How to Slow Down and Relax – Part 2

slow down and relax part 2 In part one of this blog on learning how to slow down and relax I talked about learning in small, bite sized chunks.  If you feel ready to do more – then this is the blog for you.  We are still on that same journey – taking your brain from overload to relaxed in simple, achievable steps.  This time we are looking at extended ways to help your brain and body to slow down and relax.  We are looking to repair the damage done by long term stress and over-stimulation.  The ultimate aim is to avoid becoming stressed and over-stimulated in the future.

It is probably worth revisiting the point I made about learning.  Learning is essentially a process of failing repeatedly until, with practice, you succeed.  Failure is not a bad thing.  Failure is the world’s way of giving you feedback on your efforts.  Failure is an integral and essential part of learning.

Now that you can successfully and reliably maintain a still mind for up to five minutes you may wish to do more.  As you extend your ability to slow down and relax be prepared to go through that same learning process.  Let intrusive thoughts drift away and return to a relaxed state as many times as it takes.  Keep failing.  Keep learning.  You will get there.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness involves increasing the number of moments that you are fully aware throughout the day.  Our attention is often divided, pulled in multiple directions at once.  Awareness means noticing what we are seeing and hearing but also what we are thinking and feeling.  It involves noticing our reactions to events.

Exercises like the one minute breather are a lesson in mindfulness.  The ultimate aim with mindfulness is to take that level of focus and awareness into your whole day.  It would be a lifetime’s work to be mindful every minute of every day but bringing more awareness into your routine can be beneficial.  Mindfulness can help you to slow down and relax, be calmer, less stressed and more tolerant.

Progressive muscle relaxation

This involves shifting the focus of your attention to each small group of muscles in the body (left foot, left calf, left thigh etc.).  Each group of muscles is tensed and progressively relaxed.  Progressive muscle relaxation works very well if you find that you are holding tension in your body.  It is best practised alongside breathing exercises (as in part 1) or as part of a guided meditation (see below).

Yoga

Yoga is a form of mental, physical and, sometimes, spiritual activity.  In the western world it is often used as a form of exercise and of relaxation.  Yoga works to lengthen and strengthen muscles and improve balance.  It takes focus and concentration and a calm state of mind.  In that way, yoga is a form of dynamic meditation which has been shown to be of immense benefit to physical and psychological well-being.  There are a number of different disciplines within the umbrella term “yoga” and you can be certain to find one that suits you.  Classes are available all over the country.  Many instructors will work one to one with you if you prefer.  Alternatively, you can explore on-line tuition which enables you to try out a number of different disciplines.

Meditation

The one minute breather exercise that we started with is, essentially,  a form of meditation.  Meditation is the use of techniques such as mindfulness to control your awareness and gain mental and emotional clarity.  People are often fearful of “meditation” because they imagine it to have particular religious or spiritual overtones, or to require robes and finger cymbals.  As with most fears the worry actually stems from a lack of knowledge and experience.  Anyone can meditate.  It can be an entirely secular activity and you can do it in a suit and heels if that’s what you happen to be wearing at the time (although I would probably kick off the heels!)

There are lots of academic studies which show the benefits of meditating.  Jain et al (2007) showed that meditating has a powerful effect on positive states of mind reducing stress, rumination and distraction.  Miller et al (1995) showed the long term effects of meditation in the treatment of anxiety disorders.  There are even studies which show the benefits of meditation on the experience of physical illnesses such as cancer and diabetes.

Guided Meditation

In the first instance you might like to try guided meditation.  Guided meditation allows you to slow down and relax with a facilitator who talks you through the breathing techniques and may take you on an imaginary journey to enhance the experience.  Guided meditations may also include progressive muscle relaxation. There are lots of free resources on-line, it is really just a case of finding a voice you are happy to listen to.

You may prefer to join a group and to learn meditation alongside other people.  Some people find it easier to commit to practice if they are held to account in this way.

Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy involves working with a qualified therapist and can be especially useful if you find it difficult to switch off.  A hypnotherapist will use trance work to help your mind and body to slow down and relax.  They may be able to take you to a deeper level of relaxation than you can manage on your own.  Once you are in a state of deep relaxation (hypnotic trance) they may also be able to use suggestion to help you deal with any other issues which are troubling you at the time.

And so, your practice continues.  This is not an exhaustive list but it offers some good ways to extend your learning.

But remember.  If all else fails, just go back to the beginning.  And breathe.

