Mindfulness and mental health

It’s Mental Health Awareness week so a perfect time to start or deepen your Mindfulness practice.  Mindfulness is a way to connect to serenity and a feeling of peacefulness, which is much needed in our fast paced stressful society.  A Mindfulness practice is even more valuable for those suffering from mental health issues – big or small.

The Mindfulness practice of taking slow deep conscious breaths and keeping your focus on your breath coming in and going out, may seem very simplistic yet this trains you to release anxieties and step away from stressful thoughts. You are ‘rewiring your brain’ so as to notice your thoughts and then to refocus your attention on your breath instead of those thoughts.  By ‘rewiring your brain’ I mean that you are over riding your default pattern (e.g. of letting your thoughts rule your mood) to create new neuropathways in your brain and consequently new patterns.  

With regular practice of a Mindfulness meditation you create a habit of connecting to calmness instead of engaging in those thoughts that spiral into feelings of anxiety or depression.  

Slow deep breaths are also an effective way to physically release stress in the body and bring your nervous system back into balance. 

In addition a range of mood enhancing chemicals can be produced when you meditate such as serotonin (‘the happy neurotransmitter’) and endorphins (resulting in the ‘feel good effect’). So yes, you can feel a bit blissed out after a meditation!

As a regular meditator, over time you’ll start to notice changes in your everyday behavior – maybe feeling relaxed when you’re in a traffic jam instead of being angry that these things ‘always happen to you’!  Noticing these changes in yourself is very rewarding and uplifting. Allow time for these changes to start happening – Mindfulness is also about being kind and non-judgmental in our practice. The more you do a Mindfulness practice, the stronger that neurpathway becomes, and the more engrain the pattern becomes of connecting to peacefulness instead of get caught up in anxious thoughts.

So right now … take a slow deep breath in, filling your abdomen with air and slowly exhaling, emptying your abdomen of air. And then another, keeping your full conscious attention on your breath as you do so.  Continue this for a few minutes and enjoy your increased feeling of calm in body and mind.

3 essential elements to connect to your Zen despite the office mayhem

Listen to or download audio blog3 essential elements to connect you to your Zen

A busy office is a frenetic environment. There is often a deluge of requests and tasks of varying complexity, coupled with a sense of urgency. There aren’t enough people to do the job and everything is needed 5 minutes ago. Sound familiar? Such conditions are hardly conducive to calm clear focus. Instead, our parasympathetic nervous system is frequently stimulated putting us into the ‘stress response’. Our blood pressure rises, our breath is shallow, our body is tense, we react quickly but we are also on edge. In this reactive state, we are not in our power center. A holistic solution to becoming your calm and productive ‘Zen’ self in the office should incorporate addressing your mental, physical and creative self.  Let’s look at how you deal with situations when in a stressed state and what a Zen alternative could look like.

Consider your ‘firefighting’ self. It reacts to whatever comes your way, often yo-yoing you from task to task. You start work on a document, then respond to an incoming email, then switch focus again as you realize you need to prep for that meeting in 5 minutes. Then another email comes in, and you can’t stop yourself from having a quick peek to ensure it’s nothing urgent.

Now let’s look at how your Zen-self deals with all the demands coming your way. Your Zen-self knows your top priorities for the day, knows ahead of time what meetings you need to prep for and keeps focused on single tasks for much longer periods of time. Yes, that does mean not checking every email as it comes it when you are working on something else.

 

Your anxiety-driven-self see’s problems and obstacles. Your amazing analytical skills are focused on seeing all that is wrong. You fret about finding a solution or time to get things done, which actually uses up a lot of mental energy and time.

Your Zen-self is aware of the issues but the primary focus is on the solution. You know there is a positive way forward.

 

Your stressed-self is so identified with your mental activity that you have no awareness of how you are physically, or when your breathing is shallow, when your body is tense or when you are energetically off balance.

Your Zen-self regularly takes slow conscious deep breaths. Your Zen-self knows what a powerful tool your breath is to keep you grounded, calm, clear and focused. Your Zen-self knows that you need to get up from the desk regularly to move your body, to not be stuck in your head. Your Zen-self relishes those mindful moments of connecting to your senses – of tasting your food, of hearing laughter, of feeling the warmth of the sun on your face.

 

Your serious-self does not see the purpose or relevance of personal creativity or play in the workplace and does not have the time anyway.

