Tips for banishing the burnt out bluff

Tips for banishing the burnt out bluff

Are you exhausted? Stressed? Burnt out? Beyond your capacity or just not coping?

Do you know friends and colleagues who would also say yes to these questions?

You’ve reached the end of your tether. We can all do it! We’ve all had those moments where our capacity bowl is so full that one bad bit of customer service, one smashed glass, one frustrating phone call with the electricity company or one set of unexpected roadworks can totally tip us over the edge. Until we are quite literally crying over spilt milk. I’m right with you… and it’s okay – we’re all human.

It’s one thing to recognise the symptoms of burnout or stress and to take time out to look after yourself. More and more we are seeing individuals and leaders who ignore or don’t recognise the stress signs and double down on their levels of overwhelm by putting on a public mask and working hard to make it seem they are coping fine. What we are calling the second pandemic – “the Pandemic of Pretence”. This pandemic is affecting those people and leaders who are ‘coping’ by putting on the jolly front, the positive facade, the happy face, who are feeling the necessity to act strong, motivate others, be the leader they feel they should be and push away or hide some of those very real feelings underneath.

The problem is that by putting on a front, we are actually doing ourselves far more harm than if we simply acknowledged that we are not entirely coping. The bigger the gap between how we feel we should show up in the world and how we are really feeling, the bigger our chances of even worse emotional burnout, mental fatigue and physical illness.

Not only that but in terms of your leadership skills, your performance and your creativity, you are far better off being in touch with what’s really going on for you than pretending. Pretence is neither a top performing, truly collaborative or highly creative space to be in. We are far more healthy, creative, connected and successful when we are in touch with our true selves and true talents. In other words, the real leader is the better leader.

So, if you know that you are putting on a front and inside you have a stressful or negative narrative that is a long way from that façade, then you might be contaiged by the pandemic of pretence. If you are only letting the world see your ‘turned out half or shopfront ‘ as psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called it – then you are denying to others and to yourself what’s really going on and it might just be time to ‘get real!’ The more you close the gap between how you think you should be in the world and how you really feel the better you are serving yourself and others. So, let’s get real with some super practical tips on how to not only deal with burnout but deal with burnout bluff. Let’s say goodbye to the pandemic of pretence and get down with how we really feel – let’s get real.

Here are six tips to help you close that gap, reduce the pretence, get in touch with what’s really going on, be an even better colleague and turn up – not as a pretend leader – but as a truly Real Leader…in all 4 dimensions, all 2 contexts. The 4D2C of peak WellBeing, Leadership and Performance.

1. Physical Dimension

Slouch it! Tip one is change your posture.

Change your posture from stiff, upright and in fix, solve and ‘be brilliant’ mode to a posture that connects you more with your body and your self. Try moving from ‘solve it’ to ‘slouch it’. Lean over to your side, curl one foot under you and sit like you might sit chatting to a friend in the pub or on the sofa with a family member. Let your body tell you that you are relaxed, safe and simply connecting with your colleague or team member rather than bracing, fixing or solving all the time.

2. Emotional dimension

Open it! Take 20 seconds before your next meeting to check-in with the feeling in your belly.

Stop trying to push it away or hide from it but imagine it is a message that needs opening up and reading. Ask the challenging feeling in your belly or chest… What are you trying to tell me? What do you want right now? What are you telling me I need? The more we push our emotions away the more harm we are doing to ourselves. Emotions aren’t the problem, ignoring them is. Your emotions are simply messengers that are trying to tell you something. Is your feeling anger, sadness, frustration, or fear? If you grab that emotion and open it up – what’s the message inside? Do you need a break, do you need to call a friend, do you need some help? What’s the message inside the emotion? This is a brilliant tool for breaking the pandemic of pretence, helping you close the gap between who you think you should be and how you’re really feeling.

3. Intellectual dimension

Refocus it!

We are really good when we are stressed and burnt out at gathering further evidence that things are difficult or going to go badly. We can start worrying and our intellectual dimension goes into overdrive with overthinking. Retrain your intellect to focus on safety cues… What is working well, who is helping you, who does have your back, what is fun about this project, what are the possibilities? When you shift from looking for danger cues to seeking out safety cues you’re changing your internal chemistry and closing the gap between your negative fear and your positive pretence.

