Fears, Worries and anxieties?

Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. Things can get slightly better for reasons it’s hard to foresee. Just as pleasures fade and can seem meaningless in retrospect, so pains (at least sometimes) can pass or soften. The School of Life, on Feeling Depressed

Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life.

There are two main kinds of stress — acute stress and chronic stress. Acute stress is the reaction to an immediate threat, commonly known as the “fight or flight” response.

Chronic stress — the kind most of us face day in, day out — is a killer.

However, what does not help is that we pile even more onto ourselves in terms of fears. worries and anxieties into the chronic stress mix.

I came across a really great phrase that seems to capture the idea of fears. worries and anxieties. The phrase came from Henry David Thoreau. He talked about “quiet desperation: a large, grey hinterland in which beneath an outward surface of endurance, we feel exhausted, close to tears, beyond the sympathetic understanding of others, easily irritated and daunted by the simplest task”. Perhaps we should call it “Thoreau stress”.

Many situations can trigger it. Work. Family. Friends. A social situation.

People try to hide their feelings. We can all put on a facade of fake happiness. I am sure we have all done it in the past. It is hard to maintain and since it is false, people quickly see through it. This makes it even harder as people around you know that there is something not right, but because you can not share, it places a double bind on the whole thing.

I have experienced it and I am sure those that are reading this have experienced it too. It is not something that comes upon you quickly and then fades as quickly. Rather it is something that builds over time. Normally based on a constant pressure that you are trying to cope with.

You might feel that it is all “your fault”. But it is not. I have come to realise that many times, it is self-talk and not stepping back from the situation that piles on the pressure. In addition, you can get caught up in your own emotions and feelings. As I call it “self-ruminating”, over the same situation or course of events.

Tasks and activities; even talking, can become hard. You might lose focus. You might feel that you can not move forward, sideways or even backwards. Stuck in a hinterland of fears, worries and anxiety.

For me, my continuing journey with Mindfulness helps. Is is the cure-all? No. Absolutely not.

I still get those feelings and can get caught up in those Thoreau moments. The first step on any journey is to recognise where you are and that is the case for me now. When those moments come, I know that they are happening. I can recognise the signs. With the mindfulness programmes I have done, I know I can do a breathing exercise; or a body scan; or even mindful walking. The last one is the one I find the best for me.

I have always loved getting out in the fresh air. Walking in the countryside. I combine this with a deliberate walking exercise. And it certainly helps. Does it fix everything? No. But as the quote at the start of the article says “Above all, we don’t know the future. It’s the other side of our dependence on chance. “ And that is what I believe in.

By the way. The photo I am using, was from a recent walk. Enjoy.

The article that inspired this blog can be found at:

http://www.thebookoflife.org/on-feeling-depressed/

I leave you with the following quote:

“If only we could see into the minds of strangers, friends and loved ones we would feel so much less alone and recognise we are all feeling similar things. Hopes. Dreams. Fears. Desires. Wanting to connect. “

 

 

Ruminating and how to change how you think?

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.” ― Terry Pratchett, Diggers

We all self-reflect on situations and life’s events. Constantly. Every moment of every day. I do it. You do it. We all do it. It is one of the most powerful, and yet potentially destructive features of our makeup.

We ruminate.

When people ruminate, they over-think about situations or life events, including; work challenges; relationships issues; problems with friendships; money worries; and even health issues. Research has shown that rumination is associated with a variety of negative consequences, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, binge-drinking, and binge-eating.

Ruminating is like a record that’s stuck and keeps repeating the same lyrics.

Sorry, that is an ageist analogy. I used that with my children, they looked at me blankly. I just asked my teenage daughter and her comment was that sounds like when you watch something on playback on the internet and you have to keep restarting the playback session.

What causes rumination episodes?

It is not clear exactly why we ruminate, although there are strong reasons to believe that it may be an unsuitable mental coping strategy adopted to try and cope with strong emotions; such as the fear of loss, impending significant change or a major life / relationship challenge.

What is the impact of rumination?

