Four questions to ask yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed

There’s so much going on in your 40s. You may be starting to experience symptoms of perimenopause, and if you’ve had children they could be going through their own hormonal changes. Combine that with caring for ageing parents, keeping a long term relationship alive or not (40-49 is the most common age group for separating) and climbing the career ladder, your fifth decade can become the perfect storm leaving you feeling overwhelmed.

And it’s no surprise that juggling all these responsibilities can feel overwhelming. When I feel overwhelmed, I feel a tightness in my chest and break out in a sweat. I find it hard to focus on anything and just don’t know where to start. So I don’t. I procrastinate and I do the ‘easy’ things that aren’t going to make a difference to the big projects I need to move forward.

(As a side note, I love this Ted Talk by Tim Urban on procrastination, which I found when I was putting off doing something!)

So, next time you notice that you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a moment to ask yourself these questions…

Where are you focusing your energy? 

When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may think that taking the time to look at the bigger picture stops you making progress. But when you’re deep in overwhelm, it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is. So take time to list out and prioritise everything you’ve got on. What’s necessary? What can you reschedule or delegate? What’s driving any deadlines? Some clients like to map their tasks into an urgent/important matrix to make it really clear. 

What support do you need? 

For tasks that can’t be delegated, what support do you need? A shoulder to lean on and an ear to listen, or something more practical? Which friends or family can help you? Where else can you find support? A coach or therapist can help you get clarity, or if it’s causing medical issues speak to a doctor or healthcare professional. 

How are you fuelling yourself? 

Food, exercise and sleep are all so important for your body and mind to function well. But when I’m feeling overwhelmed they are the first things to go. 

If, like me, feelings of overwhelm and stress lead to you standing in front of the cupboard or fridge, how can you encourage yourself to pick up the healthy snacks instead of the crisps or biscuits? I create little snack packs at the beginning of the week. A little pot of nuts and fruit, some carrot sticks and a portion of hummus, a ready peeled boiled egg. If I make it easy to grab something healthy (and hide the biscuits right at the back of the cupboard) then I know I’m fuelling my body with healthy energy. 

As for exercise, I have a couple of friends that I love running with. During super busy times I may only go once a week, but it’s running (at a speed I can still chat) and it feels cathartic for me. What can you do to get moving and get out in the fresh air? 

Sleep for me is still a work in progress. Reminding myself to settle my mind with a book instead of my phone. Not taking my phone into the bedroom. Writing down anything that’s swirling around in my head before bed. I’m getting there, slowly. 

What is good in your life? 

Different studies have proven that practising gratitude can lead to deeper and healthier sleep, reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), reduce negative emotions, and change neural structures in the brain to help us feel more content. 

So, before you go to sleep at night, think of three things you are grateful for that day. Some days it’s really easy, and the things are big, like my daughter bouncing through the front door after an epic first day of secondary school (fingers crossed for September!). Some days it’s harder – my slightly aloof cat deciding to sit next to me. Going to sleep thinking of the good things can help you wake refreshed and ready for the new day. 

The first step with anything is noticing. So when you do notice feelings of overwhelm, return to these questions. 

If it’s hard to stop, find a way to come back into the moment. The 54321 tool may help. Sitting with your feet planted on the floor and breathing deeply, think of 5 things you can see, 4 you can feel, 3 you can hear, 2 you can smell and 1 you can taste. Utilising all of your senses is very grounding. 

And a final thought. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a friend.

Sophy Wells is a ICF certified coach, helping people reflect, refocus and reconnect to what’s important, and feel inspired about work and life again.

Understanding your anxiety symptoms + how to break the cycle

If you’re experiencing anxiety symptoms, it’s vital to understand the root of the problem. As someone who has battled with my own anxiety for the last decade, I know very well from first hand experience that in order to break the cycle of anxiety, you have to understand the cause and how to break it. It was onlt when I went for therapy that I truly understood the triggers for my anxiety (like many others, they stemmed from my childhood). If you’re struggling with anxiety symptoms, this Mental Health Awarness Week then today Love Island’s wellbeing and mental health coach Kamran Bedi – author of The Anxiety Antidote – shares his incisive tips for understanding your anxiety symptoms and how to break the cycle.

The importance of self awareness

Self awareness is the main ingredient for breaking the cycle of anxiety, but the determining factor that is key is being aware of HOW to break the cycle.  Most people are aware that they feel anxious, but no so much for how to make any sort of change. So I guess an increased awareness of how to make changes is what I offer in my work and through the Anxiety Antidote book.

Becoming more self aware

In my book one of the areas I guide the reader to consider is the ‘cause’ of their anxiety. Quite often people can get lost in the feelings and emotions, the physical changes and challenges that can feel overwhelming, but it can be very straight forward in identifying the cause of the anxiety and then dealing with the cause. It usually falls into two areas. Firstly, the cause could be mental and the anxiety is being formed through the persons thinking, secondly it could be a situation that is present in the person’s life that they need to address and deal with for the anxiety to be reduced or eliminated. The cause is always a key aspect to become aware of to then work on, whether its mental or actual.

The key to breaking the cycle of anxiety

The key to breaking the cycle is with working on the cause. If it is a mental cause and a set of thoughts, then interrupting the thought patterns and developing a more positive relationship with the mind can be key to breaking the cycle. I outline a variety of methods and awareness in the Anxiety Antidote that can really help readers become and feel more present, more mindful of their thoughts as well as how to take action anywhere inside their own headspace, to have more positive power and influence over their thoughts.

Staying mentally present

Mindfulness is the key to addressing anxiety symptoms as is awareness. In developing a daily practice of mindfulness, readers can learn to incorporate it into their daily lives so they are not then held captive to their thoughts that can often feel overwhelming.

Patterns of anxiety

There can be both physical patterns as well as mental patterns of anxiety. Usually on a physical level the body can enter into fight, flight or freeze. A person may have a fast heart rate and short fast breaths. This can usually be accelerated by the thoughts that cause this to literally switch on in the body, as what you think, you will feel. The mind has a very powerful influence over the physical and emotional state of the body, and in changing the thought patterns or even stopping them and then being more mindfully present, the person can end or reduce the anxiety experience and quite quickly.

Techniques and strategies for self-action to address anxiety symptoms

In my book, I cover how to work with your inner voice, how to be present and mindful, how to breathe to calm your nervous system, how to stop any mental movies playing over and over in your mind and also how to work with anxiety triggers in my book. The in-depth knowledge and the clear steps outlined in the book will really help any reader increase their awareness and improve how they think, feel and live and quite quickly.

Changing mindset

It’s important to work on the thoughts and anxiety and not avoid it on a daily basis. A lot of people will keep anxiety  inside of them and not deal with it, which can make the anxiety grow in strength. The key is to use the methods available in the book and to work on your mind on a daily basis. A daily practice of mindfulness and working with your thoughts and anxiety is as important as brushing your teeth twice a day.