4. Intentional dimension

Shift it!

So much of our education teaches us to fix and solve, to know and to be right. When we go into conversations with colleagues or burnt-out team members, trying to fix everything is just more stressful for them – and for you. Try going into these conversations and meetings with ‘curiosity.’ Set your intention to be curious and suddenly you take the pressure off yourself to know, to be right or to fix things. All you have to do is be open and explore and be curious. Curiosity is one of the best intentions we can hold to get our nervous systems in a really good place. Now we don’t have to pretend to be positive and know everything. We can sit in the far less stressful state of simple curiosity.

Context 1: The Environment

Move it! If your office desk has become a location of stress, then change your environment.

Try taking the next meeting on a walk or in your armchair or on your sofa. Use your environment to signal to your body that you are in a relaxed, calm and safe state. Our environment has a huge impact on our state. Your physical state is the foundation of your WellBeing, Leadership and Performance. Take your next call in a different place where you feel different. Where the Netflix watching, popcorn eating, laughing, joking version of yourself can chill out and be relaxed in conversation with colleagues!

Context 2: Relationships

Slow it!

What we mean by this is take 10 seconds before your next meeting to slow your physiology down. The more we run at a crazy rate the more our nervous system goes into fight or flight. When this happens, and the more harm we are doing ourselves and the more we are stressing out other people out around us. Slow it down. Imagine a parent shouting and screaming and stressing at a baby to eat its food. Imagine what that is doing to the baby’s nervous system. When a parent slows down and self-regulates, they teach the baby to regulate itself and that the world is safe. You too can do this for your colleagues and your team members. Slow it down, regulate your own pace and you will be doing incredible, wonderful things for your colleagues’ nervous systems. The biggest gift you can give is the gift of slowing it down. Nothing gets in the way of the pandemic of pretence more than slowing things down!

We hope you enjoy your six tips to go from burnout bluff and the pandemic of pretence, to being more of the real you and the real leader that actually has far more to offer is far more creative and much more inspirational than the pretend version of you. Have the courage and take the risk to close that gap, be real with yourself and real with others so you can really be the leader and the human being you know you can be.

 

For more information, please visit the workplace wellbeing page on our newly updated website – https://www.4dhumanbeing.com/training-programmes/4d-workplace-wellbeing/

 

Before you go…

Make sure to check out our most recent podcasts on integrating life and work – episodes include – Stay Well. Stay Creative, Creative Leadership interviews with 4 Theatre Directors, WellBeing with Jessie Pavelka, Fluid Living and Going Hybrid! Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search ‘The 4D Human Being Podcast‘.
Get inspired with a new way of integrated living!

Get inspired with a new way of integrated living!

With fast changes and new ways of living and working, it’s time to shift our focus from the problems this new world brings, to the possibilities it offers…
 
There is one thing that working virtually, working from home, working in a hybrid setting or working from the office or even the beach have in common… That one thing is you. There is a big ‘I’ at the centre of the word ‘Hybrid’ and we want to invite you to put yourself… ‘I’ – right at the centre of this more fluid, changing and exciting world.

  

‘I’ is for integration. Rather than stressing to find the perfect life/work ‘balance’,  we can actually start weaving and smoothing together life and work by thinking more about integration. Let’s put ‘I’ right at the centre of this new way of living and working. You can start happening to the world, rather than letting this new world simply happen to you. Life is about living, loving and leading all in one big integrated, expansive experience.

Here are some tips on how we can integrate our life and work even more, so that we are weaving and crossing over skill sets from different parts of our lives. Making virtual working, hybrid communication and personal life in the 21st-century full of even more excitement, creativity, and choice – allowing us to live our full potential and dreams.

Remember…it all begins with the letter ‘I’.

 

1. Impact

We talk a lot about the impact that we make at work and how we communicate with colleagues but have you ever thought about the impact you make on your nearest and dearest? The truth is we can often bring our worst selves to the people who love us the most. To live an even fuller and more expansive experience of life, become more conscious of the impact you make on your loved ones – when you walk into a room, when you come back from work, when you’re tired or not in a great mood. Consciously create your impact at home as well as at work and you will create a whole new world of possibility, fun, kindness, and love.

