Summer Slow Down: The Upside of Downtime

Summer Slow Down: The Upside of Downtime

If your default response to the “how are you?” question tends to be “I’ve been busy/stressed/tired” (or all 3) then this is the article for you.

 

We’re taking advantage of the holiday season to offer you ways to help de-stress your life and embrace the power of rest…because the benefits of downtime are many and if we want to be healthy, happy and successful, we’re going to need to spend a lot more time watching sunsets!

This article is all about helping you to recognise and prioritise the power of rest; feel less stressed whilst still being productive; create more space for the things you love; and stay present and connected with your co-workers, family and friends – even during a busy day – so you can fall in love with the softer, slower side of life.

Many of us were brought up to believe that, in order to be happy, we need to work hard at school, take all the exams, get decent grades, work harder at university, get better grades, get a job, get married, have children and then we will all live happily ever after.  Ermm… that isn’t exactly how it’s worked out, is it?  We are in the midst of a mental health crisis and a stress epidemic that has most of us spending our days tearing between expectations and aspirations. We overload our brains with information, overwhelm our calendars with appointments and convince ourselves that we can keep on pushing ourselves without consequence. We can’t. We human beings are experiencing unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia, cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and burn out – and the research all points to these being linked to stress, overwork and lifestyle. So, join us as we take a step off the treadmill. It might seem like a step you ‘just don’t have time for,’ particularly if busy-ness has been your default for a long time, but if we want to look forward to a life of long-term health and happiness, it may be time for us to pause to allow our bodies and also our minds and spirits, to ‘rest and digest’.

 

The busy story

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

 

– Einstein

If we’re really honest, how much are we ourselves responsible for creating our busy narrative? Who is it but us that’s filling our diaries and saying yes to every request and demand that comes our way? A survey showed that 2018, American workers failed to use 768 million days of PTO—a 9% increase from 2017. That’s an average of 6.5 days when we could have been lying on the beach, doing something we love or just getting some good old-fashioned, much-needed sleep. We chastise ourselves for being lazy instead of giving sleep the credit it deserves when we all know that the more rested we feel, the stronger we are in mind, body and creative spirit.  Sleep and rest impact every part of our lives from our performance at work to our relationships to our physical and mental health, and yet most of us aren’t getting nearly enough of it.  Amongst its many benefits, sleep improves our digestion, builds our immunity, repairs cells, improves memory, boosts creativity and supports our mental health…and that’s just the beginning! Yet we seem to insist on overworking and over-committing and then feel angry and frustrated when we suffer from ill health, exhaustion or mental health issues – as if we somehow expect a different result. 


Identity and the busy story

 

Over recent years, ‘busy’ has somehow become synonymous with ‘successful.’  The busy story is pernicious. It can become part of our identity when we’re not looking. How often do we find ourselves complaining (slash bragging) that we have ‘110 emails in our inbox’ or that we ‘have so many people to get back to’ with the implication being that we are incredibly successful and in demand, in fact basically indispensable? The idea that to be successful we need to work till we drop is dangerous because it’s a bottomless pit; it leaves us feeling drained, depressed and drowning in an overwhelming sense of ‘not enough’: not quick enough, not clever enough, not good enough, not (fill in the blank) enough. Just. Not. Enough.

 

Thrive or Dive?

 

The Autonomic Nervous System is made up of two major systems: the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”), and the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”). The “fight or flight” response is triggered when the body senses threat of danger.  This was indispensable when we were living under trees and needed to look out for passing predators, but our modern-day bodies and brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our environment and can’t tell the difference between, say, an overly-busy schedule and being chased by a bear.  The body’s response is that the heart rate speeds up, the muscles contract and any systems that are not required for our immediate (as opposed to long-term) survival shut down, including digestion and immunity. Another issue for our systems to contend with is the fact that the brain cannot distinguish between a real threat and a potential or imagined one, which is why we can find ourselves getting tense just thinking about our packed schedule.

We need the sympathetic nervous system like we need fire doors: it’s an emergency escape for occasional use. However, the problem is that this ‘safety switch’ is being tripped far too regularly and, in some cases, constantly. In 2018, it was reported that 74% of the UK felt too overwhelmed or stressed to cope with daily life. Together with all the advantages and convenience of The Digital Age, comes the fact that we are constantly ‘on’: phones never stop ringing and pinging, inboxes are rarely empty and many of us are spending a large part of our lives in fight or flight. And it’s having a major impact on our wellbeing.

 

What rest isn’t…

 

Abby Seixas, author of Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life, uses the animal world to illustrate why, when we miss out on rest, we are missing out on one of our fundamental needs: “If you watch animals, [you’ll see] they spend a lot of time not sleeping but resting […] The animal part of us needs this too. Every living organism needs rest. When we don’t take the time to rest, eventually it takes a toll on the body.”

When we talk about rest we’re not just talking about sleep. Rest is essentially a waking sleep. According to Rubin Naiman, co-author of The Yoga of Sleep, rest is “the essential bridge to sleep” and is something we need to start prioritising in our lives.  Rest helps us to put the body back in the driving seat by influencing the autonomic nervous system.  So how do we do it?

 

 

The Upside of Downtime

 

Like me, you may remember teachers at school regularly telling you off for dreaming and staring out of the window. I remember school reports often containing remarks such as: “Claire is very good when she’s with us, unfortunately she spends a great deal of her time in Wonderland!” Now that may have been true but I’m going to fight my corner here and say that I felt dream time was valuable. It was when I had my best ideas! You can imagine how delighted I was to discover that there is actually a scientific reason for it. When we do what we think is ‘switching off’, a system in the brain called the Default Mode Network kicks into action which, as it turns out, is a powerful source of idea generation. It’s why we often get our best ideas when we’re in the bath or out taking a walk. Staring and zoning out can actually be incredibly productive. Research from the University of Southern California shows us that when we ‘switch off’ the mind is anything but idle. The study showed that these times of ‘rest’ are incredibly important for creativity, memory consolidation and learning; Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and her co-authors argued for more “educational practices that promote effective balance between external attention and internal reflection […] ranging from free-form daydreaming and off-line consolidation to intensive, effortful abstract thinking.” Because downtime helps us to access the most creative parts of our selves.

 

Dream on!

 

You don’t have to go on a 2-week holiday in order to get into a state of rest. Evidence suggests that the brain takes advantage of every momentary lapse in attention in order to rest, even in just a blink of an eye. Researchers recording electrical impulses in people’s brains as they watched clips of British comedian Mr. Bean found that eye-blinks are actively involved in the release of attention and that the Default Mode Network woke up briefly with every blink.