 

 

 

How to Slow Down and Relax – From 5K to Couch Part 1

Learn how to slow down and relan 5k to couch Yellow Dot Women BlogI recently wrote a blog called Mindfulness and Me.  It sparked quite a lot of discussion about mindfulness, living consciously and the ability to relax.  Typically people told me that they don’t have time to relax or that mindfulness doesn’t work for them because their brain is too busy.  Most of all people said that they don’t really know how to relax.  In this blog I hope to begin to teach you how to slow down and relax.

Relaxation is a skill and like every other skill it needs to be learned and practised.  If you were learning to run you wouldn’t expect to run a marathon first time out.  You would build up to it.  You might even try a Couch to 5k programme where you walk a little run a little, walk a little.  Over time you walk a little less and run a little more until you find that you can comfortably run for the whole 5 kilometers.

I like to think of learning how to slow down and relax as a 5k to Couch programme.  You need to take your brain from running at full speed to resting state little by little.  Eventually you will be able to comfortably slow it down for a longer period of time.

Learning

Before we start on relaxing I want to say a few words about learning.  Learning is essentially a process of failing repeatedly until, with practice, you succeed.  Failure is not a bad thing.  Failure is the world’s way of giving you feedback on your efforts.  Failure is an integral and essential part of learning.  The Couch to 5k system was devised by analysing other people’s failed efforts to run.  It is designed to help you find the instant gratification of success.  But you will probably still find your own ways to fail, and therefore learn, along the way (running too fast, starting on a hill before you are ready etc).

Learning to relax in bite sized chunks is very similar.  Inspired by other people’s failures it aims to give you some early success.  You will probably still find small ways to fail/learn but you should be able to enjoy the benefits of some success too.

How to Slow Down and Relax

Step 1   The one minute breather

Stop what you are doing and step outside if you can.  If not, stand at a window. Lift up your chin, look to the horizon and breathe slowly in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Repeat for one minute.  Whilst breathing focus on what you can see, notice the shapes, the colours and the light.  Notice what you can hear.  Notice what you can smell.  Feel the sunshine, rain, breeze etc. on your skin.  Be present in the moment.

You will probably find that other thoughts intrude.  That’s ok.  Acknowledge those thoughts and then let them drift away.  They might come back.  That’s ok.  Acknowledge them again and let them drift away – return to the moment.  If you are feeling very anxious you may find you have a lot of intrusive thoughts.  Just let them keep on drifting by.  The harder you find this the more likely it is that you need some relaxation in your life.

Any failure to focus is just learning.  It will get better with practice.  Keep on practicing, three times a day to begin with.  Choose times that work for you.  When I first learned this technique I focussed on doing it every time I put the kettle on to boil.  The kettle became the reminder I needed.  You might prefer to schedule a reminder on your phone or to make this a regular first thing in the morning and last thing at night exercise.

Step 2   The five minute breather

When you can reliably stay in the moment for a full minute, try to gradually increase the time you spend simply breathing and noticing what you can see and hear and smell and feel.  Progress from one minute to one and a half, to two minutes etc. until you can manage five minutes with few intrusive thoughts.  This will take time and lots and lots of practice.

Step 3   What next?

Step three is up to you.

Now that you have learned how to slow down and relax a little, you might decide that this is enough.  Just keep up the practice and you will soon feel the benefits of a calmer, clearer mind.  Just like running, you can choose to run a regular 5k to maintain personal fitness.  You don’t have to run further or faster for this to have major benefits to your health.  If you don’t keep it up you will find it harder and harder to do and you might have to start again.  That’s ok too.  We are all just learning.

You might decide that you want to progress further (get race fit or run 10k instead of 5).  To do that you need to find out which other, more advanced forms of relaxation really work for you.  I will cover the next steps in next week’s blog – watch this space.

In the meantime, just keep on breathing.

 

The Psychological Importance of Storytelling

psychological importance of storiesHuman beings have been telling each other stories ever since we first daubed drawings on a cave wall.  As children stories help us to develop empathy, understanding and a moral code (Vitz, 1990).  Stories are how we connect with each other, how we establish our similarities and our differences (Chamberlin, 2003).  Stories help us to learn and to grow.  I cannot over-emphasise the psychological importance of storytelling.

Most of us have a natural ability to tell stories in a structured and cohesive way – with a beginning, a middle and an end.  We may enhance a story to make it more amusing or more dramatic.  We may change our language to reflect the needs and capabilities of our audience, but we still tell the story.