 

2. Intention

As life continues to move at an increasingly rapid pace, it’s time to get intentional about how you want to shape your life and what level of pressure you’re prepared to work under. Get intentional and make clear choices!

Setting meaningful intentions might mean creating some new boundaries, putting your personal well-being and relationships right at the top of your priority list, knowing when to say no and being intentional about your life and your leadership.

 

3. Influencing

This is a great area for crossover skills. You may not think you’re a great influencer at work but when you look at your personal life you are influencing all the time. That could be influencing parents and siblings, friends and children. If you can motivate friends & family, then you can influence and motivate at work. Equally if you know you have great influencing skills at work but feel powerless at home – start bringing some of your skills to your personal life and shake things up a bit!

 

4. Infrastructure

Quite simply get the best tech you can to make your life as smooth as possible in this new hybrid world. Think about the equipment that you use…after all you don’t always have to be sat at your desk – what meetings or emails could you write dictating into your phone on a walk? How else can you use your environment and tech to maximise your creativity time and life experience?

This is the opportunity to replace the eight-hour desk shift with a much more exciting and varied schedule by being creative around your tech and infrastructure. After all, hybrid could mean having meetings at the top of a mountain or cross legged in a sunny field. (I’m writing, or dictating, this on a bench under a tree whilst my dog splashes in the stream just opposite!).

 

5. Inclusion

This new world of home, office and hybrid working offers us a wonderful opportunity to include more people than ever before. Inclusion doesn’t have to be a buzzword, it can be you inviting someone to that meeting right now who doesn’t normally come or dialling them in from home. It could be having a coffee with a couple of colleagues who are in the office while you’re sitting in your kitchen. It could equally be checking on that person down your street, in your community or circle of friends who might just need to be included a little more often. Even if they can’t get out of the house, that person can now be included like never before.

How we can help

4D Human Being designs and runs engaging interactive seminars, workshops, trainings and keynote on mastering the art of communicating in a hybrid world. We can help you learn the tools to navigate both worlds – to bring people together, to use creative tech to break down location boundaries, to maximize your personal impact, to engage both online attendees and those in the room.

Furthermore, once experiencing the 4D communication program, you will be able to understand how to adapt presentations, meetings, material and questions to make sure everyone feels engaged and contributing. All of these elements are vital to a strong and resilient communication – the foundation of a successful business. Find out more specifics on how to make an impact during Hybrid Working here.

 

Before you go…

Make sure to check out our most recent podcasts on integrating life and work – episodes include – WellBeing with Jessie Pavelka, Fluid Living and Going Hybrid! Listen on Apple Podcasts and Spotify, just search ‘The 4D Human Being Podcast‘.
Back to work…

Back to work…

More and more people are talking about the reality of going back to work. What does that mean? What will it look like? While on one hand we can celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel and the chance to return to what we are calling the new normal, on the other hand lots of us are experiencing anxiety at this next phase.

Issues that are coming up include how will we agree social distancing? What is okay in terms of boundaries? Will I be expected to go straight back to networking? What stories, narratives, tragedies and difficult emotions will I and others be bringing back to our workplace?

Many of us face these anxieties or at least the thought of them coming soon. While the uncertainty continues, this moment is also a wonderful opportunity to press reset and to make some conscious choices.

Going back to the workplace after such a long time gives us all the chance to make some clear choices around our behaviours and intentions. We have a chance to make a conscious and a positive new ‘first impression’ and set the tone for how we want to be and be seen from now on. So as well as acknowledging the challenges ahead, we can also grab this moment and get excited by the new page we are turning; start writing ourselves a new chapter. Here are some thoughts and tips on how you can take care of your own well-being and re-launch into this new phase with energy, self care and positivity.

 

1. Engage the platinum rule…

We are all different and this is an important time to respect our own choices and those of others and that they will be different.

 

2. Look behind…

If people make choices that you don’t like try looking behind the choice for challenges, anxieties and reasons that may inform their decisions. We are all different and we are all complex. Look behind for the wider story to connect to others with empathy.

 

3. Re-launch your brand…

This is a wonderful time to make that new first impression. You can choose that first moment of impact and set a new tone for who you are in the workplace.

