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Taking Conscious Control by Embodying Archetypes

When you’re under pressure, what tools do you use to ensure you respond effectively?  How do you manage yourself when you are up against it?  Life is full of challenging conversations, situations and relationships.  As well as regularly facing volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.  It is how you choose to act and your conscious control that determines how well you respond.  And with experience, reflection and learning, that gets better over time.

How can you self-manage through these inevitable challenges of life?  Think of a situation that is challenging for you right now.  A personal or professional relationship, a goal you are striving for, a difficult conversation or meeting, a challenge with your children or a health issue?  Take a moment to bring it vividly to mind.

Then follow these three steps.

Awareness

You’ve got to recognise the signs that you are facing a challenging situation.  This is the first step in taking conscious control.  Not just the intellectual challenge of a problem that requires a solution.  You also want to be aware of how your body responds.  Is it open, expansive and relaxed?  Ready to meet the challenge before you?  Or are you tense, contracted and closed, the mark of someone in fight, flight or overwhelm?

If you are in the former camp, jump straight to number three.  If in the latter camp, you want to centre before you do anything else.

Centre

When your breathing is fast and shallow, jaw, neck and shoulders tense, stomach tight, chest contracted, heart pounding, you want to use methods that bring you to an open and receptive state of being.

Focus on your breath and make a conscious effort to deepen and lengthen each inhale.  Feel your feet on the floor or bum on the seat.  Relax your gaze and let your focus broaden as wide as you can.  Let go the tension in your face, stomach, chest, tongue.  Feel your weight drop towards the floor and, as best you can, bring your attention to the present.

Doing this for 10-20 seconds is enough to reverse that contracted state and bring you to a place of relaxation and expansion.  Now you are ready to take conscious control and step into action.

Taking Conscious Control

How are you going to act from here?  What is the best way to respond?  So many options and each one has its benefits.  I have found four perspectives, that are incredibly useful for making decisions about what action to take.  Each perspective corresponds to an archetype (an intuitive map and set of patterns that can inform human behaviour).

By embodying archetypes, you can get a felt sense of their qualities, and allow that to inform your decision making.  The empowering qualities of each archetype bring you to a place of confidence. They open you to awareness that you may not have been conscious of before.  Let’s build a picture of each archetype and see what qualities you embody and how that informs you.

Sovereign

How would you stand or sit with dignity?  Back straight?  Face calm?  Chest and heart open?  Spine neutral so that head and pelvis are aligned?  Attention expanded in all directions, aware of the space around you?  The symbols of your office (crown, mantle (cloak) and sceptre) are responsibilities that can crush or enliven you.  How can you bear the responsibilities of family, employer or business owner, parenthood, partner or homeowner lightly, joyfully, with honour and humility?  What is of greatest service to you and those you share your life with?  How can your sovereignty enrich your life and the life of others?  Who do you need to reach out to?  What support do you need?  Where do you feel Sovereign in your life and body?

Warrior

How do you get the job done and step up when needed? Eyes focused forward on the goal?  Chest open and forward with determination?  Taking up space to be seen and heard as you declare your intention?  Walking forward with commitment, clarity and purpose?  Courageously protect what you most value, regardless of how vulnerable it leaves you or challenging the task?

The armour of Warrior (helmet, breastplate and shield) allow you courage to say “yes” to life.  Your weapons empower your fierceness so that you can say “no” when your boundaries are threatened.  What do you cherish that wants protecting?  What are you a commitment to?  Where does Warrior live in your body and show up in your life?

Lover

Soften now.  Relax and receive.  Let the spine and chest open to allow life in.  Open your arms.  Smile, soften the jaw and face.  How do you give and receive?  What resources bring you to deeper relationship?

What are you open to here?  Where are the opportunities and possibilities?  New relationships, collaboration, co-operation?  What can you say “yes” to?  How can you bring more of yourself to this situation?  Where might you be giving yourself away and so need to create a strong “no” for your self-care?

How fully do you trust?  Where is your resistance to trust?  How would life be different with more compassion and empathy?  Where does Lover reside in your body?

Magician

Let your weight and attention move upward.  Feel light.  You might want to bring your hands up above your shoulders and head.  Cast your eyes up to the sky.  Perhaps come up on your tip toes and move as if floating, gliding, jumping.

