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Coping- how would you define it?

What do coping and being resilient mean to you?  What does coping actually look like for you?  And what does it feel like?

For many people, I think there is still the Victorian Britain image of coping.  The stiff upper lip, being a rock, shouldering the responsibility, putting on a brave face and so on.  These expressions all smack of isolation.  They imply going it alone, not sharing with or burdening others.  They epitomise the strong person, be it the father, mother, business owner, manager, leader or carer for example, who always has the answer, doesn’t reach out for help and never shows their emotions.

Behind the scenes, however, all is not well.  It’s just that you’re trying to make it look like all is well, that you’re coping and you’ve got it covered.  So, what is actually going on for that individual when they are putting on a brave face and not burdening others with their problems?

Lonely

Well, from personal experience, it feels lonely.  When you think that you cannot turn to anyone for support, you take on the responsibility of finding the answer alone.  And you might not turn to others for many reasons.  You may feel ashamed for not knowing how to solve the problem.  For making a mistake or not being able to handle it on your own.  Perhaps you’re stopped from asking because you imagine people will think you are stupid, ineffective, irresponsible or incapable.  Maybe you are concerned for the impact it will have on your marriage, career or relationships with your kids, friends and family.  Or even the future of your kids.  And so maybe that makes you feel guilty.  Perhaps you are held back by the stigma of failure or appearing weak?  Shame can play a big part in staying silent and “coping” in quiet desperation.

Stuck

I also felt stuck.  If you cannot go to others for advice or support, it is often difficult to find new perspectives and approach the challenge with fresh eyes.  Therefore, you get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same things and hoping you’ll get different results.  That feeling of “stuck” and perhaps feeling hemmed in, restricted or confined is debilitating.  It makes you tense, frustrated, irritated and anxious, which affect your concentration and focus.  In this state, it can be hard to sleep.  And you may be distracted and distant with those closest to you.  Which impact on your relationships, work productivity and engagement as well as your health and well-being.

You might experience tension headaches or migraines, tight shoulders and chest which could lead to shortness of breath and a sense of panic.  You might have low energy and diminished sex drive.

Defensive

And I was on the defensive.  You’ll tell everyone that you are fine or great and how well things are going.  And with every false truth you utter, a little part of you dies inside.  You’ll try to divert people’s attention away from too much detail so that they don’t find out.  You hold your body tense, armouring yourself against threat or attack, as if by not acknowledging it, the house of cards will not come tumbling down.  Yet, every moment you spend not creating an effective resolution, the house of cards gets closer and closer to collapsing.

That tension you are holding has its advantages.  It stops you feeling the full force of your discomfort.  Which you might also hide by drinking alcohol excessively, over working, keeping your distance (perhaps physically and emotionally) from those most impacted by this situation, recreational drugs, gambling and so on.

Sticking your head in the sand

This is a worse-case scenario.  But, if you notice yourself employing distraction and diversionary behaviour, feeling isolated and any of the possible symptoms mentioned above, you could be in a state of coping which isn’t really coping at all.  It’s sticking your head in the sand.  And while you might be busy doing things and hoping it will all sort itself out, the situation gets worse over time which makes you feel more stuck, isolated, desperate, lonely and defensive.  And so the spiral continues downward.

But it won’t sort itself out.  While you remain stuck, you are stressed, anxious and tired.  Therefore, you are not in a place to create an effective solution to the problem.  That stress and anxiety has your body set up for fight or flight (known as the Stress Response).  Which is actually the opposite of what you need to get out of the rut you are in.

Most people, particularly men, will wait until the final straw before they will reach out to others.  Stigmas, such as “asking for support shows you are weak and not a real man”, mean that people avoid asking for help so much longer than necessary.  So much stress, anxiety and heartache could be avoided if stigmas like this could be challenged.

Coping redefined

So, I’d like to redefine what it means to be coping.  Coping is not desperation or isolation.  And certainly not devastation.  The Cambridge English Dictionary defines coping as” dealing successfully with a difficult situation”.  There is nothing successful about that Victorian Britain definition of coping.  I believe therefore, that coping redefined wants to look more like resilience.

