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.

 

 

 

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.

International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter

International Women's Day blog #BalanceforBetter woman's feet balancing on a barrierToday is International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter.

It would be very difficult to argue against the notion that a balanced world is a better world.  The only things getting in the way of this happening are fear and habit:  Fear of change, fear that if things get better for women they will necessarily get worse for men.  Or a lazy, locked in habit of doing things the way they have always been done.

This year IWD asks you to challenge yourself to make change.  So, how can you help forge a more gender-balanced world?

  1. Celebrate women’s achievement.

  2. Raise awareness against bias.

  3. Take action for equality.

International Women’s Day #BalanceforBetter What will you do?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

hand emerging from water holding a sparkler for blog Maslows Hierarchy of NeedsThis week I have been reflecting a lot on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Many would consider this old theory to be out of date.  It’s not cutting edge enough in the current world of psychology.  And yet, I think it still has much to offer in terms of understanding your own state and that of others.

Maslow developed this model to explain motivation.  He, in common with other humanist psychologists, believed that we all have an innate motivation to learn and to grow.  However, that drive may be limited by our current circumstances – by our needs.  The model is often, as here, depicted as a five level pyramid.  The lower levels represent our deficit needs.  These needs must be met (partially at least) before we can move on toward the upper level growth needs.

pyramid depicting Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Physiological Needs

These are the basic requirements for survival as a human being, e.g. food, water, air to breathe, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep.

The welfare state was initially set up to ensure that nobody experienced such need in the UK.  And yet, today, we are seeing increasing levels of homelessness, and reliance on food banks continues to rise.  People with a deficit in their physiological needs will be motivated almost entirely towards their next meal or somewhere to get warm.  Longer term, work and financial independence may help but, whilst in crisis, people may be unable to make the necessary leap in motivation to find work.

Safety Needs

We all need to feel safe and protected from fear.  To feel safe we need, for example, secure housing, law and order, to be free of the risk of violence etc.  People who have a deficit in this area may not be motivated beyond the desire for safety.

One in four women (and many men) in the UK experience physical, emotional and/or psychological violence in the home.  This lack of safety reduces their motivation to grow and so may, in some cases, contribute to a feeling of being trapped in an untenable situation.

Love and Belongingness Needs

Once our physiological and safety needs are met, the next level of human need is the need for relationships.  We progress from the individual to the social and begin to value the giving and receiving of love, friendship, trust and affiliation.

Loneliness and a lack of social skills can keep a person stuck at this level of need.

Esteem Needs

Maslow separated Esteem Needs into two categories:

  1. Self-esteem – through dignity, achievement, mastery of skills, independence etc.
  2. Esteem from others – through status, prestige, respect etc.

A lack of self-esteem may come from an earlier failure in one of the lower levels of this hierarchy.  E.g. the experience of violence, feeling unsafe, failing to provide for yourself and others etc.

Self-actualisation Needs

Finally, when all is reasonably well in all the other areas, people will be motivated by an inner drive to become “everything one is capable of becoming”.  This is what Carl Roger’s described as the organismic self.  This is the yellow dot in Yellow Dot Women.

So how does this Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs help us today?

You may have a friend/colleague/employee who seems helpless and incapable of resolving her own problems, or who lacks self-esteem, or resists an opportunity for promotion or training.  Be aware that you may not know her full personal history.  There may be good reasons for this.  Offer support and encouragement but don’t push too hard – pushing might just reinforce a feeling of fearfulness.  Counselling or coaching may help her but she has to be ready for it.

You, yourself, may be feeling stuck, or bored, with a sense that there must be something more to life.  You may even be giving yourself a hard time (shouldn’t you just be grateful for all the good things you have).  Try to understand that, if you are operating in the upper levels of the hierarchy, this is an innate drive to be more, to be better than you are right now.  Coaching can help you to work out what’s going on and what you need to do next to feel like a fully functioning woman.

This is not a straight up and down model.  Some of us will be fortunate and never experience the hardships caused by hunger, homelessness and loneliness.  Others will progress upwards, only to drop back down when jobs are lost, homes are repossessed or relationships break down.

In some of these instances people may be operating on a complex mix of these levels.  Last week I met a woman who was, until recently, married with children, working full time and also studying for a degree through the OU.  She was operating at a fairly high level in this hierarchy until her husband fell seriously ill.