Downtime is essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behaviour (including our own) and instills an internal code of ethics. In other words we have time to consider who we are, what we care about and why. So, next time you’re tempted to check your phone because you have a few spare moments (on the train, in the supermarket queue, when your friend goes to the loo in a restaurant) try sitting and staring so you can give rest and digest a chance. In short, dream on, it turns out to be good for you!

 

Starting the day

 

What you do at the start of the day sets up how you are going to ‘be’ that day.  Making time and space for yourself first thing in the morning is difficult for many of us – and yet it’s so important. It can shift us from being in a reactive mindset to being in a proactive one so, if you can, try getting up an hour earlier in order to wake up and engage your mind, body and spirit. You could take 20-minutes to meditate, 20-minutes to move your body (Yoga, Tai Chi, skipping or just dancing in the living room to your favourite music).  If you can, add another 20 minutes to read something inspiring, journal or to set and intention. Decide on priorities for the day before the world starts crashing in with its needs and demands.

 

 

Take a breath

 

If you’re anything like me, you may find there are moments in the day when you are either breathing in a really shallow way or even holding your breath. Deep, slow breathing is an incredibly effectively way of tricking your body back into the ‘rest and digest’ state. A few weeks of deep, mindful breathing can have a positive impact on a person’s overall health. Try this one: it’s called the 4-7-8 breath. The technique is simple: breath in through the nose for 4, hold for 7 and exhale forcefully through the mouth for 8.  If the events of the day are starting to stress you out, stop and do 3 or 4 rounds of 4-7-8 breathing, and then get on with your day.

 

Schedule in downtime

 

Schedule in downtime like you schedule in appointments, and make sure it’s a priority as opposed to a luxury. If you don’t schedule it in, it won’t happen. There’s no need to feel guilty, the power of rest will help you to become more productive and purposeful in the other parts of your life – and may even help you live longer!

 

 

 

Find your flow

“Time slows down. Self-vanishes. Action and awareness merge.”

 

– Steven Kotler, cofounder of the Flow Genome Project.

You know that state when you lose all track of time and wonder where the last few hours went?  Some people call it ‘Flow’. The state of Flow, originally coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the state when we are “completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Times flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.”

So where do you find your Flow? Painting, gardening, writing, running, cooking, nuclear physics? Whatever does it for you, schedule it in. The hit of pleasure we get from doing what we love filters out and gives us strength to deal with everything else life throws at us.

Celebrate Slow

 

Life is short, yes. So instead of chasing the clock, let’s consider the quality of our lives. Because we wouldn’t want to live to a hundred if we were miserable and stressed all the time. We want to enjoy the lives- and the time- we’ve got.

Let’s slow down, show ourselves some compassion and give ourselves and each other, the space and time to be here.

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

 

Leisure by WH Davies

From Songs Of Joy and Others (1911)

Whole Body Health

Whole Body Health

 

Shifting the focus from body weight to a positive state.

 

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week UK is body image. How we think and feel about our bodies- on both an individual and social level- is having a big impact on our mental wellbeing. Shocking new statistics from the The Mental Health Foundation found that 1 in 8 adults has considered taking their own life because of concerns relating to body image. The cultural and social importance placed on body image is having a devastating impact on our sense of self-worth and is warping our understanding of health. Because ’being healthy’ is about so much more than weight, shape and exercise. It’s about the mind, the body and with that all of the internal phenomena that goes on beneath the surface.

 

 

In this article we’re looking at health through a holistic lens, in order to shift the focus from body weight to a positive state. The aesthetic focus that dominates our understanding of health is undermining many other important factors, like our mental wellbeing. So, in support of mental health awareness week we’re looking at health in 4-dimensions and offering simple ways to accept, include and potentially upgrade each of these dimensions into your attitude and action plan for healthy living.  By stepping back and looking through a system lens, we’re transforming a 1-dimensional definition of health into a 4-dimensional, all-inclusive celebration of holistic health. Let’s turn it up to 4D….

 

Physical Health: Slow down

 

In 2014 I ran the London Marathon. I’m still incredibly proud of this achievement because it seemed like a physically impossible challenge. When I signed up for a charity place 8-months prior to event I could barely run 3km without stopping. Fast forward half a year and I was running half-marathons every other weekend and starting to believe that I might just make it through the 26.2 miles. I was- by the standard definition- really healthy and fit. Yet, I was missing the signs and signals that were starting to show up below the surface of my strong runner’s body- like the niggles and locks I was getting in my knees. Instead, I strapped on two bulky knee supports and managed to make it through one of the hottest London Marathon’s to date. Sadly, that was one of the last times I’ve been able to run long-distance, as since that event I’ve had 4 major knee operations, including 2 stem cell transplants. Now, this isn’t to say that this wouldn’t have happened at some point, as I do have a predisposition for knee injuries. However, not listening to my body and placing a heavy focus on aesthetic health, probably didn’t help.

Whilst the ‘physical’ dominates the conversation around health, it’s often limited to aesthetic signs and symptoms that are collectively to blame for our unhealthy, obsessive relationship with body image. However, it all starts at a much deeper dimension physically, which is then affecting what we think, feel and believe. We’re all releasing chemicals into our brain all the time. Simply standing in a different way can affect the neurochemicals that are released into our brains. So, I’m going to offer a surprising- yet quite possibly life-changing- way of stepping into a more all-encompassing understanding of physical health: slowing down.

 

You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that the mind works faster than the body. For example, the body takes almost 20 minutes to sense hunger in which time the brain has decided it wants a second helping, dessert and another glass of wine. And then the “Oh God I’m full” sensation kicks in. Whilst the body’s systems often operate in a slow and steady fashion they should not be considered as simple or inferior to the brain. Via an incredibly sophisticated network of nerves, neurones and hormones the body sends signs and signals to the brain to help it make sense of the world. That is- if it’s listening. If your mind is too focused on the awkward conversation you had with your boss at lunch, then it probably won’t have the capacity to properly consider hunger, tiredness and the fact that your knees are aching again. It sounds simple, but listening to the body in a culture characterised by fast food and contactless credit cards takes a lot of conscientious effort.