**Which means connecting to four key aspects of your well-being:

  1. Self
  2. Other
  3. Nature
  4. Meaning/ Purpose/ Spirituality

Self

One of the reasons people find it hard to cope is that they may not realise they are struggling.  They lack a degree of self-awareness that means they do not notice they are expressing signs of stress and anxiety.  You may know people who are telling you they are not angry as they yell at the top of their voices.

Mindfulness and embodiment exercises can develop that self-awareness so that you can notice the signs of struggling earlier and do something about it.  Also, the earlier you tackle the problem, the less off the rails you are and so it is easier to rectify.  The longer it is left, the more work you have to do to get back on track.  Which is more stressful.  Engage a little in the pain you are in.  The sensations are full of valuable information that can tell you where you want to head and how to take the first steps.

Other

Having relationships with a wide range of people means you have a broad support network to call upon when you realise you are struggling.  To be resilient it is best to have at least one person you can go to for practical advice, someone else who is an inspiration for you, another who makes you laugh at yourself and the world, a fourth that acts as a mentor or elder, a sexual partner or someone who gives you touch and finally someone who is a listener.  These six people collectively support you in your resilience and your ability in coping.  A single person definitely shouldn’t be all six of those things to you, but someone might cover two, maybe three roles.

Nature

A regular connection to nature is a great resource for coping.  The calm of the natural world will bring you to a calmer state if you allow it to nurture you.  Immerse yourself in the wilds, take a walk in a park, or even walk on the streets and take the time to look at the trees, clouds, the sun, birds and anything else that connects you with nature.  It might take some time for the effect to take hold but, do what you can and notice the impact.

Meaning/ Purpose/ Spirituality

When you are aligned to what is most important to you, you have access to power and confidence that has you working at a much higher level.  Compare that to when you are conflicted, second guessing yourself, confused and consumed with doubt or fear.  The power of your clarity, focus and fulfilment are second to none.  Living your purpose has a hint of stepping outside your comfort zone, discovery and creating something new.  It might feel challenging, risky and a step into the unknown, but here you are alive and vital.

You might feel stress, but it is not overwhelming stress.  It is stress that has you raise your game and perform beyond your expectations.  You feel of use or service in this place, contributing towards something larger than you.  Perhaps giving something that only you can give.  That sense draws you forward while you are oriented towards an inner compass point that feels fulfilling, meaningful and on purpose.

Dealing successfully with a difficult situation

If you listen to your body, it is telling you the answers.  Those urges to speak to someone, reach out for help, take a break and align yourself to what brings you joy are your body saying you need to do this so that you can cope.

When you take the time consistently to cultivate your resilience, your capacity to cope with life’s challenges dramatically increases.  So, rather than trying to cope by shutting down, withdrawing, digging your heels in and numbing the pain and suffering, you can reach out for as many of the resources that develop your resilience as you want or need.  So that rather than be stressed, anxious and tense you can be relaxed and at ease and so more inclined towards creative solutions, cooperation and collaboration.

There is even evidence to suggest that when we are stressed, our bodies release Oxytocin so that we are more inclined to reach out for support from others (the second on the resilience list).  You can listen to a TED Talk about it here.

So, there is no need to suffer.  And there is definitely no need to suffer alone.  In fact, when you get this right, overcoming the challenges and reaching your goals in life can come with remarkable ease.  If you listen to your body, it is telling you the answers.  Those urges to speak to someone, reach out for help, take a break and align yourself to what brings you joy are your body saying you need to do this so that you can cope.

Nothing in nature remains stuck.  Everything is in a dynamic flow that moves, changes, adapts and evolves.  If you are digging in and getting stuck, you are going against nature.  You are going against your nature.  Reach out and help things flow.  The answers come much sooner and the joy of relief more quickly.

Over to You

How are you coping?  What do you do to build and maintain your resilience?  What is your definition of coping?  How might it be different after reading this blog? What will you be doing differently as a result of reading this?

Pass it on

If you have found this information useful why not send the link to a friend in need?

 

** I have taken this information about resilience from Mark Walsh’s lecture on Four Types of Resilience from Integration Training’s Resilience Day on April 30th, 2020.

