourself.  Someone cuts you up on the commute and suddenly you’re fuming.  Or perhaps it doesn’t affect you?  Into work and e-mails, meetings, powwows by the water cooler may leave you a little low?  Or not?  Or perhaps you feel more vibrant, energised and alive as a result?

Does a late lunch leave you a bit grouchy, or missing your workout leave you less energised and alert for the afternoon stint?  What about the rush for school pick up and dropping off for after-school clubs, lessons and play dates?  An argument at home or a particularly delightful evening with your spouse and kids may lead to a totally different mental state by the end of the day.  Your mental health is zig zagging all over the place throughout the day.  That is part of the human condition.

Mental health is too fluid to be static, consistent and pigeon-holed by a few diagnoses.  Through these highs and lows throughout any day, you are met with opportunities to manage your mental health so that you can remain creative, productive and resilient.

Managing your Mental Health

A handful of tools and resources can help you manage your mental health.  Even if you are on medication for a diagnosed condition, these tools can help.  And if you are not diagnosed and recognise the ebb and flow of your mental health as you go through your day, these tools can help you manage your mental health as well:

  1. The most important thing is to have an awareness of your mental health, noticing the events and moments that positively and negatively impact your mood and feelings. Without that awareness, you cannot know that your mental health needs to be managed.  It takes a little introspection and reflection to recognise these patterns and preferences.  And if you are feeling really brave, ask someone who knows you well and that you can trust, to tell you what they notice about your mental health, honestly and kindly.
  2. Develop your emotional intelligence. Learn to express how you are feeling.  It starts with the body, noticing the feelings and sensations that are showing up as you go through your day.  Then, find the words to describe those feelings and sensations and accurately express the emotions that are connected to those feelings and sensations.  For example, when I have been sitting at the computer too long, my body feels sluggish and low in energy.  I used to worry it was because I was bored, or the work wasn’t exciting enough.  In time, I learned that the feeling comes with prolonged sitting.  If I want to buck that sluggishness from inactivity, I need to get up and move around for a while.  Maybe I’ll work out for example or go for an energetic walk.  Then I’ll return to the screen, refreshed, revitalised and alert.
  3. Talking to a trusted friend, colleague, manager, partner. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with is so important in managing mental health.  It solves nothing usually, but it does allow you to create some distance and get some perspective on the challenge so that you are able to work out the next step for yourself.  Creating this opportunity at work is becoming more acceptable with Mental Health First Aiders being trained to listen and signpost.  Also, managers are expected more frequently to give time and space for their team members to come to them with personal as well as work-related challenges.  It can create a lot of anxiety for managers, who can become fearful that they need to solve the problem, suffer embarrassment, will do more harm than good or may be triggered themselves.  What is often needed in the moment is a listening ear, free of judgement, prejudice, opinion or assumptions.  This is true whether at work or at home.  Work places are even bringing in coaches specifically to give their employees the opportunity to talk about personal and professional challenges.  It is recognised that this can help people manage their mental health more effectively.  Which reduces presenteeism and absenteeism and improves retention and productivity.
  4. Seeking professional assistance through a coach, counsellor or therapist.  In spite of having awareness, being emotionally articulate and having people to talk to (the first three on our list), sometimes a coach or therapist can support you in taking a deeper dive into your challenges and goals.  Therapists tend to take you to the past to explain your present behaviour.  Coaches tend to focus more on creating the future you would like to live.  And build a bridge from the present to manifest that future.  A good coach and therapist will be able to point you towards what will likely serve you best, coaching or therapy.  So, please, if you think you might want additional support, reach out to either a therapist or coach and they will be able to advise.
  5. Moving the body is great for your mental health.  It keeps you fit, mobile, active, flexible and releases endorphins that positively impact your brain and nervous system chemistry and make you feel good.  You’ll experience more vitality, energy and alertness when you work out and less if you don’t.
  6. You are not a machine.  Take breaks as you need to maintain your mental buoyancy, vitality, engagement, productivity, creativity and joie de vie.  Short breaks might include a walk to the water cooler, kitchen or photocopier or even a stretch at your desk.  Longer breaks may mean getting away from your desk for lunch and coffee breaks.  Like going for a walk, working out, getting a cycle in.
  7. If you use your phone or computer a lot for work during the day, take a break from them in the evenings and weekend. Do completely different things out of work compared to what you do at work.  Slow down. Relax and enjoy a read, a coffee, a chat with friends. Snooze. You don’t need to go on a holiday or weekend break.  Take time in your week to rest so that you can rejuvenate, revitalise and be more resilient.
  8. Diet and hydration. A balanced diet and good hydration do wonders for maintaining good mental health.  Good hydration means plenty of water and being careful about the amount of dehydrating fluids like caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages you consume.  In my experience, diet, sleep, breaks and rest are the least considered factors in contributing to strong mental health.  Yet they are at the foundation of good mental health management.  You do not have to rely on anyone else to achieve them.  They are easy to do, though life-style can make them challenging to achieve.  And life-style is the main stumbling block.  Find a practical way to achieve that and you have great resilience built into your life and mental health.
  9. In my opinion, sleep is the single most important factor that contributes to me eating a balanced diet, resting well, being creative and kind to myself and others.  I feel grounded and at peace when I have slept well.  This positive affect compounds over time as I continue to get good sleep.  And it erodes when I consistently get poor sleep.  Healing and processing take place while you sleep.  So getting in the hours is important if you want to face your day fully charged and frisky for life.