Knee surgery was my way in to a slower way of living. A life-changing silver lining that has completely transformed the way I listen to my body and think about my life. However, you’ll be thankful to know that there are other avenues to slowing down, that aren’t so drastic or debilitating. Simple, shortcuts that put the body back in the driving seat. For me, this involves meditating every morning, taking walks without my phone, not saying ‘yes’ to every invitation, and prioritising self-care.  To quote the wise word of Pico Iyer, author of The Art of Stillness:In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” He suggests slowing down can be as simple as “taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves one rise to the surface.”

 

Emotional Health: Celebrate Sleep

 

I used to regularly start my day rushing from my flat to yoga studio- pushing past everyone on the elevator – just so that I could make it to my mat on time. I remember on one particular occasion, dashing across London to make it to a 6am class. I arrived at 5:55am, only to be told that I was late and that they’d given away my place. “I’m 5-minutes early” I told the receptionist. “Yes, but you need to be here 10 minutes before class. So technically, you’re 5-minutes late.” Resisting the urge to scream at the yoga receptionist I turned away feeling broken, bitter and wishing I’d stayed in bed for an extra hour.

Hindsight can be quite hilarious. As I write this I am recalling so much stress: running red lights, power walking along yellow lines on station platforms and knocking over tourists… all in search of relaxation and release. It seems so silly because my bull-dog pursuit of wellness has often added pressure and strain to an already overwhelmed day. Rushing to relax is surely counterintuitive, so why then is stress around wellbeing so prevalent? In part because the consumerist life-model is often dressed up in a wellness cloak. It guises itself as selfless and well-meaning but it is sometimes no better than the unashamed consumer. So, my remedy for emotional health is simple: celebrate sleep.

Sleep is one of our fundamental needs and is arguably more important that food: whilst we can last 30-40 days without food the longest recorded time without sleep is approximately 264 hours, or just over 11 consecutive days. So, whilst we’re not telling you to skip your morning gym sessions, we are asking you to reevaluate your relationship with sleep. Because the physical and mental ‘gains’ you’re hoping to get from going to the gym after 4 hours of sleep might be completely counteracted by your exhausted and overwhelmed body. Those of you who are parents will have experienced children saying they are hungry when they are in fact, tired. Well studies show that we do this as adults too. “For adults, over-tiredness or exhaustion can leave you irritable, lethargic, a little slow in the head, and craving high-fat, high-carbohydrate snacks, as your body looks for a quick fix for its depleted energy stores.” As well as being linked to fat gain, and muscle loss, sleep deprivation has also been shown to significantly compromise the immune system. One study showed that “Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer.” To quote the words of Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of ‘Rest: why you get more done when you work less’: “If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it. History.”

 

 

And perhaps unsurprisingly, insomnia often goes hand-in-hand with depression. “Until recently, insomnia was typically seen as a symptom of depression,” says Michael L. Perlis, director of the Behavioural Sleep Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “Treat the underlying depression, the thinking went, and sleep problems would go away.” But new research shows that insomnia is not just a symptom of depression: it can actually be a causal factor. So, if you find yourself feeling stressed out, maybe take a look at your sleep. To quote Matthew Walker, best-selling author of ‘Why we sleep’: ““The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

 

Intellectual Health: Read Daily

 

I’m sure I’m not alone in admitting that I place far too much importance in the number on the scales. After two knee surgeries last year I lost quite a bit of weight- mostly due to the muscle I lost from my legs. And I’m ashamed to say that I secretly celebrated this lower number. Fast forward a year and I was so happy to have two strong and supportive knees. Yet, in spite of this health success I found myself frustrated by an increase in the numbers. My legs had built muscle that was helping me to hike, teach yoga and learn handstands, and yet, my healthy body somehow felt like a failure- all because of a number on the scales. On so many levels I knew this made no sense, as I was so much healthier and happier than I had been after surgery. Yet I found it impossible to break this hardwired blueprint. So, my husband helped me do the next best thing: he hid the scales! And I’m surprised to say that this small and simple change has had such a positive impact on my day-to-day wellbeing. Because now when I wake up in the morning, instead of reading a number on a scale, I start my day by reading a book. I’ve swapped criticising my body, for building my brain.

As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” It can also help you to feel significantly happier. One 2009 study showed that reading can reduce stress by as much as 68 percentCognitive Neuropsychologist Dr Lewis, says“Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation. This is particularly poignant in uncertain economic times when we are all craving a certain amount of escapism. It really doesn’t matter what book you read, by losing yourself in a thoroughly engrossing book you can escape from the worries and stresses of the everyday world and spend a while exploring the domain of the author’s imagination.” Making reading a part of morning ritual has reduced my stress levels and has helped me to develop a healthier relationship with my body. You’re just one click away from an infinite number of books and articles, that will take you on adventures, teach you new things and perhaps even inspire body positive thinking. I’ve taken this one step further by painting the words ‘I am enough’ on my living room wall. The hope is that on some subconscious level, reading these words on a daily basis wills be reprogramming my core beliefs about myself.

Furthermore, reading is a hobby and a habit shared by some of the world’s most people including Warren Buffett who believes it to be the key to success: “Read 500 pages […] every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” In addition, the very activity of reading itself activates and engages both the right and left sides of the brain, thus giving you access to your creative and logical thinking styles. According research, reading, unlike watching or listening to media, gives the brain more time to stop, think, process, and imagine the narrative in from of us.

As a society we spend so much time, energy and money focusing on our weight and far less on building brain boosting habits, like reading. So let’s rebalance our attention by putting ‘brain training’ on our ‘exercise’ schedules. One study showed that activities that create mental stimulation, like reading, can protect memory and thinking skills, particularly as we age. The study also suggested that reading every day can slow down late-life cognitive decline. So indirectly we can assume that reading, can actually help us to live longer.

Here are some stats to get you started…

 

Intentional Health: Redraft the story

 

On a daily basis we are bombarded with images of ‘perfection.’ Images that are causing us to internalise ‘shoulds’ that impact what we think, feel and believe about our bodies.

Now every time you have a new thought about what you ‘should’ look like, you create a new neural pathway in the brain. And when that thought repeats it suggests to the brain that it’s a really important thought. So the brain does it’s best to preserve and strengthen the neural path by wrapping it in a protein called myelin. The more the thought repeats the more you protect the neural pathway. Over time you build up a superhighway around a thought. Which is useful if it’s a positive thought and in line with the story you want to tell. But the brain doesn’t discern between good and bad, useful and unhelpful. The thoughts that occur most often in your mind will be the ones that the brain believes are most important to you.

