Are you numbing your joy?

Brene Brown says it best when she tells us that we can’t selectively numb. If you numb your difficult emotions you are also numbing your joy and gratitude.  So often we don’t even realize that we are numbing. Those habits that help you ‘switch off’ from life’s pressures are often what’s numbing us. 

When I became comfortably numb

When I was 26 I started living by myself for the first time, having always shared my abode with many people. I loved my home and painted it beautiful colours. But I felt extreme unease at being alone. I went out as much as I could, but I couldn’t go out every night. When I stayed in I turned on music and the tv to distract me. Solitude felt like loneliness and loneliness ached. Soon enough I started smoking joints in the evening, which I hadn’t been at all interested in before then. I’d roll up before the anguish set in.  Inhale, ‘take the edge off’,  and think ‘oh look even the adverts are interesting now’.  It got the hook in me and became my avoidance technique of choice for a couple of years.  It didn’t make me feel better. My mind felt groggy. I didn’t feel in control of my habit, it seemed to control me.

Ignoring something doesn’t change it; instead there is an increased sense of discomfort or pain.

Eventually I realized that the crutch that helped me to adjust to living alone, was actually preventing me from really enjoying my home and my life. So I threw the crutch away and faced the silence.  The very thing that I was then avoiding – spending quiet alone time, connecting to my feelings and thinking deeply about my life – is actually something that now nourishes me immensely.  Facing whatever you are avoiding can be a powerful up-leveler and can take you to places far greater than you can even imagine.  

The signs

You’re numbing techniques might be so normal to you that you don’t even recognize them as an avoidance of anything.  You know when you come home and pour yourself a big glass of wine – but you do that automatically most nights. 

Or out of habit you pick up your phone to scroll through Facebook several times a day.  Of course doing these things at times is no real harm – but our lives are meant to be ‘switched on’ and engaged so we are living a quality existence.  It is always worth asking yourself if there are difficult emotion such as loneliness, or a dream for a bigger life that you don’t think is possible.

Maybe you’ve just been pushing too hard and are oscillating from stress to switch off. I’d recommend you check out my vlog Avoid burnout – flow with the low for guidance on getting back in balance. 

Switch on

Let’s address the smaller numbing habits. So what step can you take today to become more ‘switched on’ instead of ‘switched off’?  Being engaged and present enhances the quality of any experience. 

You could phone a friend instead of having a Whatsapp exchange? Real connection is invaluable.

Cook something from fresh ingredients instead of throwing something convenient in the oven. 

Read or research something that inspires you?

Your shift might be limiting your social media time to particular slots in the day instead of them infiltrating every quiet moment.

Meaningful change

What if you sense there is a bigger avoidance going on? The bigger the avoidance, the bigger the growth opportunity!! If want to proactively up-level is it time to work with a mentor to help facilitate meaningful change? What change would you love and what sort of mentor or teacher can help you get there?

I love to support people to move from self doubt to listening to their heart and what its calling them to do, feeling supported, confident and taking actions that inspire them.  You can book a complimentary ‘discovery session’ with me here today to start the empowering journey. You’ll know after one session if it feels right for us to work together more. 

Life is meant to be enjoyed. If you have slipped in to ‘comfortably numb’ then one decision and one action can switch you on and turn it all around. Enjoy!

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.

Is it time to reframe your opinions of mental health (including your own)?

Has stress ever felt suffocating, has the ‘black dog’ (as Churchill called depression) ever got hold of you or have you had some dark nights of the soul?

This week’s Mental Health Awareness week in the UK is a powerful movement to end the stigma regarding mental health and the notion that suffering from stress or depression are something to be ashamed of.

Both stress and depression have impacted my life in different ways, and I suspect in some form they have touched all of our lives.  My Mum suffered from depression, and as a family, we didn’t know how to talk about that or deal with that in a very positive way. I never discussed Mums depression with my friends, preferring to keep it private. My teenage memory is of feeling helpless and sad for Mums obvious turmoil, and a slight judgmental anger, wishing she would just ‘deal with it’. In adulthood, my judgment was dissolved by my compassion – and this was a pivotal change that enabled me to be more supportive and kind. I wonder what conversations could have been had when I was growing up to make that shift earlier.  A quote that helped me make the shift was

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

This quote softens me into more loving-kindness for others, and for myself. Try it out. Does that quote change how you perceive some people? Or even help you to be less harsh on yourself?

While I don’t suffer from depression, life has had its challenges and I have had innumerable angst-ridden ‘dark nights of the soul’.  One such time was when I was dealing with immense pressure at work. This had been going on for many months. I meditated, eat well, had occasional acupuncture, talked to mentors and took many other actions to try to keep myself ‘in balance’, to get me through it.  But the pressure and demands on me kept increasing. All the signs were telling me that this situation was not good for body, mind or soul. Yet what kept me trapped in that situation for so long was the thought that ‘I should be able to deal with this’ and that I was ‘weak’ if I didn’t stick with it. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever spoken to yourself like that?

It’s kind of crazy to think of stepping away from something detrimental to one’s wellbeing as a sign of ‘weakness’.

This I feel is a societal stigma and thankfully a reframe is slowly happening.  It took a huge amount of courage and self-love to finally say ‘this is too much pressure and I won’t keep doing this’. My situation improved immeasurable from there, although I did feel residues of shame for a while. I kept reminding myself that to endure oppressively high levels of stress is not a badge of honour or statement of my worthiness.

The distressing feelings that kept resurfacing over those months were, in fact, a neon flashing red light that the situation needed to change. If such signs are ignored and if someone continues to push themselves to a place of imbalance for a prolonged period there is a risk of serious health impacts further down the road. Besides, it’s an unhappy place to keep yourself in.  Mental health matters.

I believe we can all do our part to end stigmas about stress and depression, by firstly being honest with ourselves about any judgments we have of ourselves or another who is suffering. Then have a new healthier more loving conversations on these topics.  A kind thought and a kind word can go a long way to providing the support and understanding that we all need.

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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