Rumination paralyzes your problem-solving skills. You become so preoccupied with the problem that you’re unable to push past the cycle of negative thoughts. You cycle round and round not able to break out of the self-talk. You start to feel helpless and if left unchecked potentially into depression.  It takes time to cycle out of a rumination event. For some, it can be hours, for others, it can be days. For some, unfortunately, they are unable to cycle out of the rumination event and cycle down into a depressive episode. We all have experienced a rumination episodes. For me, my most recent one took about twenty-four hours to cycle out of the event. A number of the techniques below helped me.

How do you begin to change your mind and reduce rumination episodes?
There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of a rumination episode and even shorten the duration.

Positive problem-solve the situation: People who ruminate not only replay the negative and helpless situation in their head, they also focus on abstract questions, such as, “Why does this happen to me?”; “What’s wrong with me?”, “Why do I keep making the same mistake?” or the ultimate one “Why am I a failure?”.

Positive thought activities: Engage in activities that foster positive thoughts. These could be anything from a favorite physical activity such as swimming, walking, running or cycling; to a hobby; or even to meditation, which is the technique that I use to help deal with the episode. The main thing is to get your mind distracted away from the rumination for a time so that the thoughts begin to subside and hopefully die out.

Instead, when you can think positively and clearly you can try to change the “self talk tape”. Identify at least one positive, constructive and concrete thing you could do to overcome the problem you are ruminating about.

For instance, if you’re worried about a situation at work, commit to sitting down with a close colleague to discuss the situation and how to deal with it.

If you have a relationship challenge, commit to sitting and talking through the positive aspects of the relationship; the things that you both appreciate in each other.

There are many different ways to help change your self-talk. If you have techniques that work for you, it would be wonderful if you could share.

I leave you with the following quote.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

Mahatma Gandhi

How stress affects your brain?

“If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.” ― Śāntideva

In my previous post, I shared with you some of the physical effects that stress can cause to your body. The most common causes of stress include work, money matters and relationships with partners, children or other family members. Stress may be caused either by major upheavals and life events such as divorce, unemployment, moving house and bereavement,

What are stress hormones?

Chronic stress increases stress hormones and these affect many brain functions, putting you at risk for mood disorders and other mental issues. When stress becomes chronic, it changes your brain’s core functions and even its structure down to the level of your DNA.

There are two types of stress hormone, one called adrenaline and the other called cortisol.

Adrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine) are stress hormones produced on an as needed basis in moments of extreme excitement. They help you think and move fast in an emergency. They are the body rocket boosters to help you move quickly. Adrenaline does not linger in the body, dissipating as quickly as they were created.

Cortisol, on the other hand, streams through your system all day long, and that’s what makes it so dangerous. It can leaving you feeling exhausted and wired but tired in the short term. In the medium term it can lead to weight gain, mood swings, poor sleep, short attention span, and memory issues.

Long term excessive cortisol leads to a host of health problems including: diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, cancer, and even heart disease.


How does stress affect the brain?

While stress and cortisol take a toll on your body, they take an equally high toll on your brain.
Stress can affect your thoughts and feelings. In fact, it can change the very brain itself, its wiring and structure.

Some of these brain-related stress symptoms will be obvious to you, like memory problems, anxiety, and worry. But most of these effects of stress on your brain are “behind the scenes.” You don’t notice they’re happening but you will notice the side effects … eventually.

Here are a number of ways chronic stress impacts your brain health and mental well-being along with simple steps you can take to counteract the damage.

  • Stress creates excess cortisol which in turn creates a surplus of glutamate. Glutamate creates free radicals that kill brain cells.
  • Chronic stress makes you forgetful and emotional. Studies show that when you’re stressed, electrical signals in the brain associated with factual memories weaken while areas in the brain associated with emotions strengthen.
  • Stress builds up an area of your brain called the amygdala. This is your brain’s fear center. Stress increases the size, activity level and number of neural connections in this part of your brain. This makes you more fearful, causing a vicious cycle of even more fear and stress.
  • The cortisol hormone blocks the production of a protein that is used to create new brain cells.
  • Stress depletes critical brain chemicals, especially serotonin and dopamine. Low levels of either of these neurotransmitters can leave you depressed and more prone to addictions.
  • Stress predisposes you to developing a variety of mental illnesses including anxiety and panic disorders, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, drug addiction and alcoholism.
  • Stress can cause your brain to seize up at the worst possible times — exams, job interviews, and major life events. Stress impairs your memory and makes you bad at making decisions.
  • Stress can measurably shrink your brain. Cortisol can kill, shrink, and stop the generation of new neurons in the hippocampus, the part of your brain that stores memories.
  • On Top of All This … Chronic stress destroys your happiness and peace of mind. It wears you down mentally and emotionally and saps the joy from life.