A pep talk for those living with anxiety 

My advice from personal and professional experience is to work on, with and through your anxiety and to not avoid it. I see too many people who have suffered for years who have not worked on their anxiety. The trouble is for many, they have lived with it and lost out on years of their lives. Anxiety can stop you from travelling, being social, and it can affect your relationships and your health. In working on it with the methods available in my book, you can increase your understanding of what is happening in your mind and body but really transform your life.

Toxic positivity – when “good vibes only” can actually put you down instead of raise you up

Have you heard of toxic positivity? What about “good vibes only” – one of the most popular captions on social media.

These days we can even buy posters of ‘’good vibes only’’, there are glasses, neon signs, t shirts, and massage tools with the slogan. The whole culture of the ‘’good vibes only’’. There are ‘’good vibes only’ gurus, shamans and mentors – people who are preaching positive thinking as a remedy for everything and over anything:

‘’You are what you think right?! That’s how the law of attraction and law of vibration work, so you better cheer up!’’

It is enough to scroll through Instagram or Tik Tok which are full of coaches and gurus telling us we must be positive, and only positive at all times.

Can this culture of ‘’being happy and positive’’ and always ‘’vibrating high’’ be damaging to us?

It’s not natural to be happy all the time

Oh yes, if applied in a wrong way it is very unhealthy. Do not get me wrong, I am a mindset and high performance coach and I work with my clients to help them to optimise their performance through expansion of their mindset. Yes, having a positive, creative and grateful mindset is a fantastic thing but it is impossible and not natural to be happy, with the good vibe only at all times.

By definition, toxic positivity is the overgeneralisation of a happy, optimistic state that results in denial, minimalization and invalidation of the authentic human experience.

Why is it so unhealthy? Because by forcing ourselves to constantly be happy and positive we are suppressing or denying our own emotions, but  we can feel lots at the same time. For example, I can be very satisfied and positive with my career but sad and hurting at the same time with the grief of losing a close family member.

Dealing with sadness and grief should not involve pretending that everything needs to be positive and happy but it should involve getting in touch with our own feelings and emotions and living through them. That’s the healthy way. Of course, going into another extreme and focusing too much on the negative emotions and events is unhealthy as well as the nature loves a balance.

The guilt trap

Toxic positivity can also cause guilt which is then causes stress, anxiety and depression which in turn affects our self esteem. When we are feeling under strong pressure to be ‘’positive’’ at all times, we then feel guilty when having sad or moody days. And those days happen to all of us, even  ‘’happiness gurus’’ from social networking sites.

Being positive doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t think of bad things which can happen, rather it means we are clear on and focusing on the best possible scenario and that’s where we focus majority of our energy. Is like getting into a car for journey. You assume and prepare to get to your destination. You don’t actually plan for a traffic accident, rather you check the map, put a post code in and buckle your seat belt.

To compare the same journey in line with ‘’toxic positivity’’, you would be as getting in a car drunk, with sunglasses on at night driving up the motorway against the direction of traffic as nothing negative existed or could harm us.

Recognising toxic positivity

Here are some signs on how recognise when our positive constructive approach is becoming ‘’toxic positivity’’:

  1. You are masking and hiding your feelings – that smiley face with ‘’everything happens for a reason’’ should not be the response to trauma or upset. Get your emotions out, don’t supress them, feel them and  look for the lessons after that event.
  2. You feel shame and guilt for not being positive, or seeing the bright side in the particular situation. Being guilty for feeling down will not uplift your emotions, actually will put you down. It is helpful to talk or journal about what you actually feel. Allowing yourself to go through it and giving yourself permission to feel is powerful too.
  3. You brush things under the carpet and pretending they don’t matter “It is what it is”) . This behaviour is toxic and when you recognise doing it, it is good to stop and consciously reflect on what actually bothers you. Feel it, think about it. If is a dilemma you are avoiding instead of avoiding it, use a very helpful positive psychology exercise and write down minimum five various scenarios for your outcomes. You will feel the shift immediately.

Toxic positivity can also come from others: Here is how to recognise it:

  1. When someone is trying to minimalise your experience with ‘’feel good’’ quotes and statements. I once listened to a self-proclaimed positivity coach who was telling everyone that they need to be positive and affirm it all the time, throwing quotes and sayings as that would be the only way to deal with their challenges. In reality she was dismissing her own and others feelings emotions, and experiences, and making people feeling guilty and frustrated. When someone is trying to do this to you, please remember it is ok not to be ok, and move away from them.
  2. At times people will try to give you the perspective that it a ‘’could be worst’’ approach. They are dismissing your feelings and emotions by indicating that there are other things you should be happy for. The truth is that trauma and hurt are very personal and we can not compare the impact it makes on each of us. The event might seem more or less severe but your emotions are yours and no one should disrespect it or force you not to feel because they think you should feel otherwise.
  3. Shaming others for feeling frustrations, fear or sadness – basically anything other than positive emotions is another sign of “toxic positivity”. We are humans and we are designed to feel all emotions -they are fantastic indicators for us. Of course it is not healthy to be focussing or intentionally dwelling on the negatives but you don’t need to feel obliged to ‘’cheer up’’ because someone told you so.

The importance of acknowledging feelings and emotions

Several psychological studies show us that hiding or denying feelings leads to more stress to the body and increases difficulty in dealing with further distressing thoughts and feelings.

That’s why it is so important for our mental and physical health to acknowledge our feelings and emotions, feel them, and verbalise them.

That’s what keeps us balanced and healthy. By honouring our feelings, we embrace and accept all of ourselves, and live as authentic us.

It is good to manage your negative emotions but make sure you don’t deny them. We need to be realistic about what we feel and at tough time practice self-care, not “good vibes only” attitude. Notice and be aware of how you feel and listen to others, and show them support. Remember we don’t have to act on every emotion. At times we need to sit with it, give yourself some space to reflect and if possible, vocalise it by talking to a friend or journaling. Learn to notice ‘’toxic positivity’’ and give yourself and other permission to feel both positive and negative emotions. We need to make sure we live our life in balance, feeling and allowing all of our emotions while maintaining a healthy and positive mindset.

Olga Kublik is a Mindset and Performance Coach, find out more at olgakublik.com.

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Will CBT work for me?

Have you been considering seeking counselling or therapy recently and wondering will CBT work for me? When people think about seeking counselling or therapy, it can feel confusing and challenging to know what type of counselling to seek; there are so many models and approaches.

Before we address the question will CBT work for me, it’s important to first establish that there are different types of counselling therapies being practiced, all of which ultimately aim to help the client overcome a range of emotional problems. However this means it’s not surprising the waters can become muddied when taking the first step towards seeking support through couselling.

Cognitive and Behaviour Therapies are among the counselling therapies and psychotherapies that people usually seek.  They are recommended by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) for anxiety disorders, depression and many emotional problems, because of the wealth of research that has demonstrated their effectiveness and efficacy.

The ideas that underpin each counselling model have a profound effect on the techniques we develop and the way we ‘do’ our work or the way we counsel.  The model a counsellor uses, their ‘therapeutic bias or preference’, will even affect what is considered important or relevant during sessions. But just because there are different types, it does not mean one particular therapy is more ‘authentically’ counselling than the other.