Over to You

How do you manage your mental health?  Are you aware of your feelings, sensations and emotions throughout the day and manage them well?  Who do you talk to when things are challenging for you?  From the list of nine, how many of them are you using to manage your mental health and well-being?  Of those you are not using, which would you choose to implement?  What are your thoughts about mental health now that you have read this blog?

Pass it on

If you found this article useful, please pass it on.  Would your place of work benefit from some training around managing mental health through coaching?  Why not give me a call.

Are you fed up with being “strong”?  Are you tired of the pressure you are under to perform without showing signs of losing composure?  Or having an emotional outburst?

Do you feel that it is your role to have the answers all the time?  If that expectation is hard to meet, is that difficult to admit to?

How are you at having to be right?  Is it a matter of great face and honour or are you OK with making mistakes?

Do you feel the need to be “happy” all the time and find it hard to admit that you might be below par or even struggling to cope?

Do you really thrive under stress, or are you struggling to manage, but afraid to share the truth for fear of what people might say- the boss, your partner, friends?

A meaning of “Strong”

Show your strength by being vulnerable & courageous in front of the right people

This out-dated notion of being “strong” needs a modern update.  Too many people are crumbling under the weight of carrying on regardless, pushing through at all costs, meeting ever-increasing expectations and ever-closer deadlines.  And all for the sake of being or appearing “strong”.  It is a relentless drive, that is driving many of us into poor physical, mental and emotional health and well-being.  “Strong” seems to mean something close to perfection.

So, rather than “strong” meaning perfection can we change that definition? I get the need for an external persona that makes it look like you have the answers, you’ve got it sorted and you can cope.  And I hope that is the case for you a lot of the time.  But is it reality?  And when it isn’t reality, do you have people to turn to so that you can talk it through, bounce ideas off, admit mistakes to, ask advice from and share your emotional pain when you are struggling?

This need to be “strong”, I believe, is stopping people feeling comfortable speaking to others about their struggles.  “It makes me look weak.”  “How will anyone respect me?”  “What will people think of me?” “Will I be able to hold on to my job?”  In silence, they battle on, often getting ground down by the weight of fear, doubt and worry.

Get Wise Counsel

My experience as a coach, and a Samaritans volunteer, is that speaking to someone about these very normal emotions is not only good for your health.  It also gets you to an answer much faster.  And to a much better answer than you might come up with otherwise.   You do not need to carry the burden alone.  But who can you talk to?

All great leaders have a team of people around them who they can talk to and lean into for support. (you can find out more about this in this Brian Tracy article).  Can we not learn from the cream of our business leaders?  We are all leaders.  If only leaders of our own lives.  And many of us will also lead families, children, work colleagues, groups, teams, businesses and countries.  Honest and open leadership starts with these personal qualities in our own day to day living.  Having people around you with whom you can confide makes you healthier physically, mentally and emotionally and allows you to be more effective in anything you do.

So, choose your team carefully.  Perhaps it is good friends you can talk to?  May be its your hairdresser or tennis coach or physio?  You could have a formal relationship with a mentor or coach or therapist.  Or may be you have people you work with you can confide in?  Whoever is in the team, you need to be able to trust them.  The more people, the more resources you have for advice, listening, support and guidance.  And with that comes more resilience and well-being that means you can bounce back faster when you experience setbacks, disappointment and failure.

Who makes you “strong”?