What fun and opportunities are available here?  What can be created?  How can new things be formed and put into motion?  What alchemy or transformation can happen…… new ideas, learning, vision, collaboration and co-creation?

What do you need to bring into reality?  Start that process by becoming grounded.  What action is required to bring thoughts, ideas and inspiration into form?

Over to You

What insights did you get?  How is this process different to your usual way of finding solutions?  I’d love to hear your discoveries.  If you found the idea of using archetypes useful and would like to learn more, I will be speaking at The Embodiment Conference (October 14-25th, 2020) and sharing more powerful tools.

Pass it on

Did you find this blog useful?  What have been your take-aways?  Know someone who would appreciate the same take-aways?  If so, please pass on the link and even let them know about The Embodiment Conference.

What support are you giving yourself?

Do you find it hard to relax?  Are your muscles tight and painful?  Would it be useful to be able to let them release so that you feel at ease and calm?  Could that muscle tension and discomfort come from stress and anxiety?  Where can you find the support to ease that pressure?

Do you feel on the back foot all the time?  Are you finding it hard to keep up?  Do you have commitments coming to you faster than you can deal with them?  Does your mind feel cluttered?  How about your home?  Or your workspace?  Would you like some time and space to breathe?  Would you like support structures you could put in place to reduce that sense of overwhelm?

Time for support

I imagine that you would.  But who has the time?  You want something that is quick and easy to do that gives you that instant relief.  When you are stressed, your body is in fight or flight, pumping adrenaline and cortisol around to help you cope with the challenges you are facing.  This is great short term, but long term it is exhausting.  You need a break.

You want to create an atmosphere that does not support flight or flight (stress response).  Or, put another way, create an environment that encourages calm and relaxation.  If you can create that in your body, you become less stressed.  By creating that in your environment, your stress is reduced.

Creating support for relaxation

One way you can do that is to call upon the support and structures in your life that will allow you to relax as a result.  Your body has a wonderful support and structure system that can offer tremendous muscular relaxation.  And that is your skeleton.  By focusing on your bones and aligning them, you can encourage your muscles to relax and give you the relief from tension that you are looking for.  This is a video taking you through an exercise that focuses on the skeleton and allows your muscles to let go and surrender to gravity:

The exercise might take more time than you have on a regular basis.  But even taking a minute, or 30 seconds, to stand, sit or lie down with your skeleton aligned would go some way to reducing your stress and anxiety.  And the longer you do it, the more relaxed you’ll become.  Try it in bed before you fall asleep or as you commute on the train or bus.  There is a lot to be said for doing these sorts of exercises little and often so that you get the benefit over a longer period.

What are the other benefits?

As well as relax the muscles, you might also notice that you slow down.  Your heart might feel calmer, your mind may have stopped racing and you may no longer feel that urgent need to rush onto the next thing.  You may feel more grounded, centred and stable.  I purposefully recorded the video with the window open so that the sound of the birds could be heard.  Isn’t it nice to stop and notice what is all around you-the sounds, sights and feelings of the world?

This is the power of calling upon your support and structure to feel calm and tranquil.  And there are other structures and supports you can call upon.

  1. Routines

When there are important things to get done regularly, it is often useful to get into a rhythm of doing them.  The daily routine of brushing your teeth and bathing is an example.  How about a routine for starting the day so that you are in the right mindset before things kick-off?  Or creating specific time slots in which you look at e-mails, interact with social media or take phone calls.  And then shutting off all interruptions for specified periods so you can concentrate on writing articles or blogs, creating workshop or seminar material, planning meetings or tomorrow’s agenda.  Blocking out time in your diary (hard landscaping your diary as a colleague calls it) can reduce your stress and anxiety about remembering to do these tasks.  And, by doing them, it keeps you calm because you know you are on point.

  1. Declutter

Another thing that adds to your stress is mess and disorganisation.  When you are looking for something and you just can’t find it, it adds to your anxiety.  You spend precious time searching for it which eats up into other time where you could be more productive, or spend it relaxing.  The precision that everything has its place, where things are tidy and easy to get to, keeps things calm.  It doesn’t have to be all straight lines and right angles if that doesn’t work for you.  For some people that level of organisation is overwhelming.  While for others, it cannot be any other way.  But, if you know where things are and you get in the habit of returning them to their home, it takes a lot of pressure off.

