It Isn’t All Bad

Blue Monday is just around the corner and is said to be the most depressing day of the year. But maybe it isn’t all bad?

I’m guessing the immediate reaction for some of you will be along the lines of ‘it bloody well is’!

Certainly, if you happen to be going through a difficult time in your life then it is likely to feel that way. Even if you are not going through a major life event you may still feel like this from time to time.

It is very easy to get bogged down in the day to day hassles that life presents us with.

When someone simply tells you to look on the bright side or some similar well-meant but largely unhelpful platitude, my guess is that you internally tell them where to stick their bright side.

That said, there is something about the way our attention works that could prevent us from seeing a bright side if we think that everything is going wrong or if we are feeling bogged down.

 

Focus of attention

Our focus of attention is not an objective thing; it is subject to numerous biases and we tend to filter out some information while paying particular attention to other information.

This is a very necessary way for us to operate because if we took in all of the available information to the same level, we would struggle to process it all or to get anything done!

Our brains, sometimes helpfully but at other times less helpfully, tend to take short-cuts.

I will talk about 3 short-cuts in particular that work together to maintain the belief that everything is awful.

  1. We pay particular attention to the things that support what we already believe and these things are generalised and magnified.
  2. We largely ignore information that contradicts what we already believe.
  3. We distort neutral information to fit in with what we already believe.

 

To flesh this out a bit, let’s imagine person A has the belief that everything is going wrong and person B has a belief that things are going pretty well.

Now let’s say that the same 3 events happen to person A and to person B.

  1. They each go for a job interview and don’t get the job.
  2. They each get positive feedback from the interview despite not getting it.
  3. They each get stuck in traffic on their way home that night.

Person A will definitely turn their full attention to the fact that they didn’t get the job but it is unlikely to stop there.

If they have a belief that everything is going wrong they are likely to be thinking:

‘I knew it’, ‘I never get the jobs I really want’, ‘I’m always really bad at interviews’, ‘I’ll never be able to get a promotion’, ‘nothing ever works out in my favour’, ‘what’s the point in even trying’.

It becomes about more than just this one job interview. It becomes about every job interview they have been unsuccessful in and it about every job interview they will go to in the future.

It may also be generalised to other unrelated events that are not going well – maybe the boiler broke last week or their car needs to go into the garage – it all becomes lumped together and gives more weight to the belief that everything is going wrong.

So later, when they receive feedback that they did very well in the interview and that it was just down to the other candidate having a little more experience, person A doesn’t really acknowledge the positive feedback. It is simply discounted.
Later still when person A gets stuck in traffic (which I am classing here as something fairly neutral) they are likely to give that their full attention and interpret it as being terrible because it fits with the way they already think and feel.

Maybe it goes something like:

‘Oh, this is all I need after such a bad day’, ‘what else can possibly go wrong’, ‘I hate being stuck in traffic’, ‘now I’ll miss out on time this evening’.

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Person A still holds the belief that everything is going wrong and probably feels pretty de-moralised.

 

A different focus

On the other hand, person B is less likely to focus as much attention on the fact that they didn’t get the job. They may feel disappointed but if they already believe that things are going well they are more likely to dismiss it:

‘It is disappointing but there will be plenty more opportunities out there’, ‘It wasn’t the right kind of job for me anyway’, ‘it was good experience to go to the interview’, ‘I’ll do better next time’.
Later, when they receive positive feedback and are told it was just down to the other candidate having a little more experience, they will give that positive feedback their full attention and they are likely to generalise and magnify it.

‘That was nice feedback’, ‘I am pretty good at interviews’, ‘They seemed impressed with me, I’m sure I’ll get the next one’.

Then, when person B gets stuck in traffic they may think:

‘I don’t mind having a bit of time for my brain to unwind before I get home’, ‘I can listen to that podcast I have been wanting to listen to’, ‘I’m not in any rush anyway’.

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Person B still holds the belief that things are going pretty well.

Neither way of looking at these events is right or wrong. They are both biased. But person B is going to experience far less negative emotion than person A.

 

Changing Focus

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So, if you wanted to challenge the belief that everything is going wrong, it is going to take a change of focus.

Not so much looking on the bright side, but purposefully seeking to alter the attentional biases at work.

Step 1: State only the fact, rather than generalising and magnifying.

Step 2: Acknowledge the positives, rather than discounting them.

Step 3: Ask yourself if there is a different way of seeing the same situation. How would you view it if you felt better? How would someone else view this situation?