It is not rocket science, but it is startling how few people we actually talk to.  In our fast-paced society, we race from moment to moment and barely touch the surface of our own lives.  Let alone the lives of others.  We take less and less time to connect to people and so lack the depth of relationship we once enjoyed.  But it is this depth of relationship that allows us to feel safe enough to reveal our pain to others and be vulnerable.  As Brene Brown says, it takes courage to be vulnerable.  I think this is the real “strong”.  And to do that we want to build relationships over time that make it easier to be vulnerable when it serves us and others to be so.  All of that takes great courage.

Throughout my divorce process, I had people to whom I could talk about the conflicting emotions I was experiencing.  Some of those ears were professional (a counsellor), but others were family, friends, colleagues and even our beloved dog, Tigger.  In the pain I felt more resilient.  Amongst the confusion, I had people to tell me it was OK and normal to feel this way.  And when it got too much, I had people who would simply be with me.

I witness great courage in my coaching clients, who are vulnerable about their emotions and experiences.  Great insight, bonding and emotional healing come from this intimacy.  It is the human power of connection that helps to keep us whole when we are most in danger of being swallowed up by our pain, fear and loss.  It is not “strong” to suffer.  To remain in silence and isolation prolongs your suffering.

And others suffer as a consequence.  People notice.  And want to help.  Make no mistake.  So be brave.  Be “strong”.  And reach out to someone who cares enough about you to listen as you express your pain.  It is the greatest expression of their love.  A worthy gift to match your strength and vulnerability.

Over to You

What does “strong” mean to you?  How are you “strong”?  I’d love to know and get this discussion moving towards helping more people manage the stresses and pressures they face in daily life.  Our health and well-being demand it.  And if we can role-model this transparency to our children and grandchildren, to those we mentor, lead and guide, the bonds of human connection will be deeper and stronger.  And we will never need to be “strong” again in isolation and loneliness.  We will be vulnerable and courageous, share our wisdom and pain and show our strength in unity and camaraderie.

Pass it on

If you enjoyed this blog, please pass it on to someone you know.  Or share the social media posts.  Thank you.

How good a boss are you to yourself?  As a self-employed solopreneur, how well are you taking care of your well-being?  And as an employee, is your well-being at the forefront of your mind as you work?  How well do you look after yourself?  Does self-care feature high on your priority list?

What does self care mean to you? Does it seem essential or indulgent? Are you at the top of your list for self care or are you at the bottom? Are you always looking out for others and disregarding your needs? Or are you taking care of yourself so that you can look after those you care most about?

Take care of yourself first

You all know the scenario given in the flight safety information announcement before the plane takes off: in case of emergency please apply your own oxygen mask BEFORE helping other people to apply theirs.

It seems like a no brainer and common sense in that situation. If I pass out through lack of oxygen how can I help my child or elderly parent in an emergency? Or anyone else for that matter? In the immediacy and short time frame of an emergency, it seems obvious.

It is an act of self care. According to the Self Care Forum, “Self Care is the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, well-being or wellness.”

Yes, you are doing it so that you can help others, but first and foremost you have to care for yourself. Yet self care need not be an emergency situation. In fact, the vast majority of self care is the daily little things you can do that keep your mind and body relaxed, stress free and in a state of well-being and wellness.

Self care in action

 

I have known a number of people who have had strokes and heart attacks. They all say the same thing: when it first happened it was such a shock that I was jolted into taking action for self care. They ate more healthily, exercised more, worked less, reduced stress, had more fun and spent time with the people they cared about and doing things they enjoyed. Yet, as time went on and the shock of it passed, the immediacy subsided and the urgency is not so great. Old habits return and they find themselves in a similar situation a couple of years down the line. The only exception to that example I know is my Mum who still eats a very healthy diet, exercises regularly and has a personal trainer 5 years after her stroke. She is 87 years old.

Self care is not selfish. It ensures you are able to serve others as fully as possible as well as your self.

So what sorts of things can you do to take care of yourself? You know most of them: reduce fat and sugar in your diet, exercise for longer and more regularly, cut out smoking, reduce alcohol intake, eat more green leafy vegetables, rest more, sleep more, work less, reduce the things that stress you, increase what gives you joy and have clear boundaries to which you say “yes” and “no” to name a few. What others would you add?

Two items of self care I’d like to explore that are less talked about are honouring your values and living your life purpose. These are essential self care tools I believe because they are at the core of why you would care for yourself.

Self care and Values

Some of my values are kindness, trust, transparency, seeing people at their best and giving people space to be themselves. For me there is integrity and peace when I live in line with these values. It can be challenging but I feel less stress and more powerful when I act in alignment with them. I hold myself in that too so I am more self-compassionate and understanding as well as with others. It is a kindness I can offer other people and myself.