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.

How are you managing yourself through Coronavirus?

Coronavirus is touching a lot of our stress points. It has thrown our known world into turmoil. Many people are struggling with the anxiety, worry, doubt, confusion, uncertainty and isolation. The question is:

What can you do about it?

Transition can be challenging to many. Once you’ve crossed that bridge, you have a new status quo.

It is very normal to experience these feelings when you are going through change. Your biology is designed and programmed to maintain the status quo. The scientific jargon for that is homeostasis- keeping things the same. It is partly what drives habits and why they are so hard to change.

Change is threatening because it upsets the status quo. It takes time to settle into the new normal. And that transition period can be challenging to many. Think how conscientious you have to be to change a habit and how long it takes. But once you’ve crossed that bridge, you have a new status quo.

Loving the uncertainty

Some thrive in change and uncertainty. For them, THAT is normal and their preferred status quo. When things are stable and consistent, these people get stir crazy. For them, the challenge is routine.

So, if you are one of those people that thrives in volatile times then you are probably enjoying the creativity and opportunities presenting themselves. During instability, things are dynamic. It is an ideal time to create and lead. Those that thrive in that will play a large role in creating whatever the new normal is going to become.

Are you struggling with change?

What can you do if you fall into the earlier category of people? Like me, you might be experiencing anxiety, worry, tension, shallow breathing, finding it hard to sleep and struggling with the uncertainty. Financial worries, your health and the health of loved ones, unpredictability of work, isolation at home, how long will this last, what are the guidelines we are meant to follow and so on.  And that anxiety makes it hard to create and lead in a positive way.

Also, the feelings come in waves. You might not be worried all the time. But you’ll hear something or think of someone and that will get you going. Or you’ll fall asleep at night but wake up and find it hard to go back to sleep because your mind starts working. Perhaps the government changes its stance (which it seems to do daily) again and you are left reeling with apprehension and doubt. Or you’re getting conflicting advice as you try and find out what to do for the best.

So here are 5 tips to help you through these challenging times.

Limit your intake of news

It is easy to want to stay abreast of every twist and turn of news as it happens. Keeping the 24 hour news channel on all day is not going to do your well-being any good. It keeps you in a perpetual state of anxiety.

The internet has multiple opportunities to catch up with the news. From pop ups when you log in the e-mail to social media posts. Limit your intake. Personally, I watch one bout of news a day and that is it. I resist the temptations to click on links that will take me to breaking news on the internet. That scheduled 30-minute news blast is enough to keep me aware of developments.

Knowing that I have that planned towards the end of the day means I can get on with my day and not worry about missing something important. At the same time, it allows me time to remain positively focused. And that helps me control my fear and anxiety.

Create routines

In these uncertain times, certainty is a blessing. Set your alarm to wake up and have your morning routine. It’s all too easy to stay in your pyjamas all day when you’re working from home or self-isolating. Get showered, get dressed, have breakfast. You don’t have to do it like you would if you were at work. But whatever routine you decide on, make sure it works to keep you productive, creative and buoyant physically, mentally and emotionally.

Connect with friends and contact them at regular times.

Have your workouts timetabled. Joe Wicks has his online classes to follow. Yoga teachers are doing similar things (you can find some incredible examples at Yoga and Movement Classes). Join Gareth Malone’s online choir which happens every day at 530pm UK time or the Embodiment Circle Online which has multiple sessions of body-based meditation and mindful movement throughout the day. There are loads of different options online.

Routines can reduce uncertainty by giving you structure, focus and predictability. Giving you a strong foundation from which to tackle the uncertain things you have to face.

Stay active

Even with the lock downs that many areas are having, exercise outside is great to make you feel more resourced. Running, cycling, walking will help to make you physically, mentally and emotionally more resilient.

You don’t have to go out in public. You can exercise in the garden, in the house, on your roof (as long as it’s safe). Even regular sets of press ups, sit ups, squats or whatever exercises float your boat are a great way to stay active.