Have a not so bad day!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

Remember You Can Cope

I was recently invited to a hen do by a very good friend which was a small gathering for afternoon tea.

Now, afternoon tea is right up my street and I have been friends with the bride to be for many years, so I was surprised to find myself feeling nervous as I got ready to set off.

I could feel the churning sensation in my stomach and a rising sensation in my chest as I got into the car and waved to my partner and my kids.

 

But why?
The first explanation I had for the nervousness was that the hen do was somewhere I was unfamiliar with and I wasn’t too sure how to get there but I had my sat-nav on and this didn’t feel like a good explanation for why I was feeling this way.

Nonetheless, I took a few deliberate deep breaths into my diaphragm as I was driving.

As soon as I did this I realised that I was actually thinking about not knowing many people there and imagining myself making awkward small talk.

I don’t think of myself as someone who is anxious in social situations.

As a rule, I really enjoy being sociable and I am quite happy to talk to people I don’t know but we can all fall along many different spectrums of anxiety and on this occasion, I was feeling nervous.

 

Why it helps to remind yourself of coping
Generally speaking, we feel nervous or anxious when the perceived threat is bigger than our perceived coping.

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Threat vs. Coping

I was focusing on the potential to:

  • say something stupid…
  • feel awkward myself…
  • or cause the other people to feel awkward.

This was the perceived threat.

What I did to help was to balance this out by remembering my ability to cope.

Once your perceived coping outweighs the threat, there is no longer a reason for your body to respond with anxiety.

If you are wondering, this is what I reminded myself of:

Years ago, I was invited to a hen do for a friend of my partner at the time.

I didn’t know her well and I had met a couple of other people who were going maybe a handful of times.

I was going out with them in a city I had never been out in before and not one, but two of my partner’s ex-girlfriends were also in attendance!
I had massively mis-judged what to wear, felt far too hot all night and feared that I looked like a beetroot on all of the pictures of the evening!

hen do photo

And clearly needed to drink a lot of water to cool down…!

I made some awkward conversation with one of the aforementioned ex-girlfriends.

But everything was fine!

Nothing terrible happened, I coped with the situation and had fun!

 

The result?
As soon as I remembered this, the nervous feeling in my stomach dissipated completely.

My perceived ability to cope outweighed the perceived threat and I enjoyed a picturesque drive, met some lovely people and had a lovely time!

 

How to do it
Next time you are focusing on thoughts of things going wrong, why not try it:

Step 1: Breathe
Step 2: Notice what the perceived threat is about
Step 3: Think of a time you coped with something similar or something even more challenging than this situation.
Step 4: Remember what happened? What skills did you use? What qualities did you have that helped you to cope?

Struggling to Think of Something?
Look for times you have used similar skills or qualities.

Have done something of faced a challenge that makes you think ‘if I can do that, I can do anything’?

Most of us have experienced challenges in daily life:

  • Delivered presentations at work
  • Given birth
  • Survived a really difficult job interview
  • Got through a challenging university course
  • Passed your driving test…

The key thing is to remember that you have coped before and that you can cope again.
If you remember your ability to cope, the task in hand will start to seem more easy!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

Image Credit: Pixabay (apart from the one of me!)

I am launching guided relaxation sessions for workplaces in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees this month! If this sounds like something your workplace would love, you can contact me at info@lemonsqueezywellbeing.com to book your relaxation session!

Turn Your Phone Use from Distraction into Action

 

In the lost time before mobile phones…

Whenever I felt bored, stuck, apprehensive or meh, I somehow always found myself going into the kitchen and looking in the fridge.

As if my fridge would somehow contain the answer to my problem.

I didn’t want anything to eat and I wouldn’t always be fully aware I was even doing it until I was peering into the cold depths behind the old jam at the back (because that’s where all the wisdom lives).

What I was actually doing was just distracting myself and sure enough I would realise that the fridge did not hold the magical panacea I was looking for. So I’d go back to my school homework on Encarta or call my friend for a chat on the landline on the stairs or whatever we did before mobile phones!

Social media

Nowadays, I distract myself by looking at social media on my phone, like a normal person.

Unlike my fridge though, social media does sometimes have something interesting or helpful on there, which is very reinforcing for continuing with the same behaviour.

More often for me though, it was a way of zoning out without really engaging with anything in particular or becoming frustrated or troubled by some of the posts I was seeing.
At least I did do this a lot until I realised how unhelpful it can be, as I’m sure many of you also have.