How do you begin to deal with Stress?

The first and most important point is recognizing that you are suffering from stress. With so many physical and emotional symptoms, you can be confused as to what is actually going on. For me, I came to recognize it was stress through the changes in the way I was dealing with situations. I was feeling far more emotional than normal.  It seems counter-intuitive, but trying some of the stress relaxing techniques helps you to understand you were suffering from stress.

Exercise: You can try physical exercise, such as running, walking or swimming. I love to get out and go for a walk. I can’t swim for toffee and my running days are long gone after I broke my ankle a few years ago.

Connect to others: The simple act of talking face to face with another human can trigger hormones that relieve stress. Being helpful and friendly to others also helps to reduce stress as well as providing great opportunities to expand your social network. I go to a monthly Mindfulness sitting group and also go to retreats, combining mindfulness practices with being with other like minded people.

Mindfulness: Set aside time to practice Mindfulness. A little and often is far better. Check out some of my blog posts on Mindfulness practices. Mindfulness actually helps you to train your brain.

I leave you with the following quote.

“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” Frank Herbert, Dune

What is stress and how do you can deal with it?

“Things get bad for all of us, almost continually, and what we do under the constant stress reveals who/what we are.” ― Charles Bukowski, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire

We all experience stress. For some, it is mild, transient and they can generally shrug off the impact. For some, it is extreme, long lasting and can have a devastating impact.

What few of us realize is the impact on ourselves, both physically and also mentally. You might not realise the nagging headache you get in the morning; your frequent inability to get to sleep at night and the constant tossing and turning as you get to sleep; being snappy or short with your family or partner, or even your decreased ability to focus and lack of productivity at work are all signs you may be suffering from stress.

Stress related statistics:

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace.
  • Stress costs UK industry more than $3.7 billion annually in lost productivity and sick time.
  • 50% of people will have a recurrence of stress during their working lives.


What are some of the effects of stress?
Stress symptoms can affect your physical body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you a jump on managing them.

  • Physical effects include: Headaches; muscle tension or pain in your neck or back, but can be anywhere in your body; chest pains (if you get these, please seek medical attention urgently); fatigue and lethargy; a change in sex drive; stomach upsets and sleep problems.
  • Common effects of stress on your behavior include: Overeating or undereating; angry outbursts; drugs, substance or alcohol abuse; social withdrawal; or even exercising less often or more often

  • Mood effects include:– Anxiety; restlessness; lack of motivation or focus; feelings of being overwhelmed, out of control and lost; Irritability and anger; finally, sadness and finally, depression.

HELPFUL TIPS: How do you begin to deal with Stress?

There are many different ways to deal with milder levels of stress.Try to eat regularly and eat sensible food. I have taken to eating slow release porridge in the morning. It gives me energy and I don’t snack. In addition, I try to eat regular meals for lunch and also for tea. Reduce your caffeine and coffee intake to 2 cups a day. Or even drink alternatives. I drink peppermint tea. Yes, I have a cup of tea first thing in the day and one cup of coffee during the morning, but I do not have the ten or twenty cups I used to have. Avoid cola drinks as they contain caffeine and stimulants. I drink fizzy water instead.Take regular exercise, to help the body manage stress. I love going for a walk and try to walk every day.

For more serious stress issues, you might seek medical advice. You might consider  individual therapy with a therapist; a group talking therapy, where with the support of others you share your worries, concerns and work through ways to deal with it; or an alternative approaches.