 

4. Micro moments…

We are all bringing a lot back to the workplace. You don’t have to empty your year of narrative in one go. Take it easy moment by moment and keep it simple with a ‘good to see you’ or a shared coffee break. Your Covid experiences suitcase can be unpacked slowly and you might even choose to leave some things safely tucked inside.

 

5. Big boundaries…

Use this reset opportunity to set the boundaries on your time and stress levels that perhaps you always wanted to set. You, your team, your colleagues and your workplace will be more focused than ever on well-being. Use this moment to make sure you take care of yours. 

 

How we can help

The 4D team can really help you take charge of your energy and well-being in all 4 Dimensions. Focussing in turn on your: Physical, Emotional, Mental and Relational wellbeing. Our impactful and practical 4D Energiser Program has just the right tools, insights, care and fun to help you, your team and your organisation re-activate the well-being, creativity and energy that will make 2021 the game changing turnaround year, that you can all be proud of.

Treat your team to the 4D Energiser Program, now! Only ONE hour a week, for ONE month, to ensure a super-charged and successful launch into the year ahead.

Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to find out more or get in touch below!

 

7 + 14 =

Let Go to Let In

Let Go to Let In

 Let go, to let in!

After a tough year, the 4D Energiser programme is all about getting you, your people and your organisation back to thriving.

It really feels like time to hit refresh, to turn the page on a tough year and reboot the system. Sometimes, we need to make room for new and positive changes, as well as new and positive energy in our lives.

So, if you are looking for more wellbeing, energy and motivation at the moment, it’s time to “let go, to let in.” Let go of the old, the unhelpful and the negative to let in the new, the exciting and the expansive. As the great writer and professor on human Experience, Joseph Campbell said: “We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

It’s over a year since the pandemic started and we are all now going into various stages of lockdown and disconnection from loved ones and colleagues. The year has brought it’s stresses, strains and sadness for a great number of us. Many of us will feel our wellbeing has been impacted and at 4D we are aware of the support many teams, leaders and organisations are looking for to help re-energise their people and take care of the well-being of their employees.

The spring is a wonderful time to think about letting go of the tired energy, emotions and baggage to give space for new narratives and possibilities to blossom and flourish. Here are a few practical tips you can think about to let go, lighten your load and increase your own, your loved ones’ and your colleagues’ well-being this spring.

1. Physically let go

Take a moment to scan your body. What muscles are you tensing and holding unnecessarily? Many of us hold our shoulders, legs, jaw, stomach – wasting and draining our energy. Holding tension is associated with anxiety. Simply releasing and letting go of unnecessary tension will kick start your parasympathetic nervous system and signal to your brain that your anxiety has reduced. Give it a go and drop that tension, to instantly increase your well-being.

2. Say “NO” to negative narratives

Whether it is a question of forgiving someone else or changing your negative internal narrative, there are so many health benefits to letting go of toxic thoughts. Telling a different, positive story will allow your brain to build new and inspiring pathways.

3. Boot out bogus beliefs

Let go of beliefs that simply aren’t true anymore, if they ever were. Sometimes, we have been holding onto beliefs because we were told them when we were young or because they are social myths that no one has questioned. Health Psychologist Kelly Mcgonigal has researched a wonderful example of this. She found that it is not stress that kills 20,000 Americans a year, it is the BELIEF that stress is bad that kills them. People who viewed stress more positively and believed they could cope, didn’t die of stress. What belief could you drop about yourself, your workplace or the world is weighing you down right now?

4. Drop the diary and move through each moment

So many of us wake up on a Monday morning holding the whole day, week or month diary in our heads. That’s a LOT to hold. Letting go of your whole diary and simply choosing to move through each hour, of each day is far better for our wellbeing. Try only holding your next meeting or event in mind. Finish it, take a deep calming breath, reset and then look at the next appointment! Let go of your mental schedule and start simply being in the conversation you are actually having.

There are so many health benefits to letting go, of getting back to the present, trusting you are good enough and simply saying yes to the present moment. View my TEDx Talk on this subject here.

Finally, while many of us had plans that the pandemic spoiled, we are where we are and there are new opportunities available if we clear the space to look for and create them. Someone said to me the other day in reference to the Covid crisis – “What do I do when my dreams have been ruined?” I simply said, “Let go of the past, start from where you are…and dream again.”