  1. Knowing your Onions

Doesn’t it feel great to know your stuff?  To feel that confidence in your chest that you have a deep knowledge about a subject that is important to you- like your business or job.  Continual professional development means you gather a tremendous volume of knowledge that serves to build trust, reliability and confidence in your ability.  Not just for yourself, though that is a huge bonus.  But also, that confidence is embodied and transmits to your clients and colleagues.  When people feel they can trust you, that confers calm and relaxation.

Making time to keep learning about your subject and hone your art lends you confidence and gravitas.  When I speak to experts in their field, generally they tell me that they use perhaps 10% of their knowledge.  But the other 90% empowers them to deliver that knowledge with confidence.

Bringing your awareness to the skeleton aligns you to the support your body gives you so that you can be relaxed, more present and at ease.

Support and Structure

Focusing on the things that give you support and structure allow you to relax.  In the 4 elements model, Earth is the element of support, structure, precision and grounding.  Bringing your awareness to the skeleton aligns you to the support your body gives you so that you can be relaxed, more present and at ease.  Paying attention to the things in your daily life that offer you support and structure so that you can enjoy your day is a key habit to instilling and maintaining calm in your life.

What are you doing during this lockdown period to stay calm?  What structures and support are you using to keep the pressure off and ease the tension?  I’d love to hear how you are doing in lockdown.

Pass it on

Found this blog and the video useful?  Why not send it to someone you know who is perhaps struggling with relaxation and managing stress at this time.

Resilience in Lockdown- what is your emotional response?

Covid-19 and lockdown are both emotional subjects for a lot of people.  I am noticing that there are many emotional responses as individuals, families, businesses and communities come to terms with the impact this pandemic is having on all our lives.  This varied emotional response is completely normal, natural and healthy.  And you should expect your emotional response to change over time as circumstances change.

Expressing your emotional response

Lockdown- what is your emotional response

When people take the time to speak about what is happening for them emotionally right now, the emotional charge decreases.  This alone can make it easier to manage.  Speaking about your concerns, fears and worries can help to reduce the stress, anxiety and fear you might be feeling.  Holding it in and bottling it up only exacerbates the problem.  As I said, your concerns for loved ones, finances, health, uncertainty about work, isolation, grief and loss are normal and natural emotions to have at this time.

They do not mean you are not coping.  And they do not mean there is anything wrong.  Any situation in life that leaves you with uncertainty, doubt, fear and confusion, you will have an emotional response.  But, if you do not find a way to express that emotion in SOME way, it can have an on-going negative impact on your well-being.**  Which can affect your resilience and your ability to manage the challenges you face- and that includes lockdown and Covid-19.

For many, the normal structures and habits you have in place to manage your emotional and mental well-being are often out of reach.  Speaking with family and friends over the telephone or on Zoom is not the same as being with them in the room.  And there is no substitute for a real hug or the comforting touch of a loved one.  The social joys of getting together for a drink at the pub, a coffee in town or a meal out are currently not possible.

How are you managing your emotional response?

Our minds and bodies, in response, begin to become more on edge, stressed, tense and anxious as the restrictions continue and show no signs of abating.  Which is as it should be, as the global population does what it must to contain the spread of the virus and together, we look after the health of everyone on the planet.

Without your typical resources available, perhaps it is time to explore new resources that can help support you?  It seems that these are some of the areas where people are struggling:

  • Reduced exercise and movement mean that muscles are getting tight.  Tension also comes from holding the emotional tension of stress, anxiety and worry
  • Lack of touch and the guardedness of social distancing creates its own anxiety that leads to more tension
  • Unfamiliar feelings and sensations in reaction to these unprecedented times which are challenging to express.  Such as lack of freedom, health concerns, uncertainty, more free time, overwhelm, boredom, job and financial security, isolation etc.