So, what are your values? What is most important to you? Get pen and paper and write a list. If you’re struggling, think of a time when you felt really alive, powerful, tingly all over and you didn’t give a hoot about what anyone else thought of you. What was going on? Who were you with? How did you feel? What impact did you have?

Alternatively, consider a time you were upset or pissed off. What angered you about that situation? What was being stepped on that was important to you? These exercises will shed light on what is most important to you- your values. Notice where these values show up in your life? And where they don’t? Where would you like to see them more in your life? How would your life be different if they were more present? Can you see how by living these values more you are doing what’s best for you which means you bring more of yourself to your life? That people would benefit more from your power and passion because you acted from what was most important to you? How stressed and less than your best do you feel when you don’t honour those values? It’s a win- win when you do? Doesn’t everyone lose when you don’t?

Self care and Life Purpose

Connected to values is life purpose. Now don’t get all worried because life purpose has to be something earth shattering that brings you to the Oprah Winfrey show! Life Purpose is about what lights you up inside. Isn’t that self care? What makes your heart sing? Wouldn’t the people in your life benefit from that as well as you? For some their life purpose is to create a bold and loving space for their family. For others it about creating a legacy to reduce suicide, or homelessness, save the whale or create a more compassionate world. Personally, my life purpose is about personal freedom and empowering people to live fully themselves, physically, mentally and emotionally. What is your life purpose?

Can you see how awareness of your values and life purpose make living a more healthy lifestyle, creating and maintaining boundaries and other acts of self care easier to do on a daily basis? They give a context in which your self care can sit. And they give an empowered perspective to keep choosing self care even in the face of challenging circumstances. Keep choosing you and you will always have the strength, clarity and power to serve others.

Self care and coaching

Exploring values and life purpose are central to co-active life coaching. They are some of the foundations of your coaching exploration and journey. Clarity on these so that you can live them with integrity and fullness is an act of self care you can keep saying “yes” to again and again. And the benefit to your friends and family and the world at large will be massive. 

Some may challenge and create barriers as you step into your values and life purpose and you may have your own challenges and barriers as you live them more fully. That is what the coaching journey is about as you grow into that person more fully. Support and having someone in your corner can help make that transformation more readily. Would you like to take that journey? If so, get in touch and we can have a discussion about what your goals are and how I may be able to support in that journey.

Over to you

How do you administer self care? What will you do differently now about your self care having read this? Every year in the UK we have Self Care Week. “Whether it is about self-treatable conditions, long term conditions, or lifestyle choices to ensure better physical health and mental well-being, (self care) week raises awareness of the huge benefits of people looking after themselves better.”

Here is a poster for Self Care Week 2019. Lots of additional resources are available at the Self Care Forum website and throughout the Potentiality Coaching blog posts. Here is a video with more information:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsiOtnnVZvI

Pass it on

If you know someone who needs more self care, please pass on this blog or details about Self Care Forum to them. It may empower them to greater self care and allow them to make a bigger impact in their world which will be gift to everyone.

 

Here are some of the signs to look out for that tell you that you might be experiencing stress

As I said in Part 1 of this blog series, stress is a natural part of life.  We all experience it.  If you think that you do not, perhaps you have a different word for it?  May be instead of stress you would say you are anxious, worried, excited, challenged, driven, focused, frustrated, upset, in anticipation, overwhelmed, exhausted, tired or withdrawn.  Whatever the word, my meaning of stress is that there is something in this lifestyle of yours that generates the Stress Response in you.

Are you experiencing stress?

The Stress Response is a term for a group of physiological symptoms generated when you are feeling threatened in some way.  You are getting ready to fight or run away.  So, you might experience quickened heart rate, dilated blood vessels and shallow breathing accompany increased levels of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones).  For short periods this is beneficial for your health and well- being.  Long term however, and the negative impact on your immune system, mental health, quality of sleep, productivity, overall resilience, creativity, relationships and vitality are immense.  Here are some of the signs to look out for that tell you that you might be experiencing stress (or whatever word you might use):