How we can help

The 4D team can really help you take charge of your energy and well-being in all 4 Dimensions. Focussing in turn on your: Physical, Emotional, Mental and Relational well-being. Our impactful and practical 4D Energiser Program has just the right tools, insights, care and fun to help you, your team and your organisation re-activate the well-being, creativity and energy that will make 2021 the game changing turnaround year, that you can all be proud of.

Treat your team to the 4D Energiser Program, now! Only ONE hour a week, for ONE month, to ensure a super-charged and successful launch into the year ahead.

Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to find out more or get in touch below!

 

3 + 15 =

Time to take your foot off the gas

Time to take your foot off the gas

As my dear friend and 4D colleague Katie Churchman once reminded me – write from where you’re at. I think right now a lot of us are at a tired, depleted place. 2021 feels like it has got off to a sluggish start but instead of slamming our foot down hard on the accelerator in an attempt to push through, I am going to make the case for why this might just be the time to take your foot off the gas and how that could be a very good thing. Dare I say it – a positive thing!

It somehow feels like we are in suspended animation at the beginning of this year. Of course, this won’t be the same for everyone – the incredible NHS workers, and individuals I work with through Frontline19, certainly won’t feel like things are slow to get going this year.

A friend of mine said – this year so far feels like wading through treacle but maybe that’s okay. Maybe this is a chance to step off the hamster wheel, reassess the busy trap and listen to physical exhaustion as a message to do things differently.

Here are a few things to think about as we wade through treacle in the attempt to gear up and energise into 2021…

1. Energy

How much energy you have at any one time is key to understanding whether you can go into super productive mode or whether you need to be efficient with your energy usage. When you are depleted, you might need to be more ‘energy smart’ about where you choose to invest the power available to you.

 

2. Effort vs Value

As Researchers from the University of London and ESCP Europe Business School found – over-working doesn’t necessarily pay off and can lead to dissatisfaction, less promotions and low recognition due to burn out and quality of work suffering. How can we work with less effort but with more valuable, noticeable and impressive results? Rather than slogging through a 60 hour week – stop and reflect on where is your energy placement going to be most valuable? Where and for whom can you create the most value?

3. Smart and Lazy

Bill Gates was supposedly quoted as saying “I always choose a lazy person to do a hard job, because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” In business these individuals would be your super stars – your progressives, your innovators and your real strategic thinkers. When you take a look at your growing To Do list…rather than ploughing through it, how can you place yourself in the superstar category of lazy/intelligent and find smart, innovative solutions that surprise and impress? How can you create high visible value rather than high invisible workload?

4. 80/20

Another way to think about this is Pareto’s 80/20 rule. In brief – Pareto studied a wide range of phenomena and discovered that most often 80% of output comes from only 20% of input. If you look at your input, what 20% of effort is actually producing 80% of your productivity and success? What 80% of your effort that is only producing the other 20% of your output – could you ditch?

5. The 4 hour week

By being more efficient with your energy, you have more time to really live in and enjoy the present moment. I make reference here to Tim Ferris’s book and philosophy – The 4-Hour Work Week. Tim is a strong advocate of ‘live now.’ He tells his readers not to be ‘deferrers’ and sacrifice their lives to the idea of retirement when they’re older. So – what if you were paid a super high hourly rate and a company only got four hours of your time? As you are being so well paid for that 4 hours…how would you give the business the maximum value of your talents and energy? How could you apply that to your normal working week?

6. Go with the flow

To go back to the treacle analogy – like in water – when we try to run through treacle, we get pushed back, feel blocked, and get stuck. However, when we take our time and glide through the liquid, it can feel effortless, in sync with our environment. Therefore, if the world is offering you a different energy field right now, maybe don’t fight it, rather work with it. Perhaps it’s time to stop identifying with the amount of ‘effort’ you make. That somehow prolonged effort and a 60-hour week is a badge of honour and makes you a worthwhile human being. Perhaps it’s time to take off that false badge of honour and start identifying as efficient, smart, creative, discerning, lazy and intelligent. Not the person who gets lost in three days of a grinding powerpoint build, but someone who is so creatively efficient they suddenly have a lot more hours in the day for themselves.