Let me just say – I like my phone.

It is an incredibly useful little thing and I have not ditched my phone altogether and I am not going to preach abstinence or tell you that social media is bad.

Instead, I am just going to share a few tips that may help you to change the way you use your phone and to put it to better use, rather than using it to distract yourself from your emotions, your boredom or just meh.

 
Tip 1: Get a watch.

I am absolutely serious!

If you haven’t got one and you rely on your phone to tell you the time, get a watch that makes you feel happy when you look at it.

After a number of years thinking I didn’t really need a watch anymore because I could just look at my phone, I got a watch and my phone use immediately reduced.

Not only that, my social media use reduced.

The problem is that it can be so automatic once you have looked at your phone to tap in your pin and tap onto your social media app, in just the same way I just found myself peering into the fridge as a teenager.

 

Tip 2: Delay the urge.

This is a technique I use for many things with clients in my work as a psychotherapist.

What people usually do when faced with an urge, is either to give in to the urge or to try to resist the urge.

Of course, it makes complete sense to try to resist an urge if you are trying to stop doing something.

The problem with this is that it is very difficult to do – the more you try not to do it, the more you think about doing it.

Just imagine if I put your favourite cake in front of you (or something delicious to you if you don’t like cake – weirdo). Now imagine I tell you that you can’t have it because I’m ever so mean.

What are you going to be thinking about?

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Chances are, it will be how much you want the cake and also how mean I am for telling you not to eat it.

Now imagine I am not so mean but I say, you can eat the cake in about 30 minutes after we have done a task.

This makes it easier to ride out the initial urge and reduces the likelihood that you are
going to think more and more about the cake.

When the 30 minutes is up, you can then make a more informed decision about whether you really want the cake or not.

Maybe it is a treat day and you do want to eat it or maybe you are on some kind of low carb thing and you choose not to eat it – either way you are making a rational choice using your pre-frontal cortex rather than acting on an urge.

We can apply the same thing when we feel the urge to look on social media.

If you truly want to, you can. But if you are using it in a less helpful way it gives your thinking brain time to make a decision rather than acting on auto-pilot and without the same amount of effort as simply resisting.

 

Tip 3: Use your phone for things you really value.

If you really value health and fitness, put your fitness app in prime position on your phone and actually get into a routine to use it!
If you value your wellbeing, get your meditation app and put it onto the first page of your screen!
If you love music, make that your go-to thing if you are feeling bored, lonely, fearful, down or meh.
If you love to learn, make podcasts or Ted Talks part of your routine…
Then put your phone away when you have finished.

 

Tip 4: Use it to get organised

I’m sure there are many and varied apps that help you to organise your schedule.

I started off just using reminders but I have since found Trello which you can use to make a board for each project you have on the go. I like this app because it helps me to compartmentalise things in a way my brain generally doesn’t.

It helps me see things easily at a glance and is one place I can get ideas down that I might otherwise scribble on some paper then lose, or add to my notes app then never look at again.

My partner uses a nifty shopping list app.

I’m sure there are countless apps out there to suit your personal preference and help you to get organised.

Mine is where all my ideas for this blog go!

 

Tip 5: Keep a positive diary

Having a positive diary, a gratitude log or any variation of this, can be a really enjoyable thing to do and can give you an alternative thing to look at if you are feeling anxious, fed up or bored.

Social media may sometimes offer you something that you value but at other times it may add to your anxiety or fed up-ness with stories of kids choking on grapes, or people being attacked or general tales of woe.

It may also just increase your feeling of boredom if nothing particularly interesting is on there.

A positive diary, on the other hand, can help you to remember some of those little kindnesses of others, achievements or fun times.

It is personal to you and it might actually hold more answers than social media… or my old fridge!

Lemon Suqeezy makes wellbeing easy!

2018: In Hindsight I Should Have…

Hindsight

Have you ever had the experience of walking away from a conversation or an argument and just as it is a little too late, you think of all the things you should have said?

Have you ever thought to yourself ‘I really should have seen that coming’?

Have you ever said to yourself that you could have done better, should have known better, or that you made the wrong decision?

Yeah, me too!

 

Helpful hindsight

At this time of year, it can prompt us to look back and review the year we have had, as well as looking forward and planning for the New Year.

Having the ability to look back at events in hindsight can sometimes be a helpful reflective process.