  • Do you find it hard to get to sleep?  If you wake up in the night, do you struggle to go back to sleep?  Do you feel tired in the morning?  Are you getting less than 7 hours sleep a night?  If you say yes to any of these, you may well be experiencing stress.  These may happen as a consequence of your stress.  They may also be contributing factors to your stress.  Either way, good quality sleep is essential for many reasons.  If you do struggle to sleep or wake up in the night and can’t get back to sleep, this audio might be useful.
  • Do you eat a lot of sugary foods or foods high in fat?  Can you get through the day only if you have sugary and caffeinated drinks?  Sugar, fat and caffeine interfere with your body’s natural rhythms, disrupting sleep and other natural highs and lows of your day.  Many processed foods place your body under a lot of burden, damaging blood vessels, creating bloating and inflammation.  Not to mention the effect of artificial chemicals in our food that poison the body and bring it into imbalance.  All of this is stressful for your body and impacts on your overall ability to cope.
  • Muscular Tension. Light, regular exercise and movement leave the body feeling flexible, mobile and limber.  Sitting still all day, barely moving your body, makes your muscles short, tight and painful.  It puts the body under a lot of stress.  Think how lovely it feels to have a stretch at your desk after you’ve been working at your computer for a couple of hours.  Feels great right? Also, little body movement leaves people in “their heads”.  In other words, listening to the logical and rational part of the mind rather than balancing it with the instinct and intuition of which the body is a part.  Muscles also become tense due to unexpressed emotion.  Emotions are energy in motion.  If they are not expressed, they are internalised (in muscles and internal organs), another source of stress for the body.  Muscular tension from all sources pulls the body out of alignment, generating postural stress that can have long term impact such as shoulder, knee and hip replacement operations, diminished mobility, nerve damage and quality of life.
  • Suppressed Emotion. Are you the type of person who never feels or expresses emotion?  Or if you do it is usually fits of anger or rage?  Do you have a “stiff upper lip” or are you known as the “strong one” in the family/ relationship?  This can lead to a lot of stress in the body.  Gabor Mate, in his book “When the Body Says No- the cost of hidden stress”, explores the impact of suppressed emotion and how it can lead to many debilitating/ life threatening diseases such as MS, ME, numerous types of cancer, motor neuron disease, IBS and more.  In short, the stress on the body from unexpressed emotion is so great, it manifests over time as physical illness.
  • Grinding/ clenching your teeth. This is a sure sign you are experiencing stress.  If people mention that you are doing either of these, it’s a strong indicator you are stressed.
  • Holding your breath. Or breathing in a shallow manner.  This can be a response to stress.  It can also become a habit that keeps the body in a more heightened anxious state.  Learning deep breathing exercises will lower blood pressure, deactivate the stress response in the body and generally make you feel more calm, relaxed and mobile.  Belissa Vranich’s book Breathe gives detailed instructions and exercises about how to breathe more effectively for better health.
  • Lack of focus. The Stress Response makes you very insular.  Therefore, focus on other people, projects at work, problem solving and other things that require focus just doesn’t happen.  It’s your body’s way of saying “Stop paying attention to other things, I need some attention here!!!!”
  • Short temper and irritability. If your body is tired and debilitated by long term exposure to the effects of the Stress Response, you have no or very little reserves in the tank for additional stress.  My experience of this is that as a response to feeling powerless or out of control, we tend to lash out to protect ourselves.  This is a sure sign that you are reaching the end of your tether.  Consciously activating the Relaxation Response will give you more reserves to tackle any additional stress whilst keeping off “Red Alert”.
  • A little worry is healthy.  We can use it to assess situations and scan for trouble before the event.  Anxiety takes it to another level, assessing endless scenarios without resolution.  This is usually a clear sign that you are stressed.  There is a much calmer life for you to enjoy beyond anxiety if you can find the ways to manage your stress.
  • Feeling like life has no purpose or direction. Life without purpose has no direction.  Without meaningful goals, aligned to what is most important to us (whatever that may be), life can feel pointless and meaningless.  We can feel powerless and that comes with its own stress.  A lack of energy, vitality, engagement, power, strength and focus.  Purpose infuses our life with direction and meaning that gives momentum, energy, pace and vitality to life.

Natural Ways to manage stress

Please note, this is not an exact science.  There might be many reasons why you are experiencing these symptoms.  If you suspect stress at all, consult your doctor and a healthy dose of common sense and discover the ways YOU can undo the effects of stress.  Rather than pop a pill which might be the easiest way to deal with it, I invite you to explore more natural ways to manage your stress.  I am not a trained medical professional, so please do not take my word as gospel.  However, there is something empowering about listening to your body and intuition and finding the right answer for you.  Managing the stress is the key.  I discuss some of the strategies I have discovered on my travels with stress in Part 3.