Stories in a Therapeutic Setting

In a therapeutic setting, the psychological importance of storytelling becomes even more pronounced.  The client is offering a narrative of their life, trusting that the therapist will listen and understand.  The more empathy that is shown the more open the client is able to be.  It is often the case that a client offers their story to the therapist in the hopes that a professional will know what to do with it, how to fix things.  In reality, the really transformative work begins when the client hears their own story.

In order to tell your own story to a stranger you have to give it context, background, structure and detail.  You may hear your whole story in one sitting, possibly for the first time ever.  Therapists will pick out salient points and emotional details.  They will paraphrase to show you that you have been heard and understood.  Within that process, you will hear some of the important parts of your story reflected back to you.  The very act of sharing your story helps you to understand what it is about.

For example, some years ago I worked with a client who lived with an abusive partner.  Her friends and family were aware of some of the issues but not of the severity.  In telling her story to them she had felt a need to protect them and defend her partner so they had heard only edited snippets.  In telling me her whole story she heard the unedited version for the first time.  There was a key and important moment when she stopped and looked at me in surprise: “He’s a bastard isn’t he?”  This moment was transformative.  Of course, real life is not a fairy tale, she added many more chapters to her story before she effected lasting change but afterwards she identified this moment as pivotal.

Stories in a Time of Covid-19

Recently, I have been reflecting on the psychological importance of stories during this current Coronavirus lockdown.  So far, I think too many individual stories are missing from the overall narrative.

At a governmental level, we are given statistics.  Night after night we listen to the day’s death count and look at impenetrable graphs comparing the data from previous weeks and from other countries.  But we are not moved by numbers, we are moved by stories.  Those people who ignore the lockdown are not motivated to stay at home by 30,000 lost lives.  But they might be influenced by one story with which they can identify.  This week we have also marked the 75th anniversary of VE day.  Most of us will have gained more compassionate understanding of the war from individual stories (real and fictional) than we ever have from the cold statistics.  As a nation we need individual stories of loss and of hope to really understand this pandemic.

Front line medical staff and other key workers are all individuals with individual stories.  Every time we call them heroes we commit them to one narrative, to one story with a predictable and sometimes devastating ending.  As a hero it becomes very difficult to admit to weakness, to ask for help or to tell your own story when that story seems to be too far off script.  The psychological weight of carrying your front line experiences quietly and heroically must sometimes be overwhelming.

The majority of us, staying at home as instructed, are told that “we are all in this together”.  Once again, the sense that everyone is the same denies people their own narrative.  People may feel that their story doesn’t really mean anything in the grand scheme of this crisis.  Last week I spoke to someone who had lost a loved one and had been unable to attend the funeral.  She told me, in an apologetic tone, that he hadn’t died of Covid-19, as if that somehow made her loss less important.

Every day I hear someone say, “Well at least I still have a job/am not home schooling/am fit and healthy” etc.  Showing empathy for other people is wonderful as is the ability to feel gratitude but you still have the right to own and tell your own story.  If you were the only person whose life had changed so dramatically  you would recognise the bizarre nature of your situation.  The fact that something similar is happening to everyone else does not lessen the psychological impact on you.

Tell your Story

So, I invite you tell your coronavirus story, with a beginning a middle and a temporary end.

Maybe:

  • Tell a friend and then agree to listen to theirs, all the way from start to finish.
  • Write it down (maybe keep a journal) and read it aloud to yourself, in the mirror.
  • Contact a counsellor and tell them your story – many, like me, are working remotely at the moment, using Zoom or similar.
  • Write it down and email it to me – I promise to read and acknowledge it.  fiona@yellowdotwomen.com

Never underestimate the psychological importance of storytelling.  Your story matters.  In the telling of it you may find that you experience your own transformative moment.

Emotional Triage

To illustrate blog on Emotional Triage Yellow Dot WomenMuch has been spoken and written about emotional first aid recently and, whilst it is a useful skill set, I want to take you back a step to emotional triage.  In a medical setting triage is used to determine the degree of severity of a wound or illness in order to plan the most appropriate and timely treatment.  The same is true with emotional triage.

Emotional wounds can stem from issues such as overload, loneliness, fear, rejection and failure.  At the moment, during this period of isolation, it is likely that you have experienced/are experiencing at least one of these issues.

Emotional triage requires awareness; awareness of the problem, of how you are feeling about it and what your current level of capability is for dealing with it.  You might find the following plan helpful – grab a notebook and jot your answers down.