So, if you keep telling yourself that you hate yourself over and over again, your brain will build a super strong pathway and it will become a belief for you. However, what you may not realise is that you have built this belief because you have built this neural pathway. This is why the story we tell ourselves is so important because it can completely change the way we see ourselves in the world.

 

Now obviously some beliefs are much more difficult to rewire than others. Beliefs that have repeated over and over from a young age will have become ingrained in your neurobiology. These beliefs may have created unconscious behavioural patterns and habits that play out in relationships- with yourself and others. And you may not even be aware of the beliefs that are behind these behaviours because of how imbedded they have become in your psyche. So be patient, these beliefs will take longer to break. But they can be changed. We know this because of science. And I know this from personal experience.

Think of something small and simple you’d like to change. Decide what you want to rewire, and we’ll work together to rewrite the story…

 

1. Look for evidence that contradicts the belief

 

This can help you to gain some perspective on the belief by narrowing its catastrophising effect. By reframing the belief, you can start to take charge and apply some order to this exaggerated assumption. Context and clarity are key because they enable us to break down the limiting belief and build it up into something new: into something we can do. We’re not rewiring with a lie, we are re-storying with your true potential.

 

2.  Listen out for words like ‘always’ and ‘never’

 

“I never have the confidence to meet new people.” “I’m always eating.” ‘Always’ and ‘never’ are clear signals that you have built a pathway and a belief about yourself self that simply can’t always be true. When you next notice one of these definitives, use it as an opportunity to rewire a pathway.

 

3. Catch other people’s stories

 

Become vigilant to the stories and beliefs about yourself that are in fact, coming from other people. Some of these internalise without us being aware, so try to become conscious to the story that is being created for you. Whilst this may be someone else’s’ story about you but it can so easily become your story about you.

 

4. Stay curious

 

Don’t be surprised if you uncover many unhelpful neural pathways. This is a daily practice and it’s a never-ending journey, so don’t dismay if you can’t rewire everything in a day. Think of it as a research project instead of a personality transplant because you’re not trying to fight who you are: you’re trying to find out more. Read behind the lines and rewire the best bits of you so that they come shining through. To use the wonderful words of William Blake: “Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction.” Our contradictions are what make us human and if we can celebrate, rather than condone, this ability to create, compartmentalise and contrast, then we give ourselves the freedom to play in the ‘fiction’. It’s your life and it’s your story, so you can write it how you darn well like.

Self-sabotaging beliefs are not in charge. You are in charge because you are the one who built the pathway and you can choose to build a different one. You can choose to change it for a belief system that will serve you and your life.

 

Be an advocate for whole body health

 

Health is about so much more than our bodies. So when you’re next talking about ‘health’ with a friend, colleague or family member, see if you can open up the discussion. Start looking at health from a 4-dimensional perspective in order to help yourself and others build a balanced attitude and action plan for healthy living. Share and celebrate the joys of slowing down, sleeping, reading and consciously creating the life that you want lead.

But don’t worry if you do feel negative about your body from time-to-time. Because even when you don’t love your body: your body will always unconditionally love you.

Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May 2019.

For more information and helpful resources click here.

Baggage Reclaim

Baggage Reclaim

In this article we’re reclaiming our emotional baggage and learning how to handle it better. This isn’t about putting down all of our emotional baggage and throwing all of our issues over the floor: it’s about becoming aware of our emotional baggage, accepting that some of it will always be there and helping other people to reclaim and reconnect with their excess baggage too. Because our ‘baggage’ is what makes us human. We are all carrying around a bag of inherited, conditioned and learnt emotional blue prints, as well as challenging life experiences and losses that can- at times- weigh us down. And the more we ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist, the heavier our emotional ‘suitcase’ becomes. Until eventually, it bursts open. Because like a suitcase, we also have a finite capacity of space to pack away our ‘stuff’. When we reach capacity, we can- quite literally- break-down (hence the term ‘having a break down’), perhaps through ill mental health, physical ailments or irrational behaviour.

So, in this article we are inviting you to take ownership of your emotional baggage so that it doesn’t own you. This is all about helping you to: reclaim your own emotional baggage and become curious about the type of emotional baggage that you are carrying. How might you handle your bags better? And how might you help others carry their emotional bags through life? Let’s get unpacking…

Lost Luggage

“Why am I afraid to tell you who I am?”

 

– John Powell

We’ve been conditioned into thinking that negative emotions are “bad”. So, it’s not surprising that we end up ‘bagging’ a lot of these so-called ‘bad’ experiences, emotions and feelings. After a while, we may forget that the ‘bad’ baggage even exists. But the weight of it is still there, whether we choose to see it or not. To quote C. S. Lewis: “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say My tooth is aching that to say My heart is broken.”

Before we think about sharing our ‘stuff’ with others, we must first be open to acknowledging it within ourselves. We must be willing to embrace our ‘secret selves’, the parts of us that we’ve shunned to the shadows. They say ‘sharing is caring’ and that starts with you. Can you be open to giving and sharing your attention with all of the different parts of yourself, even the bits that you don’t like?

Fear of our emotional baggage is what stops us from letting go. And this fear along with avoidance can actually add to the heavy load we may already carrying. So instead of continually fighting with the idea of even having emotional baggage, let’s face up to the fact that we all have emotional baggage. And whilst we may not be able to let go of all of it, perhaps we can learn to lighten the load.

Oversized bags

“We crave permission openly to become our secret selves”

 

– Salman Rushdie.

Taking ownership of our emotional baggage doesn’t mean spilling it all over the floor. There are many parts of ourselves that we wouldn’t want to (and perhaps shouldn’t!) share with our colleagues at work. So instead of dumping your suitcase all at once, perhaps you can take out one item and lighten the load?

One way of doing this is by asking for help with your bags. Maybe you reach out to your partner, a good friend or even a therapist. In one study, ‘talking therapy’ a term used to describe all the psychological therapies that involve a person talking to a therapist about their problems, was found to be as effective as ‘anti-depressants.’ The review included 11 studies, with a total of 1,511 patients and found that people treated with antidepressants and face to face interpersonal talking therapy were equally likely to respond to treatment and to get better. So, it seems there’s some truth to the old idiom, “a problem shared is a problem halved.”