Many models of counselling

There are many different theories of counselling available to choose from, whether as a practitioner or a client. Some of the most well-known include:

  • Psychodynamic therapies, which includes Psychoanalysis, developed by Freud, are influenced by Freud’s ideas and direct the therapy to the past and childhood in order to make sense of their problems in adulthood.  Emphasis is given to negative experiences of early development and the role of early parenting in the formation of the self and the other.
  • Learning Theory Approaches, which include behavioural therapy which aims to eliminate unwanted and unhelpful behaviours as a way to solve problems.  It is active and goal focused.
  • Perceptual – Phenomenological Approaches which includes Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy and Client Centred Therapy. Client or Person Centred is a non-directive form of talking therapy.  The therapist remains non-directive, does not offer suggestions or solutions.  It is not goal focused but rather focuses on the relationship between the client and the therapist. The idea is that the therapeutic relationship could lead to insights and lasting changes in clients.
  • Existential Therapy is philosophical and focuses on free will, self-determination and the search for meaning.  It emphasises the client’s capacity to make rational choices. It is non directive and the therapist does not offer suggestions or solutions.
  • Cognitive and Behaviour Therapy which includes Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy or REBT, Cognitive Therapy (also known as CT and CBT), and Cognitive Behavioural Modification.  These are goal directed and state that our emotional disturbances arise from unhealthy unhelpful beliefs, attitudes and thinking and behaviours and that these can be changed so that we can free ourselves from being stuck in emotional pain.  They concentrate on present problems and the current mindsets and behaviours that are creating them.

All of these are counselling theories. ‘Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)’ is an umbrella term for several different theories that share common principles, just as ‘Psychodynamic Therapy’ is also an umbrella term.

will CBT work for me

Will CBT work for me? Informed choice is key

When deciding on what type of counselling to seek, it is important to make an informed choice. It is helpful to do some research, speak to your GP and perhaps talk to your friends about what they have found helpful and whether they managed to free themselves from their emotional suffering.  Prospective clients should ideally choose the model that they think best suits them, their strengths, experiences and ways of working.

But equally important is questioning perceived ideas or misconceptions about different models.  So, some non-CBT counsellors think that CBT counsellors don’t pay any attention to the therapeutic relationship (the working relationship between the client and the counsellor), which is completely untrue.  Of course, a CBT-counsellor will work hard to develop an open, trusting and relaxed working relationship. We are, after all, encouraging our clients to be frank and honest with their experiences and beliefs. How could we expect them to share these things if they did not trust us?

In Psychodynamic counselling, for example, the therapeutic alliance is viewed as the most significant condition or the central vehicle through which change occurs.  In contrast, a CBT counsellor sees the therapeutic alliance as significant and very important, whilst believing that change occurs when a client changes their mindset and their behaviour.  This process of change starts from understanding emotional responsibility, emotions, facing our past, present and future and developing skills of critical thinking and healthy behaviours. Without a therapeutic alliance effective change would be limited regardless of the counselling model used.

Even under the CBT ‘umbrella’ there can be differences. REBT, for example, can be described as philosophical CBT.  In REBT, the process of therapy is an active and directive one but collaborative.  The therapist and the client work as a team and focus on the client’s goal.  It is a transparent process where problems and priority problems are agreed, goals set, and emotions assessed.  Then the unhealthy beliefs that are at the heart of the client’s emotional problems are identified.  Once this happens, the client learns to turn the spotlight on these happiness sabotaging beliefs so they can be questioned to check if they are realistic and helpful.  Once this skill is learned, their healthy alternative beliefs are discussed and formulated.  Then the process moves onto how to strengthen the healthy versions and weaken the current unhealthy ones through cognitive and behavioural exercise and homework.   It’s like planting a seed for the healthy version and doing what’s needed so the seed can flower.  The weeds that need to be kept in check are the unhealthy beliefs. The client learns this philosophy of change is universal.  Once learned and applied to the initial problems, it can be universally applied to whatever we experience in life.  REBT is an active-directive existential and humanistic CBT model that leads to consistent mental health and resiliency.

Avy Joseph is the author of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Your Route out of Perfectionism, Self-Sabotage, and Other Everyday Habits with CBT (third edition published by Capstone, April 2022). He is an experienced CBT/REBT Therapist and Director of the College of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies. He is a registered and accredited therapist with the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP).

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Broken Britain: How to deal with the frustration of backlog Britain

I am sure I am not the only one to have noticed that good old Blighty seems to be a massive shambles of late. Just when we thought we were emerging from the pandemic, so did our blessed country decide to practically fall apart at the seams – otherwise known as broken Britain.

Try to get a new passport- sorry you’ll have to wait! Try to get on a flight – it will be cancelled. Try to get a train somewhere – there will be industrial action. Try to get a medical referral – get in line, that will be 2024 thank you! And no you can’t buy that thing on your shopping list as it is currently out of stock until god only knows what date or is now three times more expensive. If you want to get something done, then backlog Britain – or broken Britain as I like to call it – will definitely not have the answer for you, and instead will just deliver one big collective exasperated eyeroll or heaving sigh as we deal with the farcical frustration of it all.

Yes not only are we also having to deal with the massive cost of living crisis and things becoming ridiculously expensive, but we are wondering what the point of leaving the house at all is because a) It will cost us a fortune and b) The outside world is apparently broken anyway thanks to broken Britain.

So when we are met with despair and dysfunction practically everywhere we turn, how can we effectively take it on the chin and not let the shambolic state of our country get to us?

We tapped Marisa Peer, world-renowned therapist and best-selling author who shared her insights and tips with us here.

Ukraine, Covid, global warming as well as polarizing politics have dominated our lives for the past decade as well as Brexit, Partygate and NHS backlogs. Dealing with one major upheaval is challenging enough to our mental wellbeing but this relentless series of catastrophes, seamlessly blending into each other has been described as a permacrisis. Levels of anxiety are soaring not only in the UK but globally and there is no immediate end in sight.

Most of us in the Western world have been fortunate enough to grow up with a feeling of  certainty and that sense of security is a real human need.  Certainty that we are safe, that life on the whole is good and has its rewards. Global events would register on our radar from time to time, but life had a comforting routine to it which we could rely on like a young child relies on a parent. But now that parent is out of control  creating a feeling of abandonment and isolation. This unpredictability makes us humans feel anxious, worried and depressed. The future no longer seems a given. That is truly unsettling and many adults are suffering from crisis fatigue.

Many of our RTT therapists have noticed an increase in people asking for help for anxiety. Last year we held a global anxiety symposium and have also developed protocols for our therapists to help them specifically deal with this burgeoning issue.

When the world seems uncertain you have to focus on your own certainty. The certainty that  you are the same person, the same parent, friend, spouse, employee and employer. When you can focus on what is the same in your life rather than what is different, you will have better coping skills. 

It’s a rule of your mind that whatever you focus on, you get more of so focus on what is still good and remind yourself that life will eventually return to normal even if it means we have to adapt to change. This is vital if you have small children. We are wired to fear change in case it’s a change for the worse and not the better. 

To help people deal with the permacrisis, Marisa has put together a free meditation session which people can download here to help with relaxation, sleep and to put things into a more manageable perspective. 