  1. Ask yourself: What am I feeling?

It is important to be able to name an emotion, to recognise what you are feeling.  Sometimes it’s really difficult because you are feeling a complex mix of different emotions.  Try to tease them out – e.g. I am feeling a bit sad, very anxious, hurt and let down.  Sometimes, it is helpful to give a particular set of feelings a name so that you recognise it when it happens – Winston Churchill famously referred to his depressive state as “the black dog”, this was simply a short hand for the complex mix of emotions he felt at the time.

  1. Ask yourself: Why do I feel that way?

In psychological circles there is a great deal of debate about whether an emotion is a reflex which is followed by a thought or vice versa.  For example, if you came face to face with a tiger would you feel fear as a reflex or would you first go through a thought process about the tiger which then elicits fear as a response, not to the tiger, but to the fear.  This is important.

Are you feeling lonely because you are alone and on some level, in your mind, alone = lonely?  Or are you just feeling lonely but can’t really identify why?

Is your emotion a reasonable response to an event or occurrence?  Or perhaps you are looking around for a reason to explain the way you feel.

  1. Ask yourself: How long have I felt that way?

Is this a new feeling for you?  Or is it a familiar occurrence – an “old friend” like Churchill’s black dog?

Is this a fleeting feeling?  Has it lasted a few hours/days/weeks?  Can you ever remember feeling better than this?

  1. Ask yourself: How intense is this feeling?

Think of your emotion in terms of a pain score.  Rate your emotion from one to ten where one is “barely noticeable” and ten is “unbearable”.  These scores are somewhat arbitrary but will help you to monitor and understand your emotional state.

  1. Ask yourself: Can I make it better?

Have you handled this before?  What did you do then?  Can you do it again?

If this is new to you, is there information you can draw on which will help?

Do you feel utterly incapable of dealing with this alone?

The answers

diagram illustrating the idea of emotional triage

Depending on your answers you will need to do one of the following:

Rub it Better

If your emotional triage reveals a state which is the equivalent of banging your shin on the edge of a cupboard (i.e. it scores 1-4 on the “pain scale” but it was fleeting and I understand why I feel that way) then all you need to do is acknowledge it and rub it better.  Use whatever soothing activities work for you – a few minutes of deep breathing, a moment or two of space to gather your thoughts while you wait for the pain to ease.

Apply Emotional First Aid

When emotional triage reveals a state which won’t simply pass if you take a moment out, then you need to apply more significant first aid.  Apply your knowledge and experience, do some research, use your existing skills and stick on a plaster.

e.g. If you are feeling lonely, make contact with someone, if you are upset by someone’s words give them some calm feedback, if you are feeling overwhelmed, take a break and then prioritise.

Seek Help from a Friend

If your personal resources are low and you feel incapable of applying emotional first aid it’s time to acknowledge that problem.  It might be that emotional triage shows that the pain is too intense (5-8), that you have felt this way for too long and you are exhausted, maybe you have tried your usual strategies and they just aren’t working or perhaps you don’t understand your feelings and you don’t know what to do.

It is time to phone a friend.  Choose someone who is kind and patient, someone with a degree of empathy, someone who knows when to empathise and when to give you a metaphorical kick up backside!

Talking to someone you trust can help you to gain perspective, to see your emotions for what they are.  It can help you to formulate a plan – your friend might remember what helps you even if you can’t.

Seek Help from a Professional

If talking to a friend doesn’t help, or if you don’t have anyone in your life who will listen and understand then it’s time to talk to a professional.

If your emotions are high on the pain scale (6-10), if your usual strategies aren’t working and if your feelings aren’t dissipating, then it may be time to talk to a professional.

Depending on your situation that might be a doctor, a helpline, a charity specialising in your particular problem, a coach or a therapist.  A coach can help you to find the best approach for you and to identify ways in which you can help yourself.  A counsellor/therapist can keep you safe whilst you explore long term emotional issues and can help you to heal.

Please do seek help.  Doctors, charities, coaches and therapists are all still working (albeit differently) throughout the lockdown and they would want to offer you support if you are struggling at the moment.

During this period of lockdown Fiona is offering her coaching/counselling sessions via Zoom on a “pay what you can” basis.