Over to You

Do you notice that you often do not sleep well?  Perhaps you sleep very soundly.  Or maybe you are affected by someone who has disturbed sleep?  Are there parts of your body that get very tight?  Is that due to lack of movement, emotional stress, worry, anxiety or body misalignment?  Or is your body limber, relaxed and agile?  Would you say you were an emotional eater?  Do you find it hard to focus?  Or do you have laser- type focus and excellent concentration?  Are you more irritable than you used to be?  Perhaps you are more calm and unflappable than ever before?

Do you feel lost in your life and feel life is getting smaller?  Or is your life expanding and you are discovering new horizons?  I’d love to hear your experiences and grow this body of wisdom in the Potentiality Coaching community.  Please share in the comment box below or on social media.  Thank you.

Pass it On

If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why no forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read.  It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and recognise the signs that stress is present.  It’s so easy to deal with.  Awareness is the first step.  The next is action.  See you next time for Part 3.

People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress.  They just don’t see it!

Would you know if you were stressed?  Do you have a sense of what the signs might be if you were experiencing stress?  Do you notice when other people are stressed?  Are there occasions when people say you are stressed and you have no idea what they are talking about?

Having recently run a workshop on stress and talked to many people over the years about stress one thing comes through loud and clear:

Stress is rife in our lives and many of us are totally unaware that we are living with it.

People do not seem to realise they are experiencing stress.  They just don’t see it!  But that does not mean they are not affected by it.  Nor does it mean family, friends and colleagues are not impacted by it as a result.  Having been one of those people myself, it is hard to stand around the side lines and watch people struggle with its affects.  As a result, they go about their daily lives oblivious to the signs and symptoms of stress thinking that all is well.

The Impact of Stress

I’m sure you know many of the statistics about stress.  But just in case you don’t, long term stress can negatively impact your:

  • Life expectancy
  • Quality & duration of sleep (sleeplessness, disturbed sleep, nightmares, fitful sleep)
  • Behaviour (withdrawal, irritability, restlessness, depression)
  • Relationships (impacting those closest to us)
  • Health & disease (increase risk of heart attack, stroke, cardiovascular disease)
  • Interest in sex & sexual performance
  • Diet & weight (increase in fats & sugars raises weight or diminished appetite reduces weight)
  • Resilience
  • Productivity at work
  • Motivation

Stressed? Not me!

So being unaware that you are experiencing stress can come at quite a cost.  I will discuss the signs you want to be looking for, that tell you stress is present in your life and perhaps having an adverse effect on your health in Part 2 of this series.  Before I do that, I just want to explore why people don’t notice the stress in their lives:

  1. The signs creep up slowly over time. You live with yourself 24/7 and often do not notice any changes that might happen in your life, except for the dramatic ones: the surprise birthday party, the heart attack, a heat wave or cold snap, not being able to get into those trousers or tops you once used to fit into, a new addition to the family.  Look in the mirror daily and you do not see yourself getting older.  You do not notice your shoulders getting tighter or your waistline bigger.  You’ve breathed so shallow for years that you do not realise you’re barely getting any air at all.  You get used to what you know and may not question whether this is best for your health and well- being.
  2. Social and cultural norms. Countries, regions, religions, companies, cities, individuals, cultures, towns and families all have their traditions.  From what we eat and drink, to how we socialise, where and how we work, what exercise we do, where we pray and so on.  Sometimes these norms are great for our health and well- being.  Other times, these habits are not.  It’s hard to do things differently to the rest.  If other people don’t seem to experience stress as a result of these habits, then surely nor do I.  Yet, we are all individuals and what may be calming to others could be causing untold stress on someone else.  And remember, they may be suffering from the same lack of awareness about the effect stress is having on them as you are.  We just don’t want to go there in our minds, so we don’t.  Nothing changes and the effects of stress mount.
  3. Stress isn’t something that happens to me. This is the misguided vision I had for years.  Because I am a martial artist, meditator, student of philosophy, calm, confident and thinking of myself as a spiritual practitioner, how could I possibly have stress?  As a result, I’m not looking for the signs.  Struggling to sleep?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  Experiencing shortness of breath?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  Finding it hard to focus?  Whatever the reason, it can’t be stress!  You’re getting the idea.  So, maybe you think that being stressed is something that happens to other people.  Or you have a super power that means you can survive on 4 hours sleep a night.  Trust me, we all experience stress.  If it is long- term, it will have adverse effects on your health.  Pay attention to the signs before it’s too late.
  4. Stress isn’t that important to worry about. Some people just don’t think stress is anything to worry about.  Everyone struggles with it and gets on OK.  What’s all the fuss?  It’s a bit like President Trump saying there’s no climate change problem.  Everyone knows that there is, but he doesn’t think it’s worth doing anything about. The attitude that “I’ll be fine” or “I’ve got it covered” I hear a lot.  As a result, the unchanged life style leads to heart attacks, strokes, cancer and more.  These people that I care about seem surprised when it happens!!!!!
  5. I’m too busy to change anything, or change is too hard. Yes, to make changes in your life style does mean things will be different.  In people’s minds that usually means things will be worse!  Our resistance to change is often because we are invested in the old way of doing things: not rock the boat with family or friends; stay inside my comfort zone; surely this tough stage will pass even if I ignore it; I don’t have the time; what about my career, relationship, income etc.; I don’t need to change; how will I be perceived if I change things; what if I fail; how will life be different if I succeed.  Resisting change is normal- there is a degree of uncertainty and that comes with its own challenges.  If we do not make changes, nothing changes.  There are signs telling you that change is necessary, even essential, if only you would pay attention. So, please listen.