Here are some opportunities that I am involved in that might help to calm your anxiety, support your connection to others and share in safe and confidential spaces:

  1. Embodiment Circles Online:

Since the beginning of lockdown, I have been involved with Online Embodiment Circles.  Very quickly it has blossomed into a global community online, with over 80 one-hour sessions every week.  Most circles are in English, but there are some in other languages.  Circles were created to support well-being, learning and connection. They are practical and accessible, with three sections to them.  The first is a light, non-athletic movement session (accessible yoga or dance for example).  The second, a secular, body-based meditation.  And lastly an opportunity for sharing.

In fact, this third section is perhaps the most effective and powerful part of the hour.  People take the opportunity, if they want it, to share a little about how they are fairing right now.  Every circle addresses the three challenges I mentioned above.  So, if you’d like to be with others in a positive virtual environment, reduce your stress, and move a little to support your health, then join in.  Groups use Zoom and are free of charge.  You can find out more on the Embodiment Circle Online website.

  1. Processing on the Run

I have been an active volunteer of the Samaritans for over two years.  And now, there are also a number of organisations I am involved with on a charitable basis, including Project 5 for NHS staff and Spotlight, offering coaching for actors, give the people in these professions, the opportunity to process their emotional state on the run.  This helps them remain more resilient as well as be more present and productive at work.  It also means they can transition to and from home life more easily.  And therefore be more present to partners and children.

The benefit of speaking about how you feel

Both in the Samaritans and coaching, I see the benefit to people of expressing the emotions they feel in the moment.  Before they have the opportunity to express them, they are often agitated.  They also find it hard to concentrate and focus, feel withdrawn or find it hard to connect with others.  If they have been carrying that emotion for a while, it can impact their resilience to cope with life’s challenges.  It also impacts their creativity and productivity at work, presence at home and their ability to focus on solutions.

From personal experience as well, that inability to express emotions negatively impacts your ability to create, sustain and build relationships.  All of which are essential for thriving through these challenging times as well as in life in general.  I have noticed my improved ability to express how I am feeling makes me a better father, partner, person in business, family member and friend.  And life is just more fun, and rich, with the freedom to express how I feel.  When life is more challenging, sharing how I feel means those challenging times are easier to cope with.

A limited, free coaching offer

Therefore, I am offering individuals a single free session of life coaching to provide a safe space to explore and express their emotions or to work out how best to move forward through the pandemic.  If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, please contact me here: david@potentialitycoaching.co.uk

  1. Stress Management for Healthcare Professionals

If you are a healthcare professional, or know someone in the healthcare profession, Covid Calm is an online session, sharing tools to manage stress for medical staff under pressure.  This is a free initiative, run by volunteers who are very experienced stress management facilitators.  Each 30- minute session takes participants through the A.S.S.E.T. toolbox, which includes:

  • ABC Equilibrium Technique
  • Stretching, shaking and tapping
  • Sitting Mindfulness
  • Empathic sharing
  • Thankfulness and gratitude

These are all evidence-based techniques shown to resource people to more effectively manage stress.  You can find out more at the Covid Calm website and in this LinkedIn article, which also highlights some of the research-based evidence out there to support the effectiveness of these techniques.

Over to You

So, these are some of the things I am offering and involved with that can support people in sharing their emotions.  Allowing them to manage their stress more effectively and develop greater resilience.

Please share these initiatives where you can.

And if you would like to support Project 5 (which offers coaching and tiered psychological support for NHS staff), you can donate here.

Thank you.

** Speaking about how you feel may not be your bag.  Although it is useful to be able to express your feelings in words so that you can communicate with the people you share your life with.  Having said that, painting, drawing, dance, movement, music and poetry can all be ways in which you might prefer to process your emotions.  Having done that clarifying work, it can be easier to talk about what is going on for you.

Mental Health? We all have it. How are you managing yours?

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.

Active relaxation and staying sane in a crazy world

My idea of active relaxation comes from the fitness industry’s concept of active rest. When you are trying to achieve your fitness goals, your body needs recovery time. Intense exercise tears muscle fibres which require time to heal so that muscles continue to work optimally, healthily and injury free. Without that rest, increased fitness and strength cannot occur. Active rest is best because it keeps the body moving without the intensity of heavy weights, endurance or prolonged impact. The body likes to move, so some light exercise as active rest is far better than no exercise at all. Walking the dog, a gentle cycle ride or swim, relaxing yoga or stretching session would all be examples of active rest. Active rest will aid recovery and make you stronger, faster and fitter as part of your fitness goals.