 

Get in touch

 

 

 

Mindfulness and me – a lesson in living consciously

bluebell photo to illustrate blog on mindfulness and meMy husband is fond of reminding people that “lessons will be repeated until learned”.  I completely accept the veracity and usefulness of this phrase – until it is aimed at me!  But he is a brave and persistent man and this week I have had to take his helpfulness to heart.

The learning in question is about mindfulness and me and it has been a lesson in living consciously. The lesson has been repeated because it has become apparent that, sometimes, I don’t practice what I preach.

I know all about mindfulness.  I have researched it.  I have written articles about it.  I have coached other women in how to use mindfulness in their everyday lives.  In recent years I have lived a mostly mindful life.  However, another lesson I have learned is that “in times of stress people revert to old behaviours”.

We are currently living in strange and unusual times.  The Covid-19 pandemic has created challenges none of us could have prepared for.  Like many people, my go-to response has been task focussed.  I have been asking myself “what can I do to make this situation better?” I have tried to answer the question and I have been busy “doing” all the helpful things I can conceive of.  For me, responding to stress with panic and increased activity is an old and potentially unhelpful behaviour.

So what about mindfulness – and me?  I have a tendency to think that, because I understand mindfulness, because I know how to live mindfully, that I am automatically doing so.  I somehow believe that I am unconsciously mindful.  And yet, at the same time, I know that mindfulness is a necessarily conscious activity.  That is entirely the point of it.

This week I have re-learned a lesson in living consciously and, to my great joy, I have found my centre again.  I am still asking myself “what can I do?” but I am getting better answers.  I am doing less but doing better.  I am feeling calmer and happier and I am apparently easier to live with (I told you he was brave!)

In case you have been thinking more about mindfulness, this is what I have been doing:

  • I am starting each day with a personal check in.  I am asking myself:

What am I thinking?

What am I feeling?

What is happening in my body?

What is my spiritual state right now?

The answers inform my next actions:  If something is occupying my thoughts I deal with it, if my emotions are low I seek support, if my body needs something (food, water, coffee, stretching etc.) I give it what it needs.  If I am lacking a connection with spirit I find a way to feed that part of myself too.

This way, when I launch into work for the day I am starting from a point of readiness instead of working against myself.

  • I am walking with my dog each day.  When I walk I am making a conscious effort to be present, rather than simply thinking about work.  I am taking the time to notice every new sign of growth, everyday there are more bluebells, more buds on the trees, more flowers on the blackthorn.  Spring is still springing.
  • I am remembering to breathe.
  • I am reading beautiful books.
  • I am feeding my creativity each day.
  • I am taking regular breaks to stand and stretch and breathe.
  • I am consciously relaxing for at least 20 minutes each day.
  • I am setting aside my inner need to be perfect and to be strong.

I can almost hear some of you saying that you don’t have time for all this.  That you barely have time to clean your teeth what with working and home schooling and each shopping trip taking a day and a half…  And I get that.

This lesson was all about mindfulness and me.  You have your own lesson to learn.  Your lesson is about mindfulness and you.

But if all else fails:  Remember to breathe.

The Importance of Kindness in a Crisis

sign reading kindness with rainbow to illustrate blog on the importance of kindnessI want to talk about the importance of kindness, that quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.

Psychological research has shown that empathy and altruism are innate (Warnecken & Tomasello, 2009), and emerge spontaneously in early childhood.  And yet, somehow, some of us unlearn that behaviour.  Kindness is sometimes seen as softness or weakness.  Empathy may be set aside in a target driven, fear fuelled world.

However, in the current covid-19 situation, it is evident that real acts of kindness often take courage and strength.  Just think about all the key-workers putting their own health at risk in order to provide care, education, goods and services for the rest of us.  This example alone shows us the importance of kindness in a crisis.  But we aren’t all key workers and, although staying at home is the very kindest thing we can do for ourselves and other people, in-action doesn’t always feel as good as action.

However, there are many ways to demonstrate kindness whilst maintaining a safe physical distance.

Be kind to yourself

Everything you do begins with you.  Being kind to yourself will enable you to have the inner resources you need to be kind to others.  If you have ever flown on a plane you will know that, in an emergency, you must put on your own oxygen mask before you help anyone else to put on theirs.

Being kind to yourself will vary massively from person to person but should always be positive in intent (rather than the more negatively connoted selfishness).  Your actions should not cause unnecessary upset to anyone else.  Taking a long bath and enjoying some peace and quiet is being kind to yourself.  Using all the hot water and preventing the rest of your family from using the only toilet might be construed as selfishness.  It helps to evaluate behaviour in terms of context and ecology.