Do any of these five points sound like you?  If so, you might be experiencing stress and not realise it.  Left untreated for many years, it could have adverse effects on your health, well- being, quality of life, length of your life and the degree to which you enjoy your life.

The Body has the answer

It’s great that you are deep in the cut and thrust of life, building your business, developing your career, nurturing your family, creating your life.  To be immersed in life is wonderful.  Sometimes you get caught up in the momentum and think “What’s next……?”  As soon as the last job is done, you’re rushing off to do the next one.  If you don’t take time to check in from time to time with how your body feels, you’ll never know where you are at…….. and you may well miss the signs that stress is building up.

Your body is the answer.  It will tell you whether it is experiencing stress. Your head may tell you that there is nothing to be concerned about.  It’s too busy being busy.  Try this instead.  Take time to connect to your body.  How?  Centring, mindfulness and meditation are great ways to connect in.  Also, Mindful Movement workshops are a great fun way to connect in with your body and begin rebuilding a relationship with your body again.  As a result, your body will become a friend, a confidante, a trusted partner.  You will reap the benefits of living mindfully, managing stress effectively and enjoying life fully for mind, body and soul.

Over to You

What is your attitude to stress?  Is it something other people have but not you?  Are you too busy to deal with it or do you make time in your day for managing it effectively?  Is stress another “Climate Change” issue or are you taking it seriously?  Do you know you have to deal with the stress in your life or are you too busy to change?  So, let’s get a conversation going and bring the effects of stress to people’s attention.  Then they can take control and begin to live more fully and vibrantly.

Pass it On

If what I have been talking about sounds like someone you know, why not forward this blog to them and ask them to give it a read?  It might be the turning point for them to start listening to their body and opening to the possibility that stress is in their lives.  It’s so easy to deal with.  Awareness is the first step.  The next is seeing stress in action in our lives.  So we’ll be covering that in Part 2. See you next time.

Build new habits into your life gently

Build new habits into your life gently

You’re serious about your health

Every time you attempt to lose weight you manage it for a while, and then the weight returns as you return to old habits and patterns.

You want to get fit. Each time you set time aside you find something more important or pressing to do and the work outs rarely if ever happen.

You’re aware that you eat too much sugar and fats and not enough fruit and vegetables. Perhaps you know you drink too much alcohol for a healthy, balanced life style.

It can be a challenge to find the mind set that makes the change in behaviour stick and consistently move you towards a healthier and fitter life style.

The All or Nothing Mind Set

Very often we diet and exercise in a compulsive way. We deny our self certain foods like chocolate, biscuits and cake and over load on others like fruit and vegetables and wholemeal this and that. We set our self a punishing exercise regime thinking ‘no pain no gain’. This works for a time and often not for long. The reason I believe is because we are still acting within the confines of the ‘binge culture’.

Just as we binge eat and drink, we can binge exercise and work, binge TV and computer/ on- line gaming, going over- board without a sense of continuity and longevity. We run the risk to burn out, living to excess. With this mind set there is no hope of sustainability. We may get fast results, without a hope of keeping it up.

Slow and gently does it

What has worked for me is a slow and steady mind set. Change your diet step by step, gently reducing the intake, the sugars, the fats and slowly increasing the fibre, the fruit and vegetables and more healthy meats and fish. Alter your exercise habits piece meal- increase the duration, regularity and intensity slowly over time. I am a martial arts instructor and I do this myself- if there is something I cannot do I build up to it until I can. It may take years. Often it doesn’t. I am not gifted, I am not special. This attitude works for all my students. It will work for you.