The Relaxation Response and Active Relaxation

Active relaxation works in the same way. You have goals and deadlines: prospecting calls, book-keeping, meetings, proposals, blog posts, social media, networking, your own well-being and that of your clients etc. as a solopreneur. And as a parent you have goals: kids to get ready for school, after school clubs, help with homework, sleepless nights, early mornings, your own well-being and that of your family etc. These things may give you great pleasure and they can also feel frustrating and stressful as well as drain you of vitality, enthusiasm and calm.

When you choose active relaxation, you are choosing activities that bring your body into the relaxation response so that your body can rest, digest and restore itself. Active relaxation benefits the body, mind and emotions at the same time. In the relaxation response, your body can heal and repair itself, your muscles can relax and release tension, your mind can become calm and creative and emotionally you are more receptive to play, humour, building relationships and a solution-focused, positive outlook on life. Can you see that achieving those goals and deadlines is much easier to do if your body is in the relaxation (rest, digest and restore) response and consistently achieving a state of relaxation?

Some Stress is Good, too Much makes you Cranky

Your body spends a lot of time every day in the stress response. From getting the kids to school on time to the work commute, or meeting deadlines for work and managing conflict over the TV remote control at home. It can all send adrenaline into your system for the majority of the day. And for the most part, that is great. It makes you productive, creative and effective in your personal and professional lives. It is designed to make you active, to step out into the world, be seen, take action and take ownership of your life.

But too much of that makes you cranky. Unrelenting stress without a break, drains your system and resilience. Have you noticed that when you are stressed you are less kind to yourself and others? That negative self-talk and lack of patience with others doesn’t feel good, does it? Its also difficult to find creative solutions to situations when you are stressed too much. And you are simply not operating at your best. When you notice these things happening, it is time for active relaxation.

Active Relaxation

So, what is active relaxation? In short, it is anything that brings you out of the stress response and into the relaxation response. In other words, rather than activities that promote prolonged release of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) you actively and consciously choose activities that shut down the release of these stress hormones. Consequently, you feel calmer, more energised, ready to take on whatever the next challenge is with more resilience, centred, balanced, grounded and in more control. These might include:

• Going for a walk (with or without the dog)
• Reading a book for pleasure
• Cooking with care and eating wholesome food
• Watching one episode of your favourite programme or a great movie
• Activities with friends (a meal, weekend break, spa day, walk, pub/ wine bar/ coffee shop)
• Writing- journaling, reflective, creative, poetic, narrative,
• Painting, drawing etc.
• Massage
• Yoga class or similar (Pilates, Awareness through Movement, Rolfing Movement Integration)
• Dance- partner classes, nightclub, conscious dance like Five Rhythms
• Comedy- a live show or something at home
• Centring
• Mindfulness
• Meditation

What would YOU choose to Actively Relax?

Only choose the ones that are actively relaxing for you. If the idea of a dance class stresses you out, it may not have the desired affect of calming you and feeling more resourced. However, to try some new things might have some surprising and beneficial effects. Some on this list are more dynamic than others. The active bit of active relaxation is more about being engaged with the activity you are doing, rather than how physically active you are.

It also speaks to your conscious choice and awareness throughout the activity. This is why long hours in front of the TV does not appear on the list- after a night on the sofa with the TV or on-line, you can feel more drained and less resourced. So, be careful and honest with the impact these activities have on your vitality, resourcefulness and resilience. Active relaxation, like active rest, is meant to give you more enthusiasm, strength, passion and endurance for your chosen life activities, be it parenting, running your own company, being CEO of a large organisation, writing books, running marathons or walking the dog.

The Cycles of Life

You are not a machine. Humans have rhythms and cycles that have us being more, or less, active, depending on the stage in the cycle we are in. Like years have seasons, humans have seasons too. We are perhaps more active and productive in our youth, having more energy, vitality and vigour. Later, that energy can change to be more reflective, calmer and peaceful. You may be very awake and raring to go first thing in the morning but at night want to turn in early. Or you might be the opposite way around? Alternatively, you might be most productive first thing and late at night and prefer a snooze in the middle of the day. What are your natural rhythms?