Why not take up something new? Use these usual and unprecedented circumstances to try online a yoga class, Rolfing Movement Integration sessions, Feldenkrais’ Awareness through Movement, Kettle Bells classes or anything that might be fun for you.

Keep your space tidy

When you are at home a lot, it is important to keep your living space tidy and well-organised, for your well-being and peace of mind.  It really helps to reduce anxiety when your space is clear, clean and well organised.

As best you can, limit where you work in your living space. And if you have to work on the dining room table or in the lounge, pack it all away at the end of the working day so that you have a clear separation between work life and home life.

Centring

And if you feel the stress and anxiety creeping in, in spite of these above measures, you can always centre.

In fact, I recommend centring throughout the day as a matter of habit. It has helped me immensely to regulate and manage my anxiety. And when specific situations occur that I find stressful, that centring process is well-engrained and I can tap into that resource whenever I need.

Centring is a quick win, easy access tool that allows you to manage your response to stressful situations and anxiety. Here is a video of me taking you through BODY Centring as an example.

 

 

What is there to appreciate about Coronavirus?

These 5 tips that I’ve shared are great stress- busting tools. My hope is that you will use them and as a result you’ll be able to step back from the brink of anxiety and fear. Instead, you’ll be able to relax and calm yourself a little so that you can be more creative, resourceful and solution-focused. So that you can come through this crisis having grown, learned and developed as an individual, a family or a business.

And, these tips are not limited to a Coronavirus pandemic. You can use them throughout your life. Whenever you feel anxious, worried or doubtful, these tips can help you do a U-turn on your stress-based way of thinking. In the calm, you’ll create by practising these tips, you’ll be better placed to create positive solutions.

In fact, if you use them regularly, they’ll help make you more resilient, so that you do not drop into that negative way of thinking. Over time, things that once stressed you no longer will. You’ll build greater momentum towards positivity and learn to manage yourself more skilfully when the going gets tough.

And one of the plus sides of the drastic measures governments are putting in place is that you have a long period in which to engrain these new habits. Start any of these tips now and within a few weeks, you will be doing them as a matter of course.

They are great for maintaining and sustaining well-being. If you are not using them now, pick at least one and start practising a new habit. By the time we get back to our new normal, that new habit will be firmly in place and you’ll be able to keep using it to maintain your well-being.

Over to you

Are you struggling to manage the daily changing landscape of our lives at this time? Do you worry about how you’re going to make your way through this?

Which one of these tips are you going to try out? Would you like some support or accountability? If so, reach out and I would be happy to offer help in that way.

Pass it on

In these times of isolation and disconnection, show someone you are thinking of them.  If you think they might be struggling with anxiety and worry, please forward these tips to them. Let them know you care and that they are not alone.

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.

Pass it on

If you found the content of this blog useful, why not pass it on to a friend or colleague who might benefit from it too?

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.

Pass it on

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

Be the Best Boss you ever had

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?

Do you consider what your needs are?  Or do you focus more on getting the job done without regard to your personal cost?  Are you treating yourself as you would treat others?  Or are you giving yourself a hard time?  If you were your boss, how well would you feel you treated yourself?

Recently, I asked a group of self-employed entrepreneurs at a workshop, how good a boss they were to themselves.  We explored how they could be the best boss they ever had.  The questions above were at the core of the workshop content.

Well-being and work

So often, people enter self-employment because they have had a bad experience as an employee: working conditions, professional relationships, long hours at work and commuting, toxicity, lack of training and personal development, life-work balance, clear vision and communication, poor leadership and management, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, health considerations, autonomy, a sense that the work you are doing is not worthwhile and so on.

Well-being sits at the heart of these work issues.  Whether an employee or self-employed, your on-going enjoyment at work, productivity, creativity, physical and emotional health, fulfilment, sense of contribution, career advancement, business growth, freedom, resilience and more determine your well-being.

Being in control

So much of your well-being is determined by your boss and your broader working environment (space, colleagues, hours, travel etc.) when you are an employee.  As a self-employed solopreneur, you have full control of your well-being.  You can control when and where you work, when to take breaks and holidays, who your colleagues and clients are, how you work, your vision for your business future, how your business fits in with your personal life and so much more.