Tips to keep anxiety to a minimum

Perspective and gratitude

Looking at the terrible events in the Ukraine puts minor problems into perspective. Living with gratitude is a powerful way to be. Take time to stop and reflect on all you have to be grateful for each day, or start a gratitude journal. 

Focus on the good

It’s a rule of your mind that whatever you focus on, you get more of; so focus on what is good in your life. Remind yourself that after past catastrophes and disasters, life does return to normal. 

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Side-step the negative

Avoid doom-scrolling and don’t keep the news on in the background, as even when you’re not actively listening you are absorbing these messages. 

Focus on certainty

Instead of fearing uncertainty, focus on your own certainty that despite what’s happening there are constants in your life. This will strengthen your coping skills. 

Breathe!

When overwhelmed, just stop and take a minute to breathe. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. This is a great way to bring yourself back into the moment and break the fear cycle.

Connect to yourself

Be mindful of what you are experiencing – acknowledge what you are thinking and feeling and where in your body you are experiencing a physical reaction. By observing what’s happening, rather than repressing it, you will find you work through things much quicker.

Live in the now

Anxiety is usually a response to a fear of things that may happen, but most likely never will. Instead of focusing on the what ifs, take each moment as it comes and deal with the reality of what emerges.

Prioritise self-care

Self-care is so important and boosts resilience. Take time out for yourself each day to stop, relax and reflect. Do something you love, or anything that helps shift your energy and mood. Take a walk, play music, dance – it doesn’t need to be complicated!

Ask for help

If you are struggling, ask for help – whether this be from friends and family,  through a support group or from a therapist. Feeling connected and sharing your fears and worries helps you avoid feeling alone in what you are experiencing.

Be proactive

Feeling helpless can lead to anxiety, so do anything you can to help by donating or offering services. Get involved in your community so you have a focus and sense of purpose – be part of the solution, rather than the problem

Have you been feeling frustrated by broken Britain recently? Or perhaps you are living elsewhere in the world and can share a different perspective? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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The power of breath: breathwork benefits & 3 techniques for beginners

I am a big believer in the power of breath, and have used breathwork for a whole host of things – combatting my anxiety, tackling my insomnia, getting a handle of big emotions, dealing with pain as well as my own particular health worries. I have very much felt the myriad of breathwork benefits first hand.

However, to many, the concept of breathwork might sound mysterious – after all, breathing is something we do every minute of our lives, without even thinking. But the reality is, most of the time, we are not breathing fully, or properly.

So what? You may ask. Well. Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan, author of Finding Inner Safety and wellbeing, sleep and energy expert, explains the problem here, “When we don’t breathe fully, we don’t inhabit our bodies fully. We become dissociated and numb. At some point in our lives we may have learnt that this was a helpful thing to do, that it would stop us feeling a pain or trauma at that time that we didn’t have the resources to deal with. Maybe we were young so learning how to not feel, to block out (in) uncomfortable feelings was preferable to feeling them.”

The good news is is that this is pretty easy to reverse, and if you are curious about breathwork benefits, then here is your chance to experience them right here, right now as we share three breathwork exercises taken from Dr Nerina’s book, so you can try along with us today, to experience what can be truly profound breathwork benefits.

Practice 1: Notice the Breath

Notice your breathing. What is it doing right now? Don’t try to change it, simply allow it to do what it has been doing all along until you paid attention to it.

Have you been holding your breath while reading or listening to my words? Are your shoulders tight? And what about your jaw?

Have you been gripping it? Is your breathing deep? Do you feel it in your belly or does it feel stuck in your chest, shallow and tight?

Go deeper.

If you find that your breathing is shallow and restricted in your chest, lie down comfortably. Don’t get into bed if you might be in danger of falling asleep! Using blankets and cushions, make yourself comfortable and warm.

Notice your breathing. Place your left hand on your chest and over your heart. Place your right hand on your belly. Allow your breathing to settle and deepen, feeling the weight of your hands on your body. Can you allow your breath to reach deeper into your belly?

Start to gently prolong your exhalation but don’t force it. Imagine you are breathing roots out through your lower body – belly, hips, legs, and feet. Don’t worry about your exhalation – it will take care of itself. Simply, gently making the exhalations longer OOOOUUUUUUTTTTTTT as if you are breathing roots out through your feet and deep into the earth.

Send those roots deep down into the earth. As you breathe out your roots of safety, repeat to yourself:

IT IS SAFE FOR ME TO BREATHE.

IT IS SAFE FOR ME TO BREATHE DEEPLY.

I AM SAFE.

I AM SAFE IN MY BODY.

I AM SAFE IN MY LIFE.

breathwork benefits

Practice 2: Take 5 a Day/Morning Practice

This simple practice is one that I do most days. On days that I don’t I might find myself rushing around, feeling ungrounded and even overwhelmed with everything I feel I have to do.

When you wake in the morning, avoid rushing to open your eyes. With your eyes closed, simply check in with your breathing. What is it doing right now?

Simply follow five exhalations. Doing this might make you want to breathe in a different way – your breath might deepen so you feel your belly expand. Alternatively, let it do whatever it wants to do. Simply follow it.

As you notice your breathing, ask yourself ‘How am I feeling right now?’ Just a simple check-in to start your day.

It would be good if you could repeat this exercise as you go about your day. Perhaps find three other times when you simply notice five exhalations at three other times in the day. Maybe before you have your lunch or while you make a cup of tea. And then, last thing in the day when you turn your light out, follow five exhalations to help you to slide effortlessly into velvety sleep.

This simple practice helps you to become acquainted with yourself and how you are feeling rather than being constantly caught up in the mental realm – always thinking, often over-thinking.

Breathe.

Come back into your body.

Come back to yourself.

breathwork benefits

Practice 3: Sigh it Out

This is a really effective practice for letting go of emotions or stuck energy as you go about your day. We tend to sigh spontaneously as we go about our day but if we bring intention to our sighing it becomes a powerful therapeutic practice in its own right.

When we sigh, it drops us into feelings of calm and contentment. Try it right now. Take a big, exaggerated breath in, hold it in for a second or two and then sigh it out through your mouth. Make a sound as you do so. Make a sound of relief as you sigh.

Try this again, this time exaggerating the exhalation and making it longer.

Imagine sending this exaggerated sigh out of the soles of your feet, as if you are breathing out roots, so this prolonged out-breath makes you feel safe, grounded, and connected to the earth.

Notice if you start to feel softening anywhere in your body. Maybe your shoulders drop and relax, or your eyes and jaw soften.

Have you tried breathwork before? Or is this your first time encountering the benefits of breathwork? Do let us know in a comment below.

This is an edited extract from Finding Inner Safety: The Key to Healing, Thriving and Overcoming Burnout, by Dr Nerina Ramlakhan (published by Capstone, April 2022)

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How to heal emotional trauma

I have spoken to so many women in their 40s recently who are struggling. If you have some form of emotional trauma from somewhere in the past, the absolute truth is that eventually, somehow, someway, it will end up catching up with you. I know this to be only too true from my own personal experience at the beginning of the pandemic during the depths of the first lockdown. The emotional trauma from my childhood caught up with me in a pretty major way. On the break of utter self distruction and about to take everyone I love down with me, I realised I needed to go for therapy and it was one of the best decisions I made in my life.