Every activity has a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter

You go through rhythms and cycles in which you are preparing for an activity (Spring), which leads into being involved and engaged in it (Summer), and then to wind down as it approaches the end (Autumn). Active relaxation appears in the Winter phase- when the activity is done, you have stopped and you are in the midst of reflection, celebration, commiseration, learning and integration.

Winter is a little used phase. As a society, we are used to moving from activity to activity without the rest time in between. Valuable insights are lost if we miss out Winter. The gathering of experience, vitality and energy as well as assessing what the next direction will be, the intention, desired goals and resolve are all essential if we are to enter the next phase with any chance of success and enjoying the journey in the process.

Energy and Inspiration

Active relaxation gives you the recharge to have more energy for whatever you love to do in life. It is easy to keep going because that is what it seems everyone else is doing. But, eventually, you will burnout. You will have less energy for what you love. Perhaps you may stop loving the thing you once loved doing.  Not because you are bored of it, or out-grown it, but simply because you are not listening to your body. Your body needs recharging and care. You want to give it time to do that. Otherwise, it gets tired, low in energy, unwell, negative, depressed, uninspired, blah.

Life isn’t meant to feel that way. Sure, there might be brief periods you experience that flatness- because sometimes life is shit and challenging and you have nothing in the tank to push against it. But often, that is avoidable, by consciously choosing active relaxation as part of your day. You cannot carry on regardless. Recharging through active relaxation gives you all the energy you need for an active, vital and passion-filled life.

Over to You

I was inspired to write this blog because I have many clients who struggle with active relaxation. I have struggled with it for years myself and sometimes get the balance wrong. This drive to do more, be more, faster, harder and longer can ruin your enjoyment and passion for your work and life and can damage the relationships with your loved ones……… and even the relationship with yourself. It’s relatively easy to turn around. Explore that list of active relaxation opportunities and find out the ones that work best for you. That will depend on your natural rhythms and cycles as well as your commitments. Let me know how you get on and if you would like some assistance, get in touch.

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Are you fed up with being Strong?

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.

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

Workshop case study- developing practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life

“David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.” Louise Frayne

I was approached by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health to do a workshop at their London offices.  The workshop was designed after detailed discussion with the Head of HR & Organisational Development, Louise Frayne, who was looking for content relating to stress- management, well- being and confidence.  We had “met” on an on- line discussion I was running about confidence.  Louise was intrigued about my use of the mind- body connection for greater confidence, managing stress and workplace wellness.  Because of my martial arts background, I designed a workshop that focused on mindset, body and posture.  It also centred around movement, connection and the relationship between mind and body.

“I contacted David to design and deliver workshops here at our London office to help staff develop practical strategies to manage the pressures of everyday life. David and I discussed at length how best to help staff to manage physical and emotional well-being, which is a key priority for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health as without a healthy workforce we will not be able to deliver our ambitious agenda.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Stress, Communication and the Body

We started by using the work of Paul Linden and gaining awareness of how the body responds to threat.  By eliciting a stress response, attendees paid attention to where they became tense in their bodies and how they moved when threatened.  Then they learned a centring technique by balancing and relaxing the body, bringing them to a calm and broadened awareness.  As a result, they responded to threat in a much more effective and confident manner.  We explored how and where we might use this in our personal and professional lives.

We extended this theme by looking further at posture and breathing.  How do they impact on our confidence and perception of the world?  Also, how that impacts the people we interact with. We practised scenarios and realised how some postures and breathing made for more receptive and open communication than others.  It was agreed that using these more open postures for meetings and general communication around the office and at home would be beneficial.

We continued the embodied theme by looking at boundaries and being able to maintain those boundaries in the face of challenge and conflict.  These challenges and conflicts can be external and internal, yet it is the person’s personal relationship with the challenge or conflict that is vital for success. Thinking about boundaries alone is not powerful enough.  Integrating the work in the body can make for much more empowered behaviours and statements.  Attendees chose challenges they wished to say “yes” to and “no” to. These were as diverse as requests from work colleagues, personal health challenges such as diet and exercise and behaviours that improve well- being such as relaxation.  Embodying and centring gave more powerful and assertive “yes” statements, giving inner confidence and resolve.  “No” statements could be said confidently and calmly so that it would not damage relationships.