Be kind to the rest of your household

If you live with other people think about the ways in which you can be kinder to them.

The first thing that you can do is to focus on an absence of unkindness.  Being inside with your family all day everyday can be challenging and can magnify stress and fear.  Watching videos of other families singing songs from musicals or running a perfect home-schooling schedule, whilst entertaining, can lead to a sense of inadequacy too.  If all you are managing is binge watch box sets that’s fine, just try to do that with kindness and love.  Maintain boundaries but reduce the grumpiness.

Next you can add in positive acts of kindness.  Small things; a timely hug, a cup of tea, sharing IT equipment and skills, being fair about time-out can all make a huge difference to this strange and unusual experience.  Empathy matters.  Take the time to notice when someone else in your household needs something.

The benefits of such small acts of kindness extend beyond the immediate.   Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, that kindness is the single greatest predictor of stable and happy marriages.  Studies have also shown that kindness reduces anxiety and being kind sets up a chain reaction of kindness so being kind to others is also an indirect way of being kind to yourself.

Be kind to the wider world.

Being kind to the wider world might seem like too much to ask when you are struggling to get through each day.  Maybe you are already balancing the need to work from home, loss of income, child care, school work and sourcing essential supplies whilst maintaining a safe physical distance from others.  Maybe you are alone and lonely and wondering how to get help yourself.  Life itself can seem exhausting even without the fear of illness.

Kindness still matters.

As in the section above you can start with an absence of unkindness.

For many people, contact with the world outside is happening via social media.  Be mindful of what you post.  Ask yourself is it true?  Is it kind?  Check your sources.  Fear is as contagious as Covid-19, try not to spread fear with unsubstantiated information and speculation.  If you don’t know for sure, don’t comment or share.  Don’t feed the fear.

Having eliminated unkindness, think about what you can do to make someone else’s life better.    Focussing on someone other than yourself has been shown to increase hope, positivity and personal well-being.  Your actions can be as simple as picking up litter on your daily walk or as complex as setting up an on-line forum to co-ordinate help in your community.  For most people it will be somewhere in the middle.  Just do what works for you.  It has been found that happy people become happier through kindness.

Throughout this crisis I have seen many of the negative aspects of fear.  But I have also seen the importance of kindness revealed in community, support and hope.

When this is all over, and life returns to some semblance of normality, it will be good to know that you were part of the solution and that all you passed on was a little kindness.

What to do when the fear is real

More love less fear poster in light of CoronavirusMuch of my time as a counsellor and coach is spent working with people whose feelings of fear and anxiety are out of sync with the reality of their situation.  I support and help them to see their situation more clearly, to breathe and take stock of their reality.  They learn techniques to calm themselves, to take control of their irrational fears.  But what happens when the fear they feel is real?  When the anxiety is entirely proportionate to the situation?  Do the usual strategies stop working?  I thought, in these strange and troubling times, it might be helpful to reignite the Yellow Dot Women blog and write a piece about what to do when the fear is real.

What is fear?

Fear is a survival mechanism; a biochemical response to danger which triggers the fight or flight response.  Physiological changes, such as a higher heart rate and boosted adrenalin levels, increase our alertness and prepare us to fight the trigger or to run away from it.

Alongside the physical reaction we experience an emotional response to fear.  This response is highly individualised and will depend, to a large extent, on our previous experiences and our personal attitude to risk.

The causes of fear

The causes of fear are many and complex.  Fear might be:

  • Instinctive – caused by real and immediate danger (e.g. a car heading towards you at speed).
  • Learned (conditioned) – such as the fear of spiders or other, relatively harmless, creatures.
  • Imagined (anticipatory), caused by our own catastrophising thought processes and the ever spiralling “what-ifs”.

What about now?

Covid-19/Coronavirus is now prevalent across the whole world.  We are no longer waiting for it to arrive – it is here and most of us now know someone who is experiencing (or has already experienced) symptoms.  The virus is having an impact on all our lives.  To this extent it is a real and present danger not only to our physical health but to our intellectual, financial and social well-being.  It is entirely appropriate to be afraid.  What matters is what we do when the fear is real.

Control

When faced with a frightening, stress inducing situation the stress hormones we produce are designed to trigger the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS). This in turn “fires us up”, ready for action (fight).  The normal advice in the face of fear is to control the situation and thus reduce the overstimulation of the SNS.  But that is not so easy when the situation, as with the Coronavirus, is entirely out of your control.