I had been pretending thus far that the emotional trauma buried deep inside me did not exist, that I didn’t need help, and I certainly didn’t need therapy. Boy, how wrong was I!

So when I heard about Anna McKerrow’s The Path to Healing is a Spiral: One Woman’s Journey to Emotional Healing, I just knew this was something we had to talk about openly on 40 Now What. If more people acknowledge, open up about, and address their emotional trauma, just think how much lighter and happier we would all be.

And so let us start with this. A deep dive on all things emotional trauma – triggers, origins, recognition and of course the very hardest bit – taking that first step to healing your emotional trauma.

What is emotional trauma? Can you give some examples of triggers?

From a psychological standpoint, emotional trauma happens when either a person is involved in a current traumatic situation (anything from the death of a loved one to experiencing war, childbirth difficulties, baby loss, a terrorist attack, a humiliating experience, rape, mugging or climate change-related traumatic experiences) or witnesses it (this might include police officers viewing violent crime or abusive video footage, or someone working with the survivors of sex trafficking or some similar support role). It also refers to historic trauma experienced in childhood that an adult may (or may not) have blocked from their memory, but which is causing problems in their adult life. Last, something that causes ongoing stress, such as a heavy workload or a stressful relationship, can cause trauma. Any of these experiences can also lead to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

The symptoms of trauma can include depression, re-experiencing the traumatic event in flashbacks, insomnia, emotional detachment, loss of self-esteem, despair, self-destructive behaviours (i.e. drug taking and alcoholism), panic attacks, nightmares and intense anger among many others. Conventional treatments for trauma and PTSD currently include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) medication and counselling.

The holistic point of view agrees that trauma is caused by difficult life situations, but differs in the way that it conceptualizes what trauma does to a human being. In a variety of therapies, trauma is considered to be psychically “held” in the body and the energy field around the body, rather than just inside the brain, as in the more conventional psychological view.

The energetic model of healing explains that we are made up of a number of linked “bodies”, with the physical one being the densest. The physical body is (of course) visible to the eye. Around that, the emotional body surrounds us for several inches, followed by the mental and then psychic body in similar layers, growing ever more subtle in terms of vibration. When people see auras around the bodies of others, they’re seeing the denser levels of the energy body, most likely the emotional or mental energy body, often dominated by the colour of the chakra that person is most “in” at that time.

When trauma comes our way – be that some negative energy or a virus or a traumatic experience – the energetic model states that it will make its way in from the psychic energy body, to the mental, to the emotional and finally the physical where it will manifest as actual disease or pain. Similarly, when we heal, the trauma is sent back out through the system in the same way.

I was taught an interesting concept about the healing of the physical body under this rationale, which is that the dis-ease (symbolizing a virus/bacteria/trauma, etc) makes its way out of the physical body from the core and out to the extremities before continuing to depart through the emotional, mental and psychic bodies. For example, an illness might begin with sickness (core), but as the healing body pushes out the intruder, it becomes a rash that starts at the chest, moves down to the legs and then out through the toes and feet. It’s an interesting theory (and I’m not sure if it’s got the scientific seal of approval) but I have found it very useful to think about how people’s symptoms often morph over time.

Sometimes an emotional problem can even become a physical one or, sometimes, when emotional problems are dealt with, then physical symptoms disappear.

Following the energetic model to its logical conclusion, dis-ease will continue to go deeper into the body until it hits the bones and the internal organs, causing more serious complications. From a holistic viewpoint, then, it makes sense to ward off the nasties before they get that far, with regular deep healing of emotional trauma as well as psychic self-protection.

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Where does emotional pain/trauma come from? Why is it important to heal and recover from emotional trauma?

Trauma comes from being human and living life, in my opinion. I think it comes from big, one-off things like bereavement, illness, rape, miscarriage, loss, sometimes relationship breakups, all manner of things like that. But it also comes from ongoing situations like bullying, coercive relationships, domestic violence, addiction, ongoing illnesses, being a carer perhaps for an ill relative or partner over a long period of time, living in a war zone, working in a toxic environment, battling gender identity issues – the list goes on! Things that can wear you down over time and create traumatic responses and stored pain.

I personally have worked with resolving trauma resulting from my mum’s illness with cancer and her passing away; my own childhood; poverty and debt; motherhood; my son being seriously ill when he was little, and a lot about just being a woman in a sexist world too.

There are so many reasons why we need to heal emotional trauma. Holding onto it means that we have less energy or capacity for other things; we might avoid making good life choices out of fear, based on something bad that has happened to us before. We might also just not have the bandwidth to progress in our lives and leave relationships or jobs that aren’t really right for us, because carrying that emotional trauma makes us so bloody exhausted! In my book I say:

“When we release trauma, it gives our systems more energy to get on with everything else. Imagine carrying a really heavy box. Once you’ve put the heavy box down, it’s much easier to think about what you need at the shops, right? If you take the heavy box to the supermarket, all you can think about when you’re walking around the aisles is Christ, this box is heavy. It’s hard to focus on what’s the best wine to go with chicken.”

The other thing to consider is that emotional trauma, or emotional stress, starts to have an impact on the body after a while. We know that stress is bad for our physical body as well as our brains.

The first step is always the hardest. How can someone go about becoming aware/acknowledging/identifying that they have experienced emotional trauma?

I would say that most of us have, so it’s almost a given. I think it’s important for everyone to get healing. You shouldn’t actually wait until physical symptoms manifest, or until you have a breakdown. In an ideal world, everyone would have regular healing, whether that’s reiki or breathwork or whatever, and head off the problems before they become too troublesome. It’s a bit like how your dentist tells you to floss to avoid having a filling later on. Healing should be like flossing: preventative as well as transformative.

The other thing to say is that you’ll probably know if you’ve experienced a traumatic experience. In my experience, people usually know: it’s more that they just ignore it and think, if I just get on with life, this will go away! I’ll just forget about it! That’s when the problems happen, when you sit down and talk to people and they say, I don’t know why I’m crying all the time. And then further on in the conversation you find out that they had a miscarriage last year and never talked to anyone about it.

There are, of course, traumas that we might have consciously decided to forget, and can be affecting your life with, say, self-destructive behaviour or another difficult thing which is coming from the unconscious, which definitely hasn’t forgotten. All the more reason to do some healing just as part and parcel of your normal life.

In the UK at least, I think people are quite averse to the concept of emotional healing. Most people will say they don’t need it, or they don’t believe in it. I would say that healing works whether you believe in it or not, because most alternative healing modalities aren’t psychological, they’re working on a holistic model of the body-mind and the body’s energy systems which is different to psychology. That said, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink, as they say, and no healing professional would ever make anyone have whatever therapy they were offering, because everyone is on their own path. But if you are open to it, then pursue those instincts because it’s very worth doing and nothing to be scared of.