Your Zen-self goes on lunchtime photo walks, seeing what is around with fresh eyes and playing with your own artistic abilities. Your Zen-self is inspired by how joyful the Dalai Lama is. Your Zen-self is playful with colleagues.

Your Zen-self loves to see the beautiful expansive sky.

Your Zen-self knows that inspiration and solutions flow more easily when you take time to step away from it all, even for a few minutes, and nourish your soul.

Your Zen-self is inside you now, waiting for you to connect.

 

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To download FREE audio ‘Leave work worries behind’ click here

5 secrets to banishing work anxiety on Sunday evenings

Listen to or download audio blog 5 secrets to banish work anxiety on Sunday evenings 

Do work thoughts start to invade your mind on Sunday evening, leaving you a little anxious for the remainder of your weekend?

Do you start switching into work mode after your Sunday dinner, perhaps checking and responding to work emails? Has Sunday evening become an extension of your working week?

The weekend is your free time. It’s time to have fun, to replenish and to explore life! Here are my top secrets to banishing work anxiety on Sunday evenings, so the whole weekend is yours to enjoy:

1. Start on Friday. Before you leave work on Friday map out your to-do list for Monday. Be clear on your top 3 high-priority tasks for the day. This need only take a few minutes but it makes the difference between starting Monday on the back foot or front foot. Once you know you have organized your work on Friday, you know you will start Monday with a clear focus instead of stepping into Monday morning mayhem.

2. Don’t look at work emails on Sunday (or over the weekend at all for that matter). Give yourself permission to have a full weekend of personal time. If it’s a ‘must’ to check your emails on Sunday then dedicate a defined slot to review what has come in and whether it impacts your priority to-do list for Monday. Resist looking at work emails after that. Can you turn off your work email on your phone so you won’t see new emails without actively going in to look at them? If not then consider switching your phone to airplane mode on Sunday evening.

3. Get my free audio download ‘leave work worries behind’ from this website – you can click on the link at the bottom of this blog. Do the guided exercise to relax and release tension, followed by the visualization exercise. You might choose to visualize how you want to feel at the end of your working day on Monday. Imagine having a great day at work and how you might feel at the end of the day. Positive expectations put you in the right mindset for a good day.

4. Swap your old Sunday night habit of switching into work mode, for a new calming and nurturing Sunday night ritual. Psychologically this change means you will look forward to Sunday evenings instead of dreading them. In the hour or so before you go to bed, start winding down. Have a bath with candles or try some gentle bedtime yoga. ‘Yoga with Adriene’ on YouTube is a great free resource. She has a 7-minute or a 20-minute bedtime yoga session. Explore other ways to peacefully replenish, so your Sunday night ritual is one you want to do each week.

5. A simple gratitude exercise is very powerful. Ask yourself what three things you have most enjoyed over the weekend? Consider what experiences have you had, and who you have shared your time with over the weekend. It is also a wonderful practice to recall three small simple things you have enjoyed over the weekend such as hearing a birdsong, seeing the sun break through the clouds, the smell of your coffee, or that delicious slice of cake. Recollecting and feeling grateful for your weekend really does enhance your feeling of having had a fulfilling weekend, and that’s a much more satisfying way to end your weekend than worrying about work!

To download FREE audio ‘Leave work worries behind’ click here

3 things you must do NOW to stop work pressure from deteriorating your health

3 things must do NOW to stop work pressure deteriorating your health

Does feeling vibrant and healthy, with a great work-life balance, feel like an unrealistic fantasy? Corporate jobs can be very intense, with diverse and competing demands on us. We put internal pressure on ourselves to do our best and to do more. Challenges are good and stretching ourselves is healthy – unless we are overstretched for prolonged periods of time. Overstretching can become a habit, it can seem like the norm – and that’s a dangerous thing. Prolonged stress is the primary cause of deteriorating health and of illness. So what must you do to avoid that slippery slope, or to do an about turn if you are already on it?

Number One – look out for the signs. That may not be as obvious as it sounds. Stress manifests in different ways for us all. It is a collection of behavioral and physical symptoms. Some of them you may not recognize as important indicators that you are off balance, perhaps thinking ‘that’s just the way life is’, ‘that’s just the way I am,’ or ‘isn’t that just normal’.

Before I share the symptoms with you, let’s look at action Number Two – acknowledge where you are. As you read the list, honestly assess (a) how many of them you are impacted by and (b) how often. Are they occasional, frequent, or near constant occurrences?