We can review what went well and what didn’t go so well.

We can refine and improve the things that work well and learn from our mistakes.

We can gain a different perspective.

When hindsight is used in this way, alongside a kind and compassionate attitude, it can be of great benefit to us.

Most of the time when we look back in hindsight, the aim is to learn something from it or to do better next time.

 

However…

Our ability to look back in hindsight can often leave us:

  • kicking ourselves
  • criticising ourselves
  • blaming ourselves
  • feeling disappointment, regret, embarrassment, shame
  • or thinking that we were stupid.

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So where does hindsight go wrong?

 

Hindsight Bias

One of the difficulties with hindsight is that it is subject to bias.

To illustrate hindsight bias, let’s take the example of:

At the start of this year you were offered two similar jobs and you chose between them based on pay, distance from home and how you found the employers at interview. You started in your new job and discovered that the work culture is harsh, the management is unsupportive and you are not enjoying the job.

When we look back on an event, we have since gained new knowledge and new experience. Since taking this job, you have found out that you don’t like it there.

One of the mistakes we make is to treat the past event as if we already had the knowledge or experience we have now.

You may think:

  • I knew I wouldn’t like it here
  • Why did I choose this job over the other?
  • I should have accepted the other job
  • I made the wrong choice
  • It’s my own stupid fault for taking this job

 

We also imagine that the outcome of an event was more predictable than it actually was.

You may think:

  • I should have known what it would be like to work here
  • I should have picked up on the work culture when I went to the interview
  • I’m so stupid, I should have seen this coming
  • It should have been obvious what the management is like – how did I not see it?

 

We can also assume that there were ‘better’ options and assume that if we had taken a different action, it would have had a more favourable outcome.

You may think:

  • It wouldn’t be like this at the other place
  • If only I had gone to work for them, I would be so much happier
  • I’m a bloody idiot – I knew the other job would have been better

 

How to beat the bias

  1. Pause, breathe, re-focus.
  2. Remember that you were acting on the available information and experience you had at the time. You didn’t know what you didn’t know.
  3. Acknowledge that you are not a fortune teller. Even if the outcome feels obvious now, it didn’t then. There was no way for you to know the outcome in advance.
  4. Accept that you cannot know what the outcome of an alternative action or decision would have been. If you took the other job, it may have been better, it may have been worse or it may have been the same.

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Then…

  1. Think of what you would say to someone else in your situation. Would you be as harsh? Would you be more compassionate and forgiving?
  2. Give yourself credit: you were doing what you thought was right at the time.
  3. Ask yourself what you can learn from it.
  4. If there is a current problem, think about what you can do to solve it. Rather than dwelling about things you can’t change, think about how you can make 2019 a great year!

Reflect kindly on 2018 and enjoy your New Year celebrations!

Happy New Year!

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

 

 

Christmas Comparisons

Whatever your views on Christmas and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it is pretty unavoidable.

I actually love Christmas as a rule, but it can be a tricky time for wellbeing for a number of reasons.

There are the more obvious ones such as financial pressure, hectic schedules and hangovers. But here, I will focus on a process that can be particularly challenging at this time of year.

Drawing comparisons

Now, at any time of year, drawing comparisons with others is not too helpful. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we use the term ‘compare & despair’.

When we make comparisons, we are usually seeking to come out of it in a favourable light. Unfortunately, due to our brain’s tendency to focus on threat, we can often come up short.

If you are concerned about your weight, you may end up comparing yourself against others who weigh less or look slimmer.

If you are concerned about being liked, you may end up comparing yourself against more popular people.

If you are concerned about money, you may end up comparing yourself against that friend who goes on three holidays a year.

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The result?

You end up feeling much worse.

 

Christmas comparisons

For many people, Christmas represents a time of year ripe for comparison against others.

The common perception of everyone else being happy at Christmas can be particularly crushing if you don’t feel that way.

If you are single at Christmas (and don’t want to be), you will inevitably compare yourself against your loved-up friend at Christmas.

If you are away from family at Christmas, you will probably have ‘chocolate box’ images of happy laughing families in your mind’s eye when you think about your friends with their families or your own family without you.

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Comparisons with yourself

And the comparisons don’t stop there…

Not only do people compare themselves against others, people will also compare against themselves at other times in their life.

  • This time last year I was still with my boyfriend.
  • This time last year all the family was together.
  • This time last year I was so much happier.

 

This is clearly not going to help us to feel good