So, maybe it’s time to take your foot off the gas, enjoy the view and think about…what you are going to do with all that time …

4D can really help you take charge of your energy and well-being in all 4 Dimensions. Focussing in turn on your Physical, Emotional, Mental and Relational well-being and fitness – our impactful and practical 4D Energiser Program has just the right tools, insights, care, and fun to help you, your team and your organisation re-activate the well-being, creativity and energy that will make 2021 the game changing turnaround year you can all be proud of.

Treat your team to the 4D Energiser Program. Only ONE hour a week for ONE month – to ensure a super-charged and successful launch into the year ahead. Email us at philippa@4dhumanbeing.com to book your program now.

Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! Happy Happy Happy…

Happy Holidays! Happy Christmas! Happy Happy Happy…

At this time of year, we are bombarded with the word ‘happy’ from every direction. From the greetings on festive cards to the banners in shop windows, to the jolly e-mails landing in our inboxes, to the Christmas lights strung across every high street, to the smiling Santas and snowmen and scenes depicting the perfect ‘happy’ family gatherings to the happy messages telling us to have a happy Christmas, a happy holiday, a happy new year and while we’re at it…a happy life! That is an awful lot of ‘happy.’ Maybe too much. Because perhaps we can demand too much happiness of ourselves and others at this time of year. Could it be that narrowing our expectations to this one single emotion might actually not be so good for us? Could it be that other emotions might want to be part of our festive celebrations too?

 

So, this Christmas, at the end of this extraordinary year full of a range of experiences, difficulties and emotions…at 4D we would like to challenge the idea of it having to only be a ‘happy’ Christmas. Because while many of us might not be able to welcome actual guests into our house this holiday, we can welcome other kinds of guests…the many, many emotions that might just be knocking on our door wanting to come in and join the party.

 

 

But why would we want to let difficult emotions in? Who wants to feel sad or lonely or angry? Particularly over the holidays? Good questions. Many of us are often so conditioned to deny, avoid or push away challenging feelings, that we have lost any sense of what the benefit of allowing them in might be. But feelings and emotions aren’t simply energies to bring us pain and suffering. They are message bearers – bringing us information and insight that can guide us to a better place, a happier state, a flourishing work life, a nurturing relationship and deeper, more genuine friendships. These negative emotions are trying to help us! They need to be heard and to be understood to unlock the gems of wisdom within. As Glennon Doyle says in her wonderful book ‘Untamed’ it can be a mind-blowing revelation to realise that ‘feelings are for feeling’! Not for suppressing. Your feelings of sadness may be telling you how important something is to you that is currently missing in your life. Your feelings of grief may be reminding you how much love you had – and perhaps still have – for a loved one you have lost. Your anger will often be trying to tell you to say NO to something. That someone or something has crossed a line, that you have made too many compromises, that you are not living true to yourself, that you have abandoned yourself and what you truly want or believe in, in order to please someone else or society’s expectations.

 

In this very difficult year, many of us are already holding a lot of unconscious feelings around loss, change, lack of connection, financial stress and limitations to our freedom. The emotions and feelings that DO finally bubble to the surface are going to be key to let you know when your capacity bowl is just too full. And that something needs to change.

 

The Happy Gap

 

One of the big problems with not allowing ourselves to feel our negative feelings is that it can lead to a huge gap between how we feel inside and how we present ourselves to the world. Can you think of a time when you have been terrified or crying or dying inside and yet have forced yourself to show the world that you’re happy and on top of everything? In my days as an actor, I had a very memorable experience of this. I was in the West End in a colourful, happy, all-singing-all-dancing musical but, in reality, in my personal life, I was unhappy and lost. I remember one night, just before curtain-up, sobbing in the dressing room, so unhappy, so sad – and yet at the same time I forced myself to get my costume on, apply my lipstick, glue on my false eyelashes and get out on stage to open the show – to then smile, dance, sing, joke and entertain the audience. The show must go on, right? While I could of course make sure the show did go on it put a lot of pressure on my emotional well-being and my relationships at the time. Ultimately my feelings were trying to tell me something. That it was time to move on, time to make some changes, some new choices, to make some other dreams come true and create a new ‘show’ in my life that would make me genuinely happier. And thank goodness I eventually did.