My other advice to people is, don’t assume that you can think your way out of traumatic experiences, and don’t expect to just get on with your life afterwards without needing to process and heal that experience. We have a very intellect-focused culture and most people think that, if they need to do anything, they need to rationalise a traumatic experience to understand it. I don’t think you do, actually. You need to feel it, and express your emotions as fully as possible. Emotions are not thoughts. They are much more primal and physical, and they won’t go away until you have allowed yourself to feel them in totality, whatever that means: screaming, punching a pillow, crying, whatever.

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What steps can be taken to alleviate the burden of trauma and heal emotional wounds?

There are many things you can do, and my main advice is try something out. If you hate it, then try something else. The worst thing you can do is nothing. I personally tried lots of healing techniques and therapists – some worked for me, some not so much, but overall, the best ones were the ones that held a space for me to cry and process my emotions in a safe environment. I didn’t like gong baths, but that might be your thing! And I have never had acupuncture, but I hear it’s great.

The other thing to say is that it’s important to share your experiences with other people. Sometimes, finding a support group of people who have experienced the same thing as you can be super helpful. I had a hysterectomy in 2020 and I found it really helpful to join a hysterectomy support Facebook group. I also joined one for endometriosis and adenomyosis sufferers, which was really helpful. I think there’s something very useful about sharing your story but also learning about what other people have experienced, and realising you’re not on your own.

Can you share a list of examples of alternative therapies you tried to heal your emotional traumas?

Yes! Reiki has been in my life for many years now. I started having reiki in 2004 and then became a practitioner myself, and then became a Reiki Master in 2021 (I was busy in the pandemic!). I’ve had shamanic healing, BodyTalk, reflexology, angelic healing, spiritual healing (they’re pretty similar tbh), crystal healing, I’ve done breathwork, all sorts. Plus I consider yoga to have helped me a lot too.

Were there some that were better for certain emotional wounds than others?

I have to say that Breathwork was probably the most profound in terms of processing really deep emotions that I’d been holding for a long time. It’s a breathing technique you do with a qualified therapist who guides you through the whole experience, and the way that you breathe puts you in a kind of trancey state where it’s easier for your emotions to come out. A session lasts about an hour or an hour and a half, and in that time you might “breathe through” a number of traumatic experiences or feelings, with the therapist supporting you gently. Like, they might hand you a pillow to hold, or they might say something very simple and non-intrusive like “it’s safe to feel this now” but really the focus is on you expressing these very deep emotions and breathing. Very powerful stuff.

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What does freedom from emotional trauma look and feel like?

Ha! I’ll let you know when I get there.

The thing is that even if you’ve done a lot of healing work, life still happens, so it’s not like there’s a point where you can become a guru and start wearing robes and all that, because there’s always a need for it. It’s more that you can find a greater sense of peace by clearing out certain emotional “weights” that you might be holding, and that we should have an awareness that engaging in a regular healing routine will be beneficial for us, whatever that looks like for us.

I think also that greater freedom from trauma looks like someone who is happier with the life they have, and is invested in making positive choices for themselves.

What advice would you give to people who are carrying an emotional wound – perhaps unknowingly – on how they can address their emotional health and needs?

Like I said before, the best thing is to actually do something! Thinking about it won’t change anything. Go to a reiki practitioner, do a breathwork session, find a support group, talk to someone, journal your feelings. Doing is the best thing, and my recommendation is do something that makes you cry a lot in a safe space. I’m a big fan of crying.

The other thing to say is look at your life, dispassionately, and think about whether you have any recurring themes. Like, do you always attract the same kind of partner, or do you have the same repeating issue happening to you at work? If these are things that you find to be negative experiences, that might be a sign that shows where an emotional wound is lurking. That emotional wound is creating a need that you are fulfilling with these dynamics in some way.

The thing is, I’ve found with emotional healing, it doesn’t really matter if you understand or deduct the reasons for your trauma intellectually or not. You might have a deep emotional trauma from a childhood experience you’ve consciously forgotten, but you discover when you heal it. The important this is that you heal it by doing rather than thinking, and process the experience.

Anything else you would like to add – words of encouragement/wisdom/inspiration?

You’ve got this! Any moment is a good moment to start investing in your emotional health – it’s never too late, and everyone needs to do this. Healing doesn’t mean you’re weird or seriously disturbed, it’s just something we all need as humans, living our human lives. I’ve found it truly transformational.

Anna McKerrow’s The Path to Healing is a Spiral: One Woman’s Journey to Emotional Healing is out on September 14th priced £12.99 and is available at all good book stores. Anna McKerrow is a YA author and Reiki Master. Connect with her on Instagram.

Photos by Alena Shekhovtcova, Monica Turlui, Liza Summer, Andres Ayrton

Happiness in your 40s: 4 ways to view happiness differently

Does happiness feel elusive? Is happiness in your 40s possible? The answer for almost all of us is yes – at least sometimes, maybe often. You might feel like you’ve checked all the boxes but aren’t as happy as you’d hoped, you might wonder how anyone can be happy in the face of difficulty or you might feel like happiness is complicated. You might even wonder whether being happy is really all that important.  

Here are four ways from lawyer turned Happiness Coach, Becky Morrison you can look at happiness in your 40s that might be a little bit different than what you were taught.

Happiness in your 40s is a high value investment

To many people happiness sounds fluffy. Sure they’d like to be happier but they aren’t sure that happiness is – on it’s own – a valuable commodity. What they are missing is that happiness is a cause of success, not a result. There is a significant body of research that supports the notion that experiencing positive emotions – both the momentary experience of happiness and living happy (having on balance more positive emotional experiences than negative ones) – has significant positive impacts on your physical health, your performance and your resilience.

Happier people live longer, have stronger immune systems, are better able to manage pain and generally experience fewer adverse health conditions. In addition, the experience of positive emotions – like happiness – broadens our approach to the world allowing us to think more expansively, solve problems more creatively and build relationships more easily and effectively. It’s not surprising then that the research suggests that happy people earn more, sell more and are more productive. Finally, happiness builds our resilience so that when the tough times comes, we are better able to weather the storm.  In short, investing in living happy is one of the highest value investments you can make.

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Happiness is not a destination, it’s an action

People often fall into the trap of believing that happiness will arrive as they meet their goals and continue to achieve. But the problem is that an unhappy journey rarely, if ever, results in a happy ending. The key to a happier life is finding happiness in the process. That means looking for – or intentionally incorporating – happiness (and other positive emotions) into your daily life.

To do this, however, you need to know where your happiness comes from – because it’s different for everyone. You can start by making a list of things that bring you positive emotions (like happiness, contentment, gratitude or even engagement). These can be big, small or anything in between. Once you’ve got a list, take one or two of your favorite items and ask yourself: what about this thing makes me happy? Keep asking that question until you’ve distilled it down into that is quick and accessible to you. For example, one of the things that makes me happiest is our annual beach vacations. I can’t escape to the beach from my land-locked home any time I want. But one of the things that enjoy most about the beach is the feel of the sun on my face. That is something that I can seek out any time the sun is shining. Having a list of the most basic sources of positive emotions is a powerful tool because you can deploy them – with intention – anytime you need a reset or an injection of positivity.