Whilst there are numerous different approaches to ‘talking therapy’ the essence across the range of therapies is the same: to shed light on an issue and heighten awareness through talking. So perhaps there is someone in your life that you can talk to? It might sound simple but sometimes sharing a problem and seeing it through someone else’s eyes can help to lighten the load, one sock at a time…

Baggage Reclaim

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Now … I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack … Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake — your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders? All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals go about their whole lives carrying around other animals in symbiosis. Luckless lovers, monogamous swans… we are not these animals. If we move slowly, we die quickly. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

The above lines were spoken by Bingham (played by George Clooney) in the 2009 film ‘Up in the Air’ What I love about this speech is that it highlights how empty our lives would be without any baggage. He suggests that arguably some of the best bits of our lives- like family and friends- seem to create the biggest amount of baggage. So perhaps this is a good time to emphasise that baggage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is a part of being a conscious and connected human being. In fact, people who are able to take ownership over their baggage show high levels of what Daniel Goleman called ‘emotional intelligence.’

Reclaiming our emotional baggage helps to raise our conscious awareness, gain perspective and better manage our emotions. And it also models a way of being for those around you and shows them that it is safe to do the same. Because how you are being with difficult experiences will have an impact on the way other people feel they are allowed to behave. What are you allowing other people to share? And how might you better help them to reclaim and carry their bags?

When my partner Tom died in July 2016 I had some incredible support from family, friends, business colleagues and clients. Two and a half years on it is quite natural that the intensity of support lessens. But anyone who has suffered loss, illness or another major life event knows that however much time has passed – we still carry our heavy ol’ suitcase. Maybe we get really good at carrying it, but it is still there. It means the world to me when a family member or friend recognises the case has suddenly become very heavy again and very hard to hold – and sends me a text or even a look or gesture that makes it clear to me that they are aware of what I’m holding. Often lightening the load immediately by at least removing the extra burden of feeling alone.

A ‘Case’ for Creativity

‘You cannot find peace by avoiding life.’

 

– Virginia Wolf

Reclaiming our baggage not only helps us to connect to other people, it also opens up a gateway to a huge amount of creativity. Accessing our pain can in fact be a life source, in a literal way of re-releasing energy for other creative, life-fulfilling pursuits. Edvard Munch’s painting ‘Scream’ expresses the great pain and frustrations that Munch saw as an unavoidable part of the human experience. It is now one of the top 10 most popular paintings in the world. A musical equivalent is Mozart’s Requiem, which was created out of response to his darkest fears in life.

These examples show us the power of channeling our emotional baggage into creative pursuits. Great pain can create great art- whether that be through paint, words, song or dance. Cathy Malchiodi, author of The Art Therapy Sourcebook, is an advocate of art therapy and considers it as “a modality for self-understanding, emotional change and personal growth.”

Perhaps we too can use creativity as a way of processing our emotional baggage and making something meaningful out of it. Maybe your outlet for channeling sadness is a weekly spinning class. Or could a pottery course be your way to process pain? Creativity is an incredible resource for emotional release and can literally turn our most difficult experiences into works of art. To use the words of American novelist Matthew Specktor, “I think it’s what fiction is for: to illuminate that gap between our secret selves and our more visible and apparent ones.”

Shiny Surfaces

“Man is not what he thinks he is, he is what he hides”

 

– André Malraux.

In the last few years of her life, Marilyn Monroe sat in various parks across New York in her married role of Mrs. Miller, watching children play and occasionally asking mothers if she could hold their babies. Grieving another miscarriage and feeling isolated in her marriage to Arthur Miller, Marilyn appeared to the other women in the park as an ordinary woman. A woman who was shy, curious as well as desperately sad and lonely. Some of the mothers worked out the real identity of Mrs. Miller and saw the huge gap that had opened up between the Hollywood star and the ordinary woman. A woman who was seen to be the very icon of beautiful, happy, successful, sexy and lucky, but who really was lost –never able to truly step ‘off stage’ and be happy in her real self, or to own her real life. To use the wise words of Brene Brown: “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that really prevents us from taking flight.”

Like Marilyn Monroe we too lug around the weight of unmet expectations. But often we show the opposite to the world. Many of us are sharing various aspects of our lives online, presenting picture perfect happiness (literally!) Some 78% of 18- to 24-year-olds use Snapchat, and a sizeable majority of these users (71%) visit the platform multiple times per day. However, reality and virtual reality are not the same thing.

 

I was recently on a retreat where there also happened to be some people from the cast of a well know TV reality show. They were lovely young people. And you might not be surprised to hear that they were constantly on their phones and posing for photos. What was interesting was the difference between the reality (at the retreat) and the image presented (on Instagram). Of course, there were tangible differences, changed via some clever edits and filters. Yet what struck me the most was how much they ‘set the scene’ to look like they’d just snapped themselves ‘having fun in the pool’ or ‘topping up a tan.’ When really the most memorable, connecting, human times were when we shuffled around in our robes and slippers together, no make-up, no glossy hairdos – just having a laugh and enjoying taking time out.

I’m sure many of us at times can feel like Marilyn Monroe or Instagram stars. Hiding behind a guise of perfection and pretending that we don’t have any emotional baggage. And as in the case of Marilyn Monroe, this story of perfection can sometimes be too big a burden to bear. For both ourselves and others because it also sets a precedent to those around you. If you are only choosing to share an ‘image’ of happiness and success then are you, on a subconscious level, suggesting that everyone else should only share the same?

Unpacking…

Embracing the emotional baggage in your life will not only help you to lighten the load, it will also help those around you to do the same. What might you allow your colleagues, partner and children to share if you step up and start writing a new story around emotional baggage? We’re always going to have a certain amount of baggage: it’s a part of being human. Which is why the more you embrace your bags, the more you learn to love and accept yourself.

How might you acknowledge and address your own, ever-changing emotional baggage? And how might you help someone else carry their heavy load?

Takeaways:

  1. Think about 1 or 2 pieces of emotional baggage you are carrying. Can you share them with someone close? Can you thank those pieces of baggage for the lessons or experiences they have given you? Can you take them out of your suitcase entirely?
  2. Whether it’s at work, home or in your community – can you identify someone that you know is carrying a lot of emotional baggage? Have they been carrying it for so long that everyone assumes it’s gone? What might you ask them? How could you check in with them to let them know you see them, and see the burden they bear.
Make friends with fear

Make friends with fear

Have you ever watched a horror movie or ridden a rollercoaster in order to recreate the experience of fear?