In the 4D podcast episode 6 – Mind the Gap Katie and Penelope talked about this gap. How trying to show up as ‘happy’ when inside we are feeling low, sad or angry puts an enormous level of stress on our body-mind system. To the point where we can make ourselves sick. As clinical psychologist Victoria Tarratt says “Suppressing your emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness, grief or frustration, can lead to physical stress on your body.” A study from Harvard in 2013 showed that if we bottle up our feelings we have a 30% increased chance of dying earlier and a 70% increased chance of developing cancer. It’s not even that we benefit in the short term – Research at the University of Texas found that by not acknowledging our negative emotions “we’re actually making them stronger.”

By allowing those difficult feelings to be expressed we can start to close the gap and that is a step towards real happiness, not just a ‘put on’ performance of happiness.

 

Toxic positivity

 

‘Put on’ or fake happiness is becoming a very real problem both in our personal lives and in the workplace. It is being termed ‘Toxic Positivity’ and is an invisible force that pressures us to adopt pretend happiness. We can inflict toxic positivity on ourselves or we can find ourselves in groups or organisations that seem to demand it from us. On one level, of course, we all want to work in creative, positive and motivating environments but we also need to work in ‘real’ environments. In environments that express the people in it – real human beings who have all sorts of very real and very valid feelings. To be expected to meet a standard of a 100% happy culture is toxic in so many ways. It’s exhausting and puts far more psychological stress on individuals than if they were able to express a full range of feelings. It also makes us inauthentic and detaches us from reality.

 

Once you explain to people what toxic positivity is, the majority of individuals say they have experienced it recently and that they sometimes, often or very often ignore their real emotions in favour of appearing happy. But there are very real dangers to succumbing to this force of toxic positivity. By ignoring your negative feelings they can build up – until you explode- and find yourself raging at the wrong person about the wrong thing at the wrong time. You will ultimately increase your feelings of sadness. And what’s more, you risk being a ‘fair-weather friend’ – unable to support a colleague in need, as often if we cannot tolerate negative feelings in ourselves then we won’t be able to tolerate them in others. In the long-term, fake positivity will negatively impact your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Which means if you are a leader or business owner insisting on fake positivity, you will be leading your people to greater unhappiness, poorer work relationships and potentially psychological burnout. If we aren’t allowed to feel our feelings – our feelings will find a way to be heard in a different and more harmful way.

 

The positivity in the negative!

 

There is, though, an antidote to toxic positivity – and it is encapsulated in the title of positive psychology expert Dr Tim Lomas’ book ‘The Positive Power of Negative Emotions’. Dr Lomas acknowledges that most people see negative emotions as…well…negative. But through his ground-breaking research, he has shown that negative emotions are not only normal to experience but can be very good for us. They “may in fact serve as pathways to the very happiness and flourishing that we seek.” His research shows that anger, for example, can signal that “you’ve been treated unfairly and push you towards change. Guilt suggests that you have let yourself down, and drives you to be better. Envy can motivate you to improve yourself and your life. Boredom can be a gateway to creativity and self-transcendence. Loneliness allows your authentic voice to be heard, and teaches self-sufficiency.” By embracing the power and positivity of negative emotions he believes we can radically change the way we think about our feelings and our emotional life. That through having the courage to start feeling our feelings we can become empowered to understand and use our negative emotions in positive ways.

 

As Susan David, PhD, author of Emotional Agility, says, “Our raw feelings can be the messengers we need to teach us things about ourselves and can prompt insights into important life directions.”

 

Renowned psychologist Dr Paul Eckman did some wonderful research into the basic emotions we all feel at some point: anger, disgust, happiness, fear and surprise. He pointed out that sometimes there are other emotions underneath one of these 5 emotions and that we need to dig a little deeper to recognise and understand them. And we can only do this by allowing ourselves to sit with and really feel our feelings. For example, when we feel anger, anger may only be the primary emotion. There may be other feelings that lay underneath the anger that are perhaps even harder for us to face such as disappointment, sadness or feelings of not being good enough. Learning to understand anger as a protector of other difficult feelings can be incredibly powerful and very healing.