At this point they lost his salary, she had to give up work to become his carer, the benefits system was slow to kick in so the rent wasn’t paid, they were at risk of homelessness and they had to resort to using the foodbank.  She is still working towards her degree.

Suddenly, for this family, basic physiological and safety needs were no longer being met.  Relationships were changing.  Status was lost and self-esteem took a serious dip.  I have no doubt that this woman’s resilience and determination will triumph in time.  Others might not be so lucky.

Take a look at the model and try to determine where you are at the moment.  What might be holding you back from achieving your full potential.  Then ask yourself, “what am I going to do about it?”

And remember, no matter how far you sink beneath the waves, that little spark of potential will always be lit, like a beacon, helping you to find your way back.

 

When Planning becomes Procrastination

lined notebook on table with fountain pen to illustrate when planning becomes procrastinationIn my professional life I have spent a lot of time encouraging people to plan more.  Planning is a good thing.  Planning helps you to set direction and to prioritise.  It simplifies decision making.  In teams, planning helps you to get everyone on the same page.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, frankly, it all goes a little bit pear shaped when planning becomes procrastination.

Procrastination involves putting off or avoiding a task that needs to be done.  The problem is that it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking that, by planning the task properly, we are actually taking steps towards doing it.

Take, for example, the teenager who spends days devising a comprehensive (and very beautiful) revision timetable, only to discover that there is no time left to revise.  Or the woman who repeatedly re-writes her to-do list, frantically adding last week’s unfinished actions to this week’s plan.  Or the mother, who sits amongst the ruins of her home reading books on how to de-clutter and create zen-like calm.  Meanwhile, the kids continue to wreak havoc all around her.

If you recognise any of this, then I hate to tell you, but you are most definitely procrastinating.

I am working with a super-organised client at the moment.  She recently started a new job and was finding it difficult to get her team to be more productive.  In an attempt to address the problem she introduced them to the Trello Board so that they could monitor the team objectives, see each other’s workload and keep tabs on shared projects.  Now she has a team that enthusiastically creates vibrant, informative Trello Boards.  But they still don’t get things done.  Instead of motivating them to take action, she has given them a new way to procrastinate.

It doesn’t matter how you plan.  Whether you use pen and paper, post-its, spreadsheets or bespoke software is irrelevant if you are still planning when you should be taking action.

When planning becomes procrastination it is time to stop thinking and start doing.

Unconditional Positive Regard – Love Don’t Judge!

Light streaming in through a barred window into a decaying room. Unconditional Positive RegardBack at the beginning of this journey I explained why I chose the name Yellow Dot.  In it I talked about Rogers’ Core Conditions; Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathy.  This is the second of three pieces written to expand on those concepts – this one is all about Unconditional Positive Regard.

As always, my first instinct is to break down the jargon.  “Regard”, is how we see and consider someone.  Positive regard requires us to see someone in a positive way – think about love and respect and you come close.  “Unconditional” means that we put no conditions on that love or respect.

Essentially, showing Unconditional Positive Regard requires us to be non-judgemental.

But let me pause right there because I need to differentiate between people and their behaviours (what they do).  People are NOT their behaviours.  Sometimes the people we care about do things we do not approve of, they behave in a way we consider to be “bad”.  You do not have to accept or respect the behaviour but doing something “bad” does not make someone a “bad” person.  Would you want to be judged and labelled by your worst behaviour?

I have talked before about failure being an important part of learning, we all make mistakes, it is how we learn and grow as human beings.  Sometimes those mistakes can be harmful and hurtful to others but it is much easier to discuss the failure with someone if you don’t fear losing their regard.

Growth is supported by acceptance.  Unconditional Positive Regard is an attitude that values us even when our failings are known. It is a profound relief to drop a mask, confess our worst feelings and behaviours and to trust that we are still accepted.

Unconditional Positive Regard is an essential part of every healthy relationship, close family or great friendship.  It is also an integral and essential part of a productive coaching or counselling relationship

Personal growth happens when we are free to be spontaneous, to make mistakes and to engage with life without fearing a loss of esteem from our loved ones.

Click on the button below if you need a little Unconditional Positive Regard in your life.

Don't Judge Me!