 

Well believe it or not, but we are doing this all the time. On a daily basis we are often unknowingly creating and living with the experience of fear, particularly in our professional lives. So, this month we shine a light on fear and face up to those unspoken and unconscious worries that might be holding us back. The great news is that fear isn’t fixed: we can change our response to fear by becoming conscious of the mechanisms behind the fear response. Join us as we cross edges, step in and create exciting new possibilities by making friends with fear. To use the wonderful words of Maslow: “In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” What would your life look like if you stepped into fear? Well, there’s only one way to find out…

Your fears are my fears

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear”
 

– Nelson Mandela

We may believe that our fears are unique to us, yet in reality your fears are much more commonplace than you might think. Among the top workplace fears are the fear of losing your job, the fear of looking stupid, the fear of being yelled at, the fear of stepping on toes and the fear of being a know-it-all. But topping them all is: the fear of speaking up. Sound familiar? Many of us will recognise some of these workplace fears whilst others might not believe that they are particularly bothered by any of the above. But sometimes our behaviours give away the fact that we are unknowingly being driven by a deep fear. These behaviours are what we like to call the 9 faces of fear and they indicate that our fear has been triggered. You may recognise some of them. They are:

 

1. Not giving 100%

2. Procrastination

3. Anger

4. Crying

5. Rationalising

6. Avoidance

7. Indecision

8. Withdrawal

9. Lack of completion

In isolation these manifestations of fear may be harmless and possibly useful in certain situations. Issues only arise when these states of fear become our day-to-day default modes of operating and perhaps even our only modes of operating. When we are living in a constant state of fear we contribute to a culture of fear, which limits potential for growth, creates unacceptable behaviour, reduces productivity and creativity, demotivates and discourages individuals and teams, leads to poor communication and drives stress.

 

 

So, how can we stop fear from running our lives and negatively affecting our families, teams and wider communities? By understanding what is being triggered. When we become aware of our fear-based behaviours and thought patterns, we awaken the power of conscious choice.

At 4D we use a model called the pyramid of fear to separate the different layers of fear and to illustrate how fear shows up in our body, brain and beliefs. At the very base of that pyramid- the foundation underneath the various levels of fear- lies four simple words “I can’t handle it.” Susan Jeffers, psychologist and author of ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ argues that maybe we can handle quite a lot more than we believe. And what’s the best way of strengthening this belief? By handling things that you didn’t believe you could handle. When you “‘handle it’ self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.” (Susan Jeffers)

Body

“Thinking will not overcome fear but action will”
 

– W. Clement Stone

At the very top of our fear pyramid is the body. The tip of the iceberg so to speak as this segment focuses on the surface level signs of fear that show up physically. Can we really change the way our body responds to fear? Yes, and believe it or not – no special equipment or training is required. All you need is your breath.

Fear kicks off our flight or fight response, an automatic and involuntary reaction activated by a deep and ancient part of the brain. When activated, our heart rate goes up, blood pressure increases and the body floods with adrenaline. All of which are incredibly useful if we’re walking alone in the dark and hear footsteps behind us or historically, if we’re being chased by a tiger, as it stops us from thinking and simply gets us ready to defend ourselves or to run away. However, this isn’t so useful if it’s triggered by a stressful meeting at work.

The good news is that our response to fear isn’t fixed: we can train our body to respond to fear differently. One of the easiest ways of reprogramming your internal operating system is by tuning into the breath. You’ve probably heard- and perhaps even said- the following phrase during a stressful situation: take a deep breath. Now this is helpful as long as that deep inhalation is followed by a long and slow exhalation (we want to avoid inhaling and holding the breath because this can lead to overbreathing!) So, counting the breath is a much more useful tool (and mantra) to use during stressful situations as it creates a slow and deep breathing cycle, which sends a signal to our brain that we are safe. As a result, the body returns to a more balanced state. Through working with the breath, we can regulate ourselves and get ourselves back to our optimal zone of functioning – what Psychiatry professor Dr Daniel J. Siegel and trauma therapist Pat Ogden Phd call our ‘Window of Tolerance.’ So, the next time you find yourself in a stressful meeting, “breath in for 4 and out for 4“…and open up your Window of Tolerance. You’ll find it much easier to solve the situation with a clear, calm head.

Brain

“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are your own fears”

 

– Rudyard Kipling

The second layer of our fear pyramid uncovers the stories we tell ourselves about our fears. When we are in a state of fear the stories running through our minds can hugely distort and exaggerate the threat in front of us. I’m sure many of you have experienced the effect of a ‘runaway thought train’ (credit to our fab clients Ginny and El for this term!) It’s when one small- and seemingly innocent- thought builds into a full-blown disaster narrative. The catastrophizing train of thoughts creates a whole reality in our heads about something that hasn’t happened and probably never will. However, your brain doesn’t know the difference between real and imagined experiences. This is why you may find yourself jumping when watching a horror film, because your brain doesn’t register the difference between your reality (sitting in your living room) and the imagined reality in front of you (a full-blown zombie apocalypse!)

 

Neuroscientist and meditation expert, Dr. Joe Dispenza, believes that these negative thought cycles are stopping us from reaching our full potential and are ultimately making us sick. Whilst all animals can cope with a degree of fear and stress (for example, a deer running away from a fox will experience stress and fear as it tries to escape but once it’s safe, the response will be turned off and the deer will return to a balanced state), no animal can survive in a long-term, constant state of stress and fear. When our fear response is turned on and never turned off we are heading for disease. “So, our thoughts make us sick. But that means our thoughts can make us well” (Joe Dispenza).

If you think about a future event- your body doesn’t know the difference between the conjured idea and reality. So, most people are constantly reaffirming their fears and emotional states from past events in their life.

However, the same is true for future events. If you close your eyes, cultivate present awareness and mentally rehearse an action, your brain won’t know the difference between the imagined future and reality. For example, if you are one of the many people who are fearful of public speaking, you might imagine a different reality for an upcoming presentation, one in which you are feeling confident and self-assured. By doing this you are in a sense installing “new neurological hardware into your brain”, to look like the event has already occurred. Suddenly the brain is no longer just “a record of the past” but “a map to the future” (Joe Dispenza). So, the question is: what do you want your future to look like? What fears are you finally willing to let go of and leave behind?