  • As a health/stress indicator first look at your energy levels and sleep patterns – are you regularly fatigued, is your sleep disturbed or do you suffer from insomnia?
  • How is your appetite? Have you been overeating, or experiencing a loss of appetite? Is your digestion out of balance, resulting in constipation or diarrhea? Your gut health is a key indicator of your overall health and state of wellbeing. Common colds and flu also show that your immune system is down.
  • Looking more at your physical health – do you get tension headaches, migraines, have aching neck and shoulders, lower back pain, suffer from menstrual distress, or have high blood pressure?
  • How moody are you? Have you become irritable or impatient with colleagues? Have you had inappropriate outbursts of anger or hostility? Do you brood for prolonged periods? Do you get depressed? Do you have a lot of worrying thoughts? Do you worry excessively, especially about trivia?
  • Looking at other behavioral symptoms, are you working late or more obsessively than usual? Do you have difficulty making decisions, large or small?
  • When we are overloaded and stressed we are not as present. Have you been having minor accidents? Do you get confused or forgetful about dates, places, times, or other details?
  • Finally has there been a sudden increase in your drinking or smoking habits?

That’s quite a big list I’ve shared and it’s by no means exhaustive. In isolation many of these may seem minor, however, each one is a sign that you are off balance. The more signs there are telling you that your wellbeing is out of whack, the more you need to take notice. As the saying goes, ‘health is wealth’. Consider a time when you have felt sick, with a cold or a stomach bug for example. Recall how much you craved feeling better. We all know that being ill (short or long term) is undesirable, yet how often do you sacrifice your wellbeing for your work?

So the next action, Number Three – change your priorities. Nothing is going to change unless you do.

What are the biggest causes of your stress symptoms? Step back and look at the bigger picture.

Are you putting too much pressure on yourself with unrealistic expectations? How much of the pressure is coming from others? If your health is being impacted that’s when you need to speak up.  I’ve been there and had to have that conversation. Although it felt daunting at the time to initiate that conversation, the results had a huge positive impact on my life so it was really worth it.  You may be surprised by how supportive others are when they know you are willing to explore other solutions but are not willing to put your health at risk. If they are not supportive, quite frankly, that’s a red flag. No job is worth your health, so it may be time to look elsewhere.

Changing your priorities may only require some simple changes such as getting out of the office at lunchtime, learning simple mindfulness techniques, going to yoga once a week, cutting down on refined sugar, getting regular massages or acupuncture, an occasional digital detox and early night, or scheduling catch-ups with friends who make you laugh!

In a nutshell, my recommendations are to be aware of your stress symptoms, address the root cause, and do more things that make you feel healthy, happy and vibrant!

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Humanness in the Corporate World

When we describe something as being very ‘corporate’ the last thing we think of is human kindness. However those of us who work in the corporate world know all too well that corporate business is really all about people. Robots haven’t taken over yet!

Sometimes in the office we can feel negative towards or just disconnected from the people around us. We are busy doing our job; those around us are busy with their jobs. It can be easy to forget that we are all complex, diverse, multi dimensional, amazing people. No person can be otherwise because all human beings have had a kaleidoscope of varied experiences. What I do sometimes to nurture the human connection is actively find things to appreciate about others. All it takes is to look at them with fresh eyes and acknowledging something about them that I like… even if overall they are not my cup of tea!

I may see the guy who is annoyingly loud, and notice that he is usually very upbeat and positive too.

I may notice the lovely gentle energy of the quite guy who seems almost invisible in the office hustle and bustle.

I may see someone light up when she talks about her kids, or find out that she loves architecture & thinks London is the best place in the world to live.

There is a lot of ‘blending in’ in the office, look how much grey, navy and white is worn!. Yet when we get curious we can start to see people’s uniqueness. We are so much more than our job titles, how well we do our job or where we are in the corporation’s hierarchy. When we broaden our view, maybe taking 30 seconds to notice someone or to engage in conversation at the water machine, seeing more dimensions of our colleagues then we start to enjoy more things about them. They don’t have to be our new bestie but they don’t need to be invisible or an annoyance.

How would your week be different if you set yourself a task to look at three colleagues with fresh eyes? Find something to appreciate in them that you haven’t seen or realized before. Be open and curious to whatever that may be. Maybe you will share something about yourself too that is totally unrelated to work. As you open more to others know that you are opening up to more generosity of spirit within yourself too. You are instigating more human connection, and after all corporations are really all about the people.