When we are looking to break habits, we are looking for sustainable change. We want quick results so we blast it. It shocks the body so we are forced to push through, focussed and committed until something distracts us and we take our eye off the ball.

Slow and steady is more gentle. We may get distracted- that’s to be expected. New habits become engrained and we can more easily reintroduce them when we are side tracked.

Over to you

Try it. I’d love to hear about your results. It will work with anything. You will want a healthy dose of patience and a commitment to change. Be gentle- it is the way nature works and the key to uncovering your potential is all aspects of your life.

Would you like to join and expand the community?

If you found this article useful and interesting please pass it on to other people you think would be interested and spread the word.  I would really appreciate it.  And if you are new to Potentiality Coaching, why not sign up to the e- mailing list at https://www.potentialitycoaching.co.uk/ and get an e- mail straight to your in box when I post my monthly blog and be first to hear about news, information and insights at Potentiality Coaching.  I’d love to have you be part of the community.

Habits are entrenched behaviours- we are simply digging holes for ourselves.

Habits are entrenched behaviours- we are simply digging holes for ourselves.

Habits can be tough things to break.  We make New Year’s resolutions and have tossed them away by the middle of January.  We resolve to lose weight or give up smoking.  Then stumble under the insistence of cravings or peer group pressure.  We try the same methods over and over again.  Confident that THIS time we have the resolve, the commitment and the desire.  It was Einstein that said that foolishness is doing the same thing time and again and expecting different results.

So let’s start by dispelling a few myths about habits that might make it easier to understand what is happening and therefore empower you to greater success.

Habits are entrenched behaviours and like any hole it takes time to dig it.  The longer you dig it the deeper and wider it becomes.  Every time you repeat your entrenched behaviour you are working to make the hole a little larger (like our little friend here in the picture).  I have struggled all my life with being over- weight.  It was not until I received a real health scare that I forced myself to look at the reasons behind my over- eating. Boredom was the main culprit.  A habit that had developed from childhood of reaching for food when I was at a loose end.  Mostly during adverts or waiting for something to start like my workout class or a meal!!!!!!

Mind- Framing

Before then I had tried to lose weight, and had framed it around eating less.  My mind- set was one of denying myself, scarcity, negativity and incredibly difficult to sustain.  What worked for me was framing it around better health.  A much more positive mind- set built around empowerment.

I educated myself about the healthy things I could eat, reducing cholesterol, paying attention to levels of saturated fat in food and recognising the craving for food when I had a gap in my day. That was the hardest part, made easier by my commitment to healthy living. I did not want to have the heart attack my elder brother had had and have stents fitted to keep me alive!!!

A Little Self- Compassion

Over time, I have dug myself another hole- new entrenched behaviour based upon positive, healthy living.  Every shovel- full of earth from this new hole goes to fill in the old one, reaffirming every success.  I congratulate myself on feeling lighter, more revitalised and energised, more productive and generally fitter and healthier.  It also allows me to have compassion for myself when I go back to the old habit.  It’s a huge hole that I sometimes fall back into.  This gets me back to my new mind- set quicker and easier, without the baggage and chastisement that used to go with the odd trip up.

Shifting Mind Set

In this world of instant access, we are used to having things now.  Habit breaking does not work that way- it takes time and effort.  A slow gradual process of unlearning the old habit and entrenching a new habit that is better for your health, productivity, career prospects, personal development and progression is the only sure- fire way.  It requires a shift in mind- set and life- style choice.  The feeling of empowerment and success when you achieve your goals is second to none. Good luck and I hope this helps to break the habits that may be barriers on your road to achieving your goals and dreams and fulfilling your true potential.

Over to you

What entrenched behaviour have you overcome?  What habits are you struggling with?  How have you achieved success in breaking habits?  Do you have any tips that would help others overcome habits that limit their potential?  If you do, please post them in the comments section below and help build an on- line resource to empower people to achieve their full potential.

Why not………..

If you found this article useful and interesting please pass it on to other people you think would be interested and spread the word.  I would really appreciate it.  And if you are new to Potentiality Coaching, why not sign up to the e- mailing list at https://www.potentialitycoaching.co.uk/ and get an e- mail straight to your in box when I post my monthly blog and be first to hear about news, information and insights at Potentiality Coaching.  I’d love to have you be part of the community.