Happiness coexists

By any measure it’s been a challenging two years – global pandemic, war, social justice, changing job and home demands that came with working from home, and more. You might be wondering how can we even talk about happiness at times like these? The answer is pretty simple – happiness (and other positive emotions) can coexist with the tough stuff. You can experience happiness even during struggle. And you don’t need to bypass the tough stuff and experience only happiness.

The goal with living happier – and reaping it’s benefits – is to intentionally and authentically experience positive emotion whenever you can NOT to ignore the tough emotions that are a natural part of the human condition.

The next time you’re facing a difficult situation or a tough emotion, don’t fight it. You don’t need to force yourself out of it or through it. And while you are in it you can keep an eye out for the little kernels of positive emotion that might coexist with it – the friendly face, the helping hand, even the sunlight. Those positive kernels don’t need to outweigh or overcome the challenges, they just need to be included in the conversation. The key is to notice it all and savor the good where you can find it, even nestled in with the challenges.

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Happiness in your 40s can be simple

Happiness doesn’t require radically changing your circumstances. In fact, the research suggests that more than anything your happiness is dependent on your thoughts and actions – something over which you can exercise at least a modicum of control. While you can take steps to make big changes in your life to yield a greater level of happiness those big steps are best made from a happier place so that you are architecting your happiness, rather than simply trying to escape your unhappiness.  That happier place is built through your daily behaviors.

If you want to be happier starting today try this simple exercise: each day, record what made you smile. How you record this information isn’t particularly important, what made you smile doesn’t matter. What matters is that you had a positive emotional experience AND you noticed it. Because remember just the experience of a positive emotion broadens your perspective and builds your resilience.  This is just one example of how simple it can really be to inject more happiness into your daily life.

Bottom line: Making a high value investment in your happiness can meaningfully benefit your health, success, and resilience. It simply requires intentional action (not radical transformation) which can happen even during challenging times and doesn’t need to be complicated.

Rebecca Morrison is a lawyer turned Happiness Coach and author of the best-selling book The Happiness Recipe: a Powerful Guide to Living What Matters. Becky works with successful but unsatisfied high-achievers to help them find their unique happiness recipe so they can live happier, lead happier and build happy businesses.

Images by rawpixel.com

What to do when the world is full of bad news

Is it me, or does everything just feel so bloody hard right now? The world is full of bad news, and life feels – well, depressing. Just as we begin slowly emerge from one crisis, then comes another to beat us back down again with another. If you are anything like me, this might be happening for you on a global news agenda front, then on a more micro level of general daily clusterfucks. When you have the together – which is usually the norm at these times – it can leave you feeling utterly miserable.

If you are wondering how to drag yourself through life when the world is full of bad news, then today we have some words of wisdom to soothe you from influential leadership authority Drew Povey and former BBC and Sky journalist Sam Draper – authors of the new book When The Clouds Come.

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Let’s be honest, it’s hard to stay positive and chipper when that metaphorical rain keeps falling and the world is full of bad news. But storms arrive and they pass, and we abide regardless. So how can we learn a few simple ways to get more silver linings in these tumultuous times?

In our new book ‘When The Clouds Come’, we explore some positive and practical ways to deal with difficulties and challenges in your life. And here we’d like to share with you why P’ing’ is so important to staying realistic and positive in times of crisis – Pausing, gaining Perspective, and Prioritising.

The 3Ps

In these times of anxiety, the easiest and arguably most annoying response to a problem is ‘toxic positivity’ – “look on the bright side”, “others have it worse than you”, “feel the fear and do it anyway”. All true in many ways, but sometimes you can’t help but feel the pain and trauma of stuff going wrong. It’s human to have these emotions and react in these ways. However, the 3Ps might help you acknowledge the difficulty and find a realistic and optimistic ways through.

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Time to pause

The Pause is the first element of our model. The pause is powerful in all different scenarios in life. Consider a conversation where the other person isn’t really saying anything, just pause. Wait. Don’t say anything. Within 15 seconds that person will respond or remark on your silence. You have literally made them talk. The pause is powerful.

So why is the pause useful right now? Well, if you think about the world we’re living in at the moment we’ve never been so anxious and so contactable. Thanks to broadband and technology, many of us remain contactable all day long. Where is the time to pause? It’s no surprise that we get into quick, fast thinking mode that makes for poor responses to any situation. Everything is expected to be instantaneous and we can get a little bit upset if it doesn’t happen right now.

The alternative is finding a moment to slow down, be outside, give yourself some head room.

Think about the number of people that have brilliant ideas in the shower, or start thinking of things when they’re having a walk outside. In our busy world, we rarely stop and pause. These rare moments facilitate a moment of clarity or creativity that we need to make even better decisions. It’s a slow thinking habit that you’re trying to create. A deliberate pause point. If you’re in a meeting and it’s getting to a point where you can’t quite make a decision, or it’s getting fractious and difficult – time to take a pause. Ask everyone to take ten minutes and stretch their legs and come back. It works. When they return, it’s a different mindset, a different framework.

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Get some perspective

The next P is Perspective. It’s the reason why so many people find it easier to give advice rather than to actually make their own decisions. Someone else’s eyes often seem to be better than your own at seeing a situation clearly. Sometimes we live life really zoomed in. As if our life is only a couple of inches from the end of our nose. We can’t quite see the bigger picture.

Sometimes it only takes a short conversation from a close friend to see that bigger picture and when you do, it really changes how you might make decisions. It’s the easiest thing in the world to get hung up on the smallest details, the tiniest of issues. Those dark clouds are on the horizon and you lose the other possible options that you could decide upon. When problems arise it is very easy to catastrophize about the situation – the snowball seems bigger and bigger, and looks like it could cause the end of the world. When really, it’s just part of a passing snow shower. Press pause, get perspective, and try to see what is actually happening.

Review your priorities

The final P is Priorities. It’s now time to use the information you’ve gathered and set some priorities. What is it that matters most right now? Part of the feeling of panic and catastrophe is because the problem reveals a whole range of different things you might try and solve. But which first? What is our important?

We need to see past a whole range of distractions to the key elements that matter most. This helps you decide what to do next. If the different perspectives you’ve been given provide you with the calm reality of your family being safe, a roof being over your head, food being on your table, you can then get to the real dilemmas. They’re the things that matter most. In these high-pressured times, we can all take on too much and try and do too much and therefore achieve very little or get that sense of being overwhelmed. We all do it, and we all need the chance to pause, gain perspective, and refocus our priorities.

You won’t feel positive by just ‘pulling up your boot straps’ or ‘soldiering on’ when the world is full of bad news, but if you use the 3Ps to help take control of your own situation, you might just see that patch of blue sky on the horizon.

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When the world is full of bad news – as it currently is – take a moment to reflect on the above. Here’s hoping the storm clouds will pass soon enough. In the meantime, come and get a virtual hug over at our Instagram community here.