Escape

When control is not an option, the normal advice would be to escape the fear inducing situation (flight).  However, this pandemic is so far reaching that there is nowhere to escape to.

So are we helpless?

No.  We are absolutely not helpless.  As well as the Sympathetic Nervous System the body can utilise the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), sometimes called the “rest and digest” system which acts as an antidote to the fire-up mechanism of the SNS.  This allows us to employ calm and rational thought once the urgency of the situation is diminished.

You don’t need to understand the science – these systems are automatic.

What to do when the fear is real?

The first thing to do is to accept that the fear is real and that it is ok to be afraid.

After that, when the calming PNS sets in, it’s a good idea to identify what you can and can’t control.  Following government guidelines, washing your hands and social distancing are all forms of control.  Secondary activities such as talking to your bank/building society, employer or accountant etc. are also forms of control which can reduce the fear you are feeling.

When you have taken action it is then ok to indulge in a little positive escapism:  Read a book; watch a film; play with your kids; take part in on-line activities with friends or learn a new skill.  Be creative.  The use of alcohol and/or drugs to escape is significantly less helpful as it stops the body from doing the job it needs to do.

If you find that the calming effect of the PNS is not kicking in you should ask yourself if you are feeding the fear.  Spending too long on social media, engaging with “fake news”, obsessively following the death statistics, having the same conversations ad infinitum, all serve to trigger the fight or flight response over and over again.  The PNS simply can’t keep up with the imagined or anticipatory fear if you keep feeding it.

If you are repeatedly feeding the fear it may be useful to seek some help, to connect more positively with other people and to think about what you can do rather than how helpless you are.

As always, please get in touch if you are struggling to cope emotionally or psychologically.

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Female Friends:  A Celebration

Female Friends blog original by Photo by Matt Heaton on UnsplashResearch has shown that friendship is essential for physical and emotional well-being.  A lack of a supportive social network has a mortality risk equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.  The last few months have given me lots of reasons to reflect on how wonderful it is to not only have great friends, but to have great female friends.  That hasn’t always been the case.

As a young woman a lot of my friends were men.  I liked being “one of the lads” and could hold my own in conversations about music and motorbikes and even football if it was absolutely necessary.  I found men to be less complicated than the women I knew.  They seemed to be more honest and straightforward.

My female friends at the time made me anxious.  I worried about saying or doing the wrong thing, I was never really sure if they liked me.  I imagined (rightly or wrongly) that they talked about me behind my back.  I drifted away from them.

Then came marriage and children and I found I needed more women in my life.  Better women.  Mothers who understood what it was like to suddenly have an entirely different life.  Around this time I had two, fabulous, female friends who would come round, hang out, offer some support and share their own insecurities as we raised our kids together.  Of course we still indulged in a little, unhelpful, competitive parenting (whose child talked first, walked first etc.)  We also nursed insecurities we never shared, growing them into reasons to berate ourselves.  Never quite believing that we were enough.

Now that I am older I have my tribe.  In fact I have tribes, plural.

I have a tribe of female friends who meet to play Mah Jongg or go on day trips together.  They are all slightly older than me and it doesn’t matter.  We talk about our grandchildren, gardens and television.  We indulge in immense silliness and sing out loud at the drop of a hat.

I have a tribe of adventuring friends.  We take each other out of our comfort zones and relish the challenges we face.  They are all slightly younger than me and it doesn’t matter.  We talk about the businesses we run, about politics, music, food & wine and festivals.

I have a tribe of cultural friends and we share trips to the theatre and the cinema.

Along the way I have collected other, fabulous female friends and the really important ones are still in my life.  In some cases, I consider their daughters to be friends too, now that they are grown.

I have female friends who have my back and I have theirs; friends I trust implicitly.  So what changed?

For the most part, I did.  I became more confident.  I learned to trust, to take risks, to speak out.  I became more discerning about the women I choose to spend time with and I, in return, became a better friend.  I strive to be honest and straightforward, uncomplicated in my communication.  I accept that friendships have a certain ebb and flow.  Value must be added over time but can be drawn on when the need arises.

Those tribes are made up of wonderful women, each of whom is a fantastic friend in her own right.  I could call on any of them individually for solace or laughter and there would be no jealousy from the others.  I know who to ask for a book recommendation, for a hug, for a glass of champagne or a much needed kick up the backside.