 

Even for the most self-aware human-being, anger flashes happen and can be directed to those you love most – including yourself! But before you go for a run, meditate or do yoga to get rid of it – stay with it, sit with it and explore WHY you feel so angry. Look for key phrases you have used to your loved one or that are floating around in your head. Words said in anger like “I hate you, you make me feel so small” or “I can’t breathe” – will tell you a lot about what is underneath your anger. Like that your self-esteem has been trampled and you feel small or you feel you don’t have the space or voice to truly express your feelings so you feel like you can’t breathe. This is not about blaming yourself or another, it is about exploring and excavating the message in the negative emotion. Once you understand the message in the difficult feeling you can go from “gridlock to dialogue” as psychological researcher and relationship expert John Gottman says. Now you know what your NEED is beneath this anger. So now you can make what Gottman calls a “repair bid” – which will be either compassion to yourself or a bid for understanding and connection to the other person. Communicated not with rage but with a more self-aware, conscious attitude – allowing your heart rate to come down so you can process, share and benefit from what just happened!

 

Finally – there is a very real and true gift awaiting you if you dare to welcome in and explore your negative emotions. Inside that negative emotion will be your dream. A dream that at that moment has been threatened or squashed. Hence your anger. If you imagine your fists clenched with anger or frustration, now uncurl those fists as you explore your feelings. Inside the palm of your hand is the dream that wants to live and breathe and be brought to life. When you can see past the anger and rediscover the dream and hope that felt threatened – then you can communicate that dream to your partner, colleague, boss or yourself. Now you are giving yourself the gift of moving from flight or fight to flourish. Now you have moved from crisis to creativity. Because you can tear down your world by avoiding negative feelings and letting them unconsciously control you…or you can listen to the message, the gift, inside your negative emotions and from there you can start to cherish your needs, build your dreams, create the life and enjoy the relationships you truly want and deserve. For me, this is one of the most liberating and joyous discoveries ever. Imagine seeing negative emotions not as taking away your happiness, but as the gift of future happiness. The gift that keeps on giving!

 

The gift of emotions

 

So here’s to a Happy, Sad, Joyous, Angry, Contented, Frustrating and Exciting Christmas. Here’s to a Christmas where all your feelings are welcome – each one a gift under your Christmas tree. And just like our actual Christmas presents, it is not enough to simply look at the wrapping paper to decide what it contains. We have to unwrap our gifts to see what surprise is inside. It is not the wrapping paper but the treasure inside that is the true gift. The greatest gift we can give ourselves this holiday is to welcome in all our feelings. And the biggest gift that you can give to someone you love is to be with and accept their difficult feelings. That for me is one of the greatest gifts one human being can give to another. To let them know that “I will accept and love all of you. All your emotions are welcome here.”

 

So all of us at 4D wish you the courage to let your feelings in, to break through the fear that your feelings will destroy you and rather, to wonder whether they might actually have a very special, very surprising and maybe even life-changing festive gift to offer you. And whatever feelings you are feeling we wish you as much sparkle and spangle, glitter and glimmer, tinsel and twinkle as you can handle. Because whatever our emotions, a little shine and shimmer can do wonders – not just for the Christmas spirit but for the human spirit in us all.

 

For more information on 4D Wellbeing programmes, Team and Leadership Coaching and Cultural Change programmes do get in touch – we’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, we leave you with the beautiful gift of Rumi’s poem The Guest House.

 

 

TOOLS

 

Here are some practical tools to try over the holidays to help turn your negative emotions into beautiful gifts that may well hold the real key to your happiness inside.

 

1. The Language of genuine feelings. If you find yourself “forcing positivity” try some of these substitutions instead:

2. Comfort your inner critic – Your inner critic may well have been working hard all year stirring up difficult emotions in you and sending you spinning into negativity. Rather than trying to push them away, you can even welcome them in too. Imagine letting that critical voice into your house, sit them down, appreciate how very hard they’ve been working and tell them just to relax for a bit. You’ll get them a mince pie and a glass of something sparkly and then tell them that they can take some time out – you and your inner cheerleader can take it from here.

3. Manage your emotional state – and set a conscious intention by putting a word in your head. But mind the gap. If you’re feeling sad, don’t aim for ‘excited’ or ‘enthusiastic’ – try something more gentle and closer to ‘sad’ like open or curious.

4. Yes AND – Allow your negative emotions at the same time as balancing your difficult state with something more positive by using the word AND. “I’m feeling sad and I’d love to come and meet you for a coffee.” “I’m anxious AND let’s channel that into something creative or active”. “I am angry AND I still love you.”