One of the approaches that are being recommended by many health professionals and is recognized by NICE – The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence that recommends the use of health technologies within the NHS (such as the use of new and existing medicines, treatments and procedures) – is Mindfulness.

I will be writing a number of follow up articles to share with you how to leverage and take advantage of some of the key aspects of Mindfulness to help you deal with and possibly reduce your stress levels.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following quote.

“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” Frank Herbert, Dune

Mindfulness at work – how to practice?

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Earlier this week, I took part in an event for World Mental Health day, where we hosted over 385 people on two webinars to talk about Mindfulness. It was great to talk about what mindfulness is all about, but the biggest part of the discussion and questions from people was how you can practice mindfulness at work.

How do you practice Mindfulness at work? Does your work environment encourage you to practice? I was given the opportunity to describe how I practice.

Think about being present and not just on auto-pilot

  • Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
  • Focus your attention on the people and the discussions you have. Don’t just nod and agree. Really try to listen.
  • Don’t skim read emails, articles, and documents. I read from the bottom of emails back to the top to make sure I focus on the content.
  • In meetings, don’t do your emails at the same time.

Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work. I use the Three-minute Breathing Space meditation during the day, normally at lunchtime. 

Use short breathing exercises before or after meetings; telephone conversations or when you feel stressful

  • The exercise we shared this week was the 4,7,8 exercise. You place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth. Breath in at your normal pace for the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this at least three times and you will feel less stressful and more relaxed.

Use Mindful Reminders

  • Use some form of reminder to be mindful to take you out of auto-pilot mode. I use a reminder in my Outlook diary and set an appointment every day.Mine is set for 12:30 every day. It just gives me a little nudge, “have you been mindful so far today?”. Perhaps place a picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful. I have a mindful workplace mat that I glance at during the day.

Be a Single-Tasker

  • Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
  • Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands, and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
  • Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Pay Attention to the Small Stuff

  • When you are working, focus on the immediate task and the single element in front of you. Don’t worry about all the other tasks around you. Being present on.

“Pause, Reflect, Act” rather than “Fire and forget” on emails

  • We live such a reactive hectic work live that we have a tendency to “fire and forget”. When that email comes in from a colleague asking for help; raising an issue; complaining; or whatever, we have this insane habit of reacting immediately to the email. Get it done and out of the way. I see it all the time. People do not take the time to either read the email or to fully understand the context. You can end up in an email war of words. Instead, “Pause, Reflect and then Act” before responding. Take time. Even 24 hours before responding. I will even pen a response but hold it in my “draft items” for up to 24 hours before responding. It tends to take the heat out and you can more calmly review what you are writing.

Feel and Share Gratitude

  • Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
  • Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Express gratitude to those around you, even if they do not respond. It is amazing how much a simple thank you and smile impacts others.

Cultivate Humility

  • Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgment. You can easily jump in and argue—but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action—non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.
  • Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. Say thank you and really mean it.
  • Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have helped you at work today.
  • Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

Finally, Make a Habit of It

  • For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness – such as the 3-minute breathing space meditation as well as informal practices that you can do during the day. What is more important, though it to practice some of the elements I have mentioned every day. A little and often is far better than one practice, one day every month.

 

I would love to hear from you on how you practice Mindfulness at work. Do share your thoughts, practices, tips and advice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ― Studs Terkel

The Divided Self

““All of us have two minds, a private one, which is usually strange, I guess, and symbolic, and a public one, a social one. Most of us stream back and forth between those two minds, drifting around in our private self and then coming forward into the public self whenever we need to. “ ― Scott Spencer

Continuing the theme I started recently, I’ve come to realise that we all seem to create divisions in our lives. Divides between work and home. Divides between family and friends. Divides even in the personal and close relationships that we have.

These divides are not physical entities that exist. Rather they are our own personal mental approaches to life; the work that we do and the way in which we interact with the people around us. Often, these divides feel hard. Rigid and fixed. Sometimes they are created, naturally, but often, they are “artificially” constructed in a way to help you individually, deal with a particular situation. However, the artificial often gets noticed.

You know that feeling. You meet someone for the first time and you walk away from the encounter, thinking “Is that the real person?” or as Alan Watts says, “…perhaps they are a genuine fake!”.