Finally, we tied all these strands together with a communication exercise.  Using Aikido principles of flow, we built a metaphor for communication based on remaining engaged and curious in conversation through movement.  We explored the relationships between leading and following and coming to conversations with an agenda and being agenda free.  Also, we discovered that entering the relationship with our own personal confidence and strength gave us the ability to play our role well, contribute effectively and enjoy the process.  We used the centring, breathing and postural techniques learned earlier in the workshop to make for better communication in a range of relationships so that we experienced win- win outcomes.

Feedback and further workshop development

The feedback from this workshop was very positive:

“David’s wealth of knowledge and expertise was invaluable.  The first workshop introduced core principles of breathing and relaxation. Feedback was so positive that I commissioned two further workshops to build on the themes of the first workshop.  Take up by staff was enthusiastic. Feedback from staff who attended showed that they felt able to use the strategies David had shown them in a variety of settings and they particularly liked how David developed trust and rapport in the room, so everyone could talk openly, which is so important for this type of event to work well. I would have no hesitation in recommending David and his workshops to any organisation.”  Louise Frayne, Head of HR & Organisational Development, RCPCH

Louise and I discussed the content for two further workshops to be carried out the following year.

Presence, Values and the Body

We continued these themes in the second workshop six months later.  Our objective here was to explore values.  How do they impact on stress?  In what way do posture and energy affect our presence?  How does all that impact our relationships with others.  Finally, we looked at meditation for greater rest, resilience and relaxation.

Attendees noticed how posture improved responsiveness, agility, intention and commitment to values.  Focus led to more power, strength and resilience.  Combining these qualities, it was easier to express their individual values, stand up for them when challenged and work more effectively and productively when their values were aligned with those of the College.  We also drew on learning from the previous workshop, adding further strength and confidence to participants’ resolve, resilience and presence.

We finished this workshop with some simple relaxation exercises.  Requests for issues to be addressed included the negative impact the commute has on employees’ health and well- being.  I thought it would be useful to offer attendees relaxation exercises they could do on the train, in the car or while they walked to work.  These exercises could be used as a method to get to sleep or return to sleep so that they felt more rested.  We explored how breathing and muscular relaxation can reduce muscle tension, pain and discomfort.  They can also be used to calm the mind and bring mind and body to a centred space.  We also explored the build- up of negative energy in the body (through unexpressed emotion, lack of movement and exercise as well as compounded stress) and how that impacts health, well- being, relaxation, productivity and creativity.

Resilience, Emotions and the Body

The third and final workshop saw us look at resilience and managing emotions at work.  We used the metaphor of a bank account to explain how resilience works.

We focused the resilience exploration on three areas:

  • goal setting and the intention and focus to achieve those goals
  • effective emotional communication
  • how the body can be used to achieve these ends

We discussed goal setting and how it can positively impact resilience. We also looked at how set- backs and challenges can be dealt with more effectively and a more resilient mind set can be achieved through focus, commitment, body posture and intention.  In addition, we explored the power of surrounding yourself with people committed to and supportive of a similar goal.

The final section of the workshop looked at managing emotions, particularly anger.  The plan was to use the centring exercise from Paul Linden used in the first workshop, to show how it is possible to express and receive anger in a healthy way at work.  The attendees got a lot out of the different perspective offered.

In conclusion

The body is so often over- looked.  For many our primary concern is “the body beautiful”.  Perhaps that might extend to body health.  Yet, my hope is that these workshops presented new awareness of “the body powerful”.  That the resources of the body are so much more than how good it looks and physical health.  These are important factors in their own right.  And there are more.  The body can influence impact on:

  • stress
  • health and well- being
  • mental health and agility
  • living life on purpose and with meaning
  • presence
  • confidence
  • creativity and productivity
  • self- management and regulation
  • personal power and empowerment
  • employee engagement
  • communication
  • relationships with oneself and others

Caring for the body’s health increases its capacity to support us in all areas of our lives.  Awareness of our body’s sensations, feelings and emotions gives greater scope to explore the full human experience and perform at work and beyond in fulfilment.

If you would like bespoke workshops designed for you and your teams around stress management, resilience and well- being using the body, please get in touch and we can discuss your requirements.