This is a slightly more self-indulgent piece than usual, an opportunity to thank those friends (you know who you are) who add to my life in more ways than they could possibly know.  But as always, it is also a learning piece.  Here are a few of the things I wish I had known when I was younger:

  • You do not have to compromise your own values in order to fit in. If you have different values you are unlikely to ever become good friends.
  • Be yourself. It’s ok if that is not exactly the same person with every friend you have so long as you are congruent.
  • If your friends spend all their time bitching about other people they probably bitch about you too. Life is too short to spend time with people who make you feel insecure.
  • Accept that some friendships won’t work out long term. Just as you wouldn’t necessarily expect to marry the first person you date, don’t expect every friendship to last a lifetime.
  • Take quality over quantity. A cup of coffee with just one person who lights up your life is preferable to 500 friends on social media if you never have any real relationship with them.
  • Model the kind of friendship you would like to have. If you want friends you can trust – be trustworthy.  If you want friends who listen when you have problems, be the kind of friend who listens.
  • Some women like to talk about music, motorbikes and football too!

If, like me, you have some great female friends be sure to tell them how much you appreciate them.  Maybe you would like to share your top tips for friendship too.

 

What is coaching and how could it help me?

What is coaching and how can it help me blog white mug on table printed with word BeginThis week is International Coaching Week.  If you are not a coach that may not mean much to you.  This is the week in which those working in the industry come together to focus on CPD and to promote the benefits of coaching.  If you have ever wondered “What is coaching and how could it help me?” then this blog is for you.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a bespoke form of personal and/or professional development.  A professional coach can help you to set and achieve personal and/or professional goals by supporting, listening, challenging, guiding and, in some instances, training you.

Why Might I Need a Coach?

Sometimes in life you can see where you want to be but have absolutely no idea how to get there.  You can see the obstacles and barriers to your success but don’t quite know how to get over them.  Coaching can help you to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be.

Sometimes you don’t have any idea where you want to be or what you want to do.  You just know that you don’t want to stay stuck where you are now.  Coaching can help you to gain some clarity.

How do Coaches Work?

Some coaches work in a completely non-directive way.  They ask questions and allow you to formulate your own plan based on what you already know.

Some coaches, particularly performance coaches, work in a very directive way.  They will tell the client exactly what to do to make a difference – for example a coach might tell a tennis player to extend their reach by an extra 2cm on the serve to maximise power.

At Yellow Dot Women we work in a semi-directive way, which falls somewhere between the two.  We will never tell you what to do but we might help you to increase your skills and knowledge so that you formulate a plan based on the best information – not just on what you already know.

A coach will listen to you, properly listen to everything you say and try to understand what you really want from life – personally and/or professionally.  A coach will help you to understand yourself and your challenges and will enable you to see potential ways forward.  It’s up to you which way you go.

Once you have decided on a way forward a coach will support you to set goals (where appropriate) and work creatively to help you take each step towards them – this may include elements of counselling, one-to-one training or involve engaging with external support.

Finally, a coach will encourage and support you throughout the journey, will challenge you to stay on track and keep your promises to yourself and will be your cheerleader when you reach the finish line.

At the end of the process you should feel happier and more in control with a genuine sense of achievement.  You will also have gained some self-awareness and/or have developed some sustainable new skills.

At Yellow Dot Women we work predominantly with women but also with couples and businesses.

Coaching Women

If you are wondering why we work predominantly with women please click here.

The initial focus may be around life, parenting, relationships, personal fulfilment or professional aspirations.  Coaching can essentially help with any and all aspects of life.

Coaching Couples

Sometimes couples get stuck.  They don’t necessarily need counselling, their relationship may still be strong, they just need help to get out of a rut, to work together on some shared goals and to feel like they are growing, together.  Coaching can help.

Business/Leadership/Executive Coaching

Leadership coaching (also called business coaching or executive coaching) focusses on a senior manager (usually an MD or CEO) or business owner.  The aim is to establish a bench mark of strengths and weaknesses and to build on them.  The ultimate aim is to achieve the organisational objectives through better leadership.

Team Coaching

Team coaching usually combines one-to-one sessions with each team member and group sessions designed to integrate skills, to help team members value differences and to work together to achieve shared goals.

What is Coaching and How Could it Help Me?

If you still have questions please contact Fiona to find out how Yellow Dot Women can help you.

We offer an initial consultation free of charge so you can be sure that we are the people you want to work with.  Please click below to contact us.

I would like to book an initial consultation