The difficulty we all face is that it is hard to maintain these divides. The effort can sap your own strength and ultimately, people, even subconsciously, notice that you are putting on a “false persona”.

Why do we create these divides?

The prime reason that I see is to protect ourselves from being hurt. We feel that if we can compartmentalise our thoughts; feelings; approach to people; based on a set of self-defined rules, that this will protect us and guide us through the day-to-day interactions we have.

Let me tell you, it does not.

Trying to lead a divided life, is like trying to walk with just your left foot. You might be able to take one step, but then you will fall over. The only way to lead your life is to be Genuine. Whole. Complete. You have to be true to yourself. The true, inner self that is you.

How do you do it?

There are many different paths you can travel. You can try counselling. Self-help books. Group therapy. Prescription drugs. You can even come to realise it naturally through life’s changes that come upon you. My path was via Mindfulness practice. What ever path you take, you have to be brave and true to yourself. Once you realise that and start living your life in this way you will notice a huge change and a weight will lift from you.

You will be more natural in your dealings with people. More genuine. Yes, there is a risk. After all living a life has risks. You will get hurt. People will take advantage of you. But in the end, you have to live your life to the full undivided self.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”  Dalai Lama XIV

The man who wasn’t there

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Oscar Wilde

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel fully present. On other days, I feel as if I have somehow dissolved into the background.  

I can recognise the symptoms and also the feelings that come with it. When I am fully present, I feel in the moment; grounded; focused and alert to events and people around me. In effect alive.

When I feel dissolved, I feel disconnected from life around me; alone; weak and vulnerable. Existing from moment to moment. Reacting to the events around me. Feeling as if I am being battered by the winds and emotions of the people, events and life around me.

I am not sure what might trigger it, though I know of a couple of scenarios that can bring on the feeling. One is where I start to ruminate about the past and the future, rather than living in the present moment. Another is where I feel that I am loosing a friend or companion. That self-generated sense of impending loss can also trigger the feeling.

With 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day running around your head; it is no wonder that we can all get caught up in the feelings that they generate and can get trapped in a cycle of rumination, self-think, and stress. If you sit for a while and observe people, you can almost see the patterns of thought criss-cross their face. We all have the ability to take a thought and travel a journey into an imaginational thought journey. Something similar the following:-

“If I do this, then, that will happen”.

“Having done that, then so and so will be affected.”

So and so will feel angry / sad / hurt / afraid and….”

“…. and I will feel I should never have done this in the first place”

It is hard to describe explicitly, but hopefully you get the meaning.

Sometimes I do feel as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”.

What does this mean to me? Caught. Trapped in my thoughts and their associated feelings. a cycle of rumination. Thoughts going round and round, self-triggering physical feelings of fear. Yes, a physical sensation that pervades me. And don’t forget, this is just thought that is doing it. Nothing physical, like a physical shock or the sight of an accident. Just the thoughts in my head. Creating an imaginary world.

So what can I do to stop feeling as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”?

We can not escape our thoughts or stop them completely. What we can do though is we can try to dampen them. Some use drugs. Some use alcohol. Some use the adrenaline of sport or adventure.  Some try to fill themselves with the mundane of life.

There is an alternative, though. That is to try to recognise and accept them for what they really are. Imaginary thoughts. Thoughts of fantasy. Illusion. That is what Mindfulness teaches you and that is what I use.

I try to practice every day. Moment by moment. However, I have to admit it does not always work.

Last Friday, for example, was a challenge. The announcement in the morning of the UK leaving the Euro Zone [called the Brexit referrendum] and the ramifications; the prospect of a friend not being around for a long time and a series of time bound activities at work, all came together in one moment. It caught me completely unawares. I was I caught up in it for a moment. Then, having recognised it. I Held it and breathed into it. Recognising that the thoughts were just thoughts. Nothing more. It took a couple of minutes for me to turn myself around but I did.

I am not going to claim that Mindfulness is a cure all. Rather for me, it has certainly helped me over the past two years. What do you use to help you? If you want to know more about Mindfulness, do get in touch.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  Oscar Wilde