Beliefs

“Your life does not get better by chance, it gets better by change”
 

– Jim Rohn

And so we come to the 3rd layer of fear: our beliefs. This is where we find our deepest and darkest fears. Fundamentally, this is what we believe about ourselves. Therapist and author Marisa Peer, believes that the fear of not being “enough” is “the biggest disease affecting humanity.” If we open this up we find the 4 main fears that sit at the core of our identities:

 

1.             Am I competent?

2.             Am I a good person?

3.             Will I be the best?

4.             Will I be liked?

 

Which one of these is often playing out in your life? The thought of not being liked? Or not being considered a good and worthy person? You may associate with one in particular (mine is usually around being the best!)

If any of these fears are triggered it can feel very frightening and threatening because our sense of self – who we are and what we believe about ourselves- can feel under attack. Guilt, anger and humiliation are signals of this and they can be deeply uncomfortable. Think back to the 9 faces of fear and the behaviours we tend to display. These are simply manifestations of these deep-set fears and they are ways we try to keep ourselves in our comfort zone.

And that is the one of the greatest challenges for us as human beings. We are driven to keep our identity safe and our fears hidden. To stay with what’s known and familiar. But of course, by keeping ourselves safe, we also keep ourselves stuck and this makes it very difficult to step in and start creating new patterns in our lives…

 

I can handle it…

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear”
 

– Jack Cornfield

Which brings us to the very base of our fear pyramid: “I can’t handle it!” When we work down through the layers of the fear pyramid, we can flip our response to fear and transform an ‘I can’t’ into ‘I can.’

Remember, even the fear of ‘I can’t handle it’ is simply a narrative you have created. You have no proof that you can’t handle it unless you step in. Whether it’s speaking up at work, asking for a promotion or even one of the big, frightening curveballs that life can throw us – you can handle it. It might not be easy but we can all handle a lot more than we believe.

So, what limiting beliefs are stopping you from stepping in, pushing boundaries and realising your unbounded potential? Can you lean in with a curiosity instead of running away with regret? Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Big Magic’, believes that this is the key for “creative living” because a creative life is “any life that is driven more strongly by creativity that it is by fear.” So, let’s stop fear from ruling our lives by stepping in with curiosity, conscious intentionality and with the knowledge that we can, in fact, handle a lot more than we might think! Who knows what’s possible if we “travel in the direction of our fear” (John Berryman).

Dancing through a downpour

Dancing through a downpour

Six simple steps to support you through stress

It is often said that two of the most stressful events in anyone’s life are the death of a loved one and moving house. So having lost my partner Tom last year- and now moving house this weekend- I can very much resonate with the theme of this month’s newsletter: stress.

November opened with International Stress Awareness Day, the focus of which was wellbeing in the workplace. Set by the ISMA (International Stress Management Association) the aim was to encourage both employers and employees to start having conversations about the impact of stress on ourselves and those around us. And also to look at ways we might reduce stress in our lives so that we can live in a more present, productive and creative state.

It seems vital that we understand our own reactions to stress so that we can best support ourselves and manage our reactions when these situations arise.

Whether we are facing redundancy, divorce, organisational change, or simply the day-to-day irritations of unexpected events, it seems vital that we understand our own reactions to stress so that we can best support ourselves and manage our reactions when these situations arise. As the pace of life increases, so do our expectations and our demands on ourselves. So in stark contrast to the ‘bigger, better, faster’ mantra of the modern world, I am going to suggest we pause for a moment to consider how we can best deal with stress in our everyday lives, in order to live healthier, happier lives and maximise our well-being…in all 4 dimensions!

Part of the work Tom and I created together at 4D Human Being was the 4D2C model: 4 Dimensions and 2 Contexts. The 4D2C model is an integral holistic model that looks at all dimensions of us as human beings in the context in which we live. We use this model across all of our work in order to help people with communication skills, organisational change and personal development. So how can the 4D2C model help you manage, navigate and reduce your stress?

 

 

The 4D2C model looks at all aspects of us as human beings – physical emotional intellectual and intentional – as well as the two contexts in which we operate- cultural and environmental. The context is key. Many self-development models miss this out. But we are very much shaped by the context – the people and places- around us. Think of it as a map and a tool that will guide and support you through times of difficulty, uncertainty or change.

The 4D2C model looks at all aspects of us as human beings – physical emotional intellectual and intentional – as well as the two contexts in which we operate- cultural and environmental.

When I look back over the past 16 months and my own journey through grief and loss, I can very clearly see how I have consciously used the 4D2C model to give myself the best chance at happiness. Here we will take a look at each aspect of the model, how I used it to help me through the most difficult and stressful periods of my life and how you might do the same… 

The Physical Dimension

For me the physical factor started with pounding up and down hills to release some pent up energy, often crying into the mountains. I also took up ballroom dancing, which acted as wonderful distraction. This novel sideline took me right out of my comfort zone and into a space where I was able to fully absorb my creative energy, often laughing out loud as I stumbled over mine (and my partners) steps. Eventually, I returned to the yoga mat and to a softer, subtler practice. In this space I began to sit with the silence and sense calm amidst the storm.

 

At 4DHB our mantra- whether in a 1-2-1 coaching session, communications workshop or therapy session- is: bring it back to the body. The physical sits at the core of well-being, which is why it is vital that we work with our bodies when faced with struggle and stress. Whether it is walking around the park, going to the gym or dancing around in your living room, the physical is your building block to bring you back to yourself. Therapy studies show that when working with depressed patients one of the first things we need to do is to get them out of bed and get them moving. Because when we move we create a chain of chemical events that release different sets of hormones into the body. Feel-good endorphins, confidence boosting testosterone and mood-boosting serotonin that can completely alter the way you react and respond in a stressful situation.

The physical sits at the core of well-being, which is why it is vital that we work with our bodies when faced with struggle and stress.

So in times of stress how do you support yourself physically? And what more can you do? You might simply stretch your body for 5-minutes in the morning. Or take an Amy Cuddy ‘power pose’ before delivering a nerve-wracking presentation. It could be kickboxing, power walking, weightlifting or playing with your children in the garden. What you do doesn’t matter. It’s that you do it that counts. Because when you start using your body as a support system you will be amazed at the happiness hormones and cheery neurochemicals it offers you in return. Your body really has got your back. 

 

The Emotional Dimension 

When it comes to stress the emotional dimension can often be the hardest to manage. Whether it’s anger, shame, sadness or frustration our emotions can sometimes hijack our entire system, blinding us to good decision making and binding us to a series of self-sabotaging beliefs. Uncontrolled emotions can be incredibly damaging, amplifying the challenging situation and intensifying the symptoms of stress. So it’s incredibly important to seek out an emotional support system that will offer you strength when you’re struggling the most. For me this was finding a wonderful therapist. Therapy offered me a safe space that acted as a sort of ‘emotional scaffolding’: supporting, strengthening and eventually building up my capacity to cope.