Image by rawpixel.com

How to live through a permacrisis when it feels like the world has gone mad

First there was Brexit, then there was the pandemic, and now Russia is pummelling Ukraine. If your levels of anxiety are creeping up again then you are most certainly forgiven. This morning after I dropped off my daughter at school, I had a conversation with a fellow school mum about the state of affairs and I walked away with that familiar yet unwelcome feeling of anxiety gripping my chest. When we are constantly being thrown curveballs of the unknown, the sense of dread about what will happen next becomes palpable. This, my friends, it what it is to be living through a permacrisis.

However bad whatever the world seems right now, it all feels a bajillion times worse thanks to the never ending news feeds which are constantly being rammed down our throats thank to the phones in our pockets and our attachment to social media. We can’t bare to look, yet we become disgustingly addicted to doom scrolling all in one fell swoop.

So now we are firmly here in the age of the permacrisis, how the heck do we live through it without completely losing our marbles? First let’s take a look at why we are all feeling so damned anxious now:

Why world troubles fire up your anxiety

Terence Watts, psychotherapist and author of the new book BWRT: Reboot your life with BrainWorking Recursive Therapy says:

“It can be difficult to get your head round… after all, Covid is nearly over, and Mr Putin and his army are hundreds of miles away. So why on earth are so many of us not sleeping properly and perhaps quietly wondering if we’re mentally ill?  Well, the answer is actually quite simple. 

It’s because most of us are control freaks, whether we want to admit it or not!

In the UK we’re so used to being in control of our lives that it’s the ‘norm’ and we really don’t think about it very much in the usual way. We have freedom. Then, suddenly, control is wrenched away from us, and we’re subject to mammoth changes almost overnight. 

The problem is, everybody’s psychology is already exhausted from two years of Covid, and just as things start to feel normal again, up comes this new threat… and resilience has taken such a beating that it all feels just too much.”

What can you do about it?

So now we understand why we are mentally where we are, what can we do about it?

Watts offers some hope: “What can you do to relieve that nagging anxiety at the back of your mind, that uncomfortable feeling somewhere in your gut? Take time to detach yourself from it. We can’t stop what’s happening in Ukraine, but you can give yourself a psychological break from it for a while. Here’s the perfect exercise to do just that. It works best if you can learn it and then do it with your eyes closed:

Step 1: Imagine how you might look from the outside

If you knew exactly how to deal with the situation and make it as vivid in your thoughts/mind as you can. Don’t worry if it seems daft or unlikely, or what anybody else might think or say if they knew – just imagine it anyway in the privacy of your mind, and store that image of the ‘competent self’ anywhere in your thoughts.

Step 2: Now think of a clock

…with an hour hand, a minute hand and a hand that shows the seconds so that you can see the clock is working. Make that vivid in your mind, too. (You don’t have to think of both this image and the first one at the same time.)

Step 3: Take a moment

…to imagine how you look from the outside when you’re at your most anxious and make that vivid too – be honest now and make it look real!

Step 4: Imagine you can stop the clock

…and actually stop time by simply staring hard at the image so that it’s frozen in the past. In fact, everything has stopped except you. You can just walk out of that frozen scene and see yourself with each step adopting that ‘competent self’ you created at step 1.

Step 5: Zoom in

Now zoom right into that image to actually become that competent self as if you’re on the inside looking out on the world as you stride forwards and notice how good that feels.

Step 6: Repeat

Repeat steps 3 – 5 at least three times and notice how it gets easier each time. Stop when you’re happy with how you feel, or after six repeats which is about the maximum useful number.

This exercise has helped a good few people to get through trying times – and the good thing about it is that you can do it as often as you like and it gets better every time. You can’t change what’s happening in the world, of course, but you can change how you react to it!”

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The power of distraction

The ability to shift our attention away from negative experiences (note: not ignoring them), is a powerful one, in particular when it comes to managing anxiety at times like these. Dr Marianne Trent, Clinical Psychologist, founder of Good Thinking Psychological Services and host of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast ellaborates:

“Whilst as a mental health professional I know that distraction is not the cure, it can be helpful to use strategies which keep us mindfully in the present. This might include things such as affirmations, or even just practicing skills in mindfulness such as rhythmic breathing or yoga. When creating affirmations it can be beneficial to include ways you can have a positive impact upon your thoughts and actions such as: I am choosing to focus on the things I can control, I am learning skills to soothe and calm myself, I can trust myself to take action as an when needed.

Where we do have to use a little bit of caution with positivity is if we are using it in a way which might actually be gaslighting to ourselves. For example, in the past I have worked with people who were feeling very sad and having a truly horrid day but were telling themselves that they were feeling really strong and were going to have a great day. This runs the risk of invalidating important needs and feelings and communications. So if you are having a horrid time right now then it is always a good idea to reach out to someone qualified and experienced to help you feel better.” 

Other tools to try and reduce the anxiety of living in a permacrisis

I am a big believer in having a bank of tools for dealing with tough mental times, of which we have been having plenty of over the last few years. Here Lisa Butcher, hypnotherapist, reiki master and shamanic practitioner shares some additional tools we can use during these times when we feel anxious about things we can’t control:

Breath Work

When you start to feel your palms getting sweaty or your tummy twisted in knots it’s good to work on your breath.  Every time you breathe in imagine there is calming beautiful energy coming into your body and every time you breathe out imagine letting go of fear, worry and anxiety. I like to do 7/11 breathing which is when you breathe in for the count of seven, through your nose, hold for a couple of beats and breathe out through your mouth emulating a sigh for the count of 11. Do this upto 10 times. Another great technique is to breathe in through your nose for the count of four, hold your breath for the count of three and then breathe out for the count of eight. It’s important to count the breath as it makes you concentrate on what you are doing and helps to take your mind off the feelings of anxiety.

Grounding 

Grounding is a brilliant way to get out of your head and into your body. Imagine yourself as a big oak tree. With the roots growing out the bottom of your feet, going through the different layers of the earth vertically and horizontally firmly grounding you. Now imagine pushing the energy swirling around your head (overthinking and fear) down through your body and down into mother earth to be transformed. I like to do this practice every morning when I wake up. I lay in bed and visualize my body being grounded. I then take this feeling with me on my morning dog walk. It helps me to connect with nature and feel like I’m connected to the earth.

permacrisis

The TIPP Technique

If you are in the middle of a panic attack the best way to deal with it in the moment is to fill a wash basin with ice cold water. Put your whole face in the water and hold for 20 seconds. Take your head out of the water and take two or three deep breaths. Repeat this three times, and then do star jumps or move your body for 60 seconds. After sit down in a chair and take 20 long deep breaths – breathe in for the count of five and out for the count of seven. This technique is called TIPP – it stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Pace Breathing, Paired Muscle Relaxation. It might sound dramatic but believe me, it works.

The Five Senses

Look for five things around you and describe them. Listen to four different sounds and only focus on them. Smell three different things – try to distinguish three different scents around you. Touch two different textures. Taste one thing. By doing this you are using all of your senses to get out of your worry/fear. By stopping in the moment and using all five senses you relieve negative thought patterns and ease the anxiety.

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Photo by Keenan Constance, Olya Kobruseva and PNW Production from Pexels