Yet, when you work for someone else, you might be surprised by the amount of control you DO have.  You can choose employers that will support you in your quest for greater physical and emotional health, that align to your values and so bring greater fulfilment, give flexible time and location commitments so that you can create a more compelling life-work balance, offer training that supports self-growth and resilience and so forth.  I appreciate that if you are working for an employer that offers no or little support in these areas it might be a challenge to change culture or find new employers.  But don’t you owe it to yourself and your family and friends to find work that gives you fulfilment, meaning, purpose and holistic well-being?

Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971): God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Whether employed or working for yourself, if you do not take a stand and take control, you find yourself controlled by bosses, work colleagues or clients.  You might become chained to your computer, estranged to family and friends, miss your hobbies and other passions, work with clients and colleagues you don’t enjoy, work too long hours, neglect your health and wonder what the hell went wrong!!!  Where did the fun go?  Why all this stress?  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Be the best boss you ever had

For many years I was the worst boss I ever had.  I didn’t take breaks, I missed family holidays, I worked long hours, I managed money poorly, I didn’t pay myself enough, I lacked a long-term vision for my business.  I didn’t feel free.  The boundaries between work and personal life were so blurred, I missed the best of both worlds.  I ignored all the advice and the signs and so I ended up tired, uninspired and broke.  I left full-time employment because all it gave me was a regular salary and I wanted more.  Yet doing something you love isn’t enough.  You have to take care of mind, body, heart and soul so that you CAN enjoy your work and continue to be inspired by your passion.

It took me a while to climb out of the mess, but the first step in all of that was self-care: managing my stress and well-being.  That included:

  • financial discipline
  • a clear vision for my business
  • boundaries between work and family life
  • rest, breaks and holidays
  • mentoring (for advice, feedback and guidance)
  • training and development
  • regular movement and exercise
  • time management (not just at work but for my personal life as well)
  • meditation practice
  • having an active life outside of work
  • Self-honesty and gratitude
  • Autonomy
  • Healthy diet

It’s a personal journey that anyone can take, whether self-employed or working for someone else.  Either way, first and foremost, you are taking control of your life, being the boss or captain of your ship and writing the chapters of your life story.

Daily check-in

We are all a complex combination of mind, body, heart and soul.  It takes perseverance and self-awareness to keep these 4 elements in balance throughout life.  A daily check-in to ask each part of you what is present for you right now can bring this to your awareness.  For example, my mind at the moment is saying that I have a lot to do today and I need to be focused and efficient; my body feels tired and tense and wants rest; the heart feels full from all the work I am doing that is aligned to my values and; my soul craves the hills and open space of the Lake District.  It takes 30 seconds, maybe a minute.  Try it now.  I’ll wait…………

There is nothing you must do about it.  Don’t make it right or wrong.  But if you feel compelled to make change, does it improve your well-being?  And can you keep improving your well-being and maintain or even improve your quality of life (materially, financially, emotionally, spiritually etc.)?

If you want to take control of their well-being at work, “Be the Best Boss you ever had” workshops are designed for self-employed people and employees.  The impact personally and professionally can be profound as you learn practices you can do throughout your day to improve well-being, reduce stress and build resilience.  If you’re interested in local public workshops why not get in touch?  Perhaps you would like to host such an event at your place of work?  The next public event will be in Cambridge, on July 18th, 2019.  You can find more details here.

Over to you

Are you the best boss you ever had?  Or the worst?  How do you look after your well-being throughout the day?  What will you do differently as a result of reading this blog post?  I’d love to hear what you’re doing to take care of yourself and be the best boss you ever had.

Pass it on

If you found this blog useful and know someone who would benefit from reading it, please share it with them.  Or share the social media posts and comment, raising awareness of this essential topic.  Work is a major part of our daily lives.  Happiness and well-being at work are essential for overall life fulfilment….and if you can’t find contentment at work, having practices in place to maximise fulfilment outside of work can make the difference to your life-work balance.

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.

Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 2- Awareness

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.

Would you Know if you were experiencing Stress? Part 1- What’s getting in the Way

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.