Whether it’s anger, shame, sadness or frustration our emotions can sometimes hijack our entire system, blinding us to good decision making and binding us to a series of self-sabotaging beliefs.

Of course there are plenty of other ways you can support yourself emotionally. It might involve writing in a journal, listening to meditations or joining a group. How do you support yourself emotionally in times of stress? Or how can you start to do so?

The Intellectual Dimension

Learning and developing new skills can offer distraction, direction and a different perspective during times of stress. Particularly if we have been emotionally hijacked by our stress. Engaging our intellectual dimension activates the ‘rational brain’ or the ‘left brain.’ In broad terms the left hemisphere deals with facts, figures and concrete information. When this part of the brain is engaged we start to reduce the activity in our right hemisphere, which-amongst other things- is responsible for the release of some of the stress hormones like cortisol.

Learning and developing new skills can offer distraction, direction and a different perspective during times of stress.

One of the ways I managed my grief was through study. I read numerous psychology books and articles that focused on bereavement because they helped me to understand what was happening and process what I was going through. I also continued with my masters in integrative psychotherapy at the Metanoia Institute. The course was a huge support because it offered me a structure and framework within which I could immerse myself.

Books, podcasts, documentaries and workshops can offer nourishment and sustainment during times of stress. Intellectual stimulation also signals to our system that we are no longer in ‘fight or flight’ mode because we are in a good state, open, curious and ready to learn new things. When we are stressed we shut down our ability to take in new information. So by consciously counteracting this- through study- we message to our bodies and our brains that we are okay. That we are coping.

 

So what new skills could you learn to help you navigate your way through a challenging situation? What resources or books might offer you support and stimulate curiosity? They say ‘Knowledge is Power.’ So what knowledge do you need to give you the power to overcome a stressful situation?

The Intentional dimension

Our sense of purpose or higher intention can easily get lost during times of stress and struggle. Heightened emotions have a habit of drowning out our more conscious intentions, disconnecting us from purpose and perverting perspective. This is why it is incredibly important to prioritise reconnecting with your core purpose because it can help power you through even the most difficult days.

I was not going to be telling a story of sadness and loneliness in 10 years time. That was not the story I wanted to tell.

A few months after Tom died I went on a rejuvenating health retreat. Amongst the many people I met, there was a woman who spoke of losing her husband many years ago. At the end of the holiday she handed me her contact details and suggested we stay in touch “because it’s very hard being single and it’s lonely on your own.”

In this moment I had a strong realisation: I was not going to be telling a story of sadness and loneliness in 10 years time. That was not the story I wanted to tell. And with that I reconnected with my intention. My intention to develop, grow and share the ideas and tools that Tom and I had co-created together.

So rather than adopting the lonely narrative, I have consciously crafted another narrative. One that honours the legacy of Tom – that is characterised by curiosity, creativity and conscious living. So what is your higher purpose? What is your conscious intention? Amidst all the stress and all the busy and all the ‘doing’- how and who do you want to BE as you navigate your way through this difficult time?

The Cultural Context

In times of change, stress, uncertainty and grief it can often be tempting to hide away and cover up what is really going on. But this is usually unsustainable, unhelpful and unhealthy. Sharing stress and connecting with others can be one of the most important supports we can give ourselves in times of difficulty.

Certainly from my experience, family and close friends have been the biggest counter to my grief and I have been so moved and touched by the generosity and love of others. In the worst moments, when it has been hardest to pick up the phone and reach out to others, I have always been glad that I did.

 

I am reminded of Brené Brown and her work around the power of vulnerability. Stress actually gets worse the more it is bottled up. Which of course is only logical if you think of the analogy of a pressure cooker. That pressure needs a release (which is why a good moan has been proved to be good for us!) So who can you turn to in times of stress? It’s also important that you recognise who might make you feel worse and limit your time with them for now. Instead, try to lean in to the people who make you feel good about yourself. Who can make you laugh? Who can share some of the burden? I am tempted to make a particular call out to the male readers. The consequences of men not sharing stress and seeking support can be devastating. As we know too well from the suicide statistics, men are suffering most from silent stress. So please, seek support and share your stress and let’s stamp out ‘stress shaming’ once and for all.

The Environmental Context

Our environment can have a huge impact on how we feel. We can spend a lot of time in and around environments that create more stress. Traffic jams, train stations and the incessant pinging of our mobile phones can all add to our stress levels. Luckily we can change our environments very quickly once we are conscious of the impact they have.

What environments are you spending your time in? And how are they impacting your stress?

The big thing I have changed in my environment is my home. Just this weekend I moved out of London to a cottage in the countryside. A place that is not filled with difficult memories, a place that is chosen purely by me and for me, quiet and nestled in woodlands where I can walk and breathe in the autumn air. And I love it. An environment can make us very happy if we consciously choose it. It can’t change the facts of loss but it can change the day-to-day experience.

 

So what environments are you spending your time in? And how are they impacting your stress? It might be as simple as thinking about the car that you drive. If you, like me, spend a lot of time in your car then ask yourself are you driving a car that you love? That is comfortable? That allows you to play the Podcasts you love? It sounds like a small thing but where we spend most of our time can have a huge impact on how we feel. So which environments stress you out? And what might you change? The desk you sit at? The bars you go to? The streets you walk down? Where you have lunch? Can you put your phone on silent? Or buy flowers for your kitchen? It’s about finding simple ways to build a sense of support and safety into your daily environments, so that they can help reduce stress and increase happiness.

4D2C in the Everyday…

So there you have it! Managing your stress with the 4D2C model, a holistic and integrated support system to help you through any amount of stress. There is something poetic about the fact that Tom and I created this model together and how well it has helped me to cope with his loss.

None of us want stress in our lives and none of us want terrible things to happen. The question is… how do we meet it. We often can’t stop or change stressful situations but we can change how we meet and manage them. This November make a choice to consciously manage yourself through the stress, to happen to the world rather than the world simply happening to you.

We often can’t stop or change stressful situations but we can change how we meet and manage them.

Wishing you less stress and all the very best for this month.

 

International Stress Awareness day took place on 1st November 2017. For more information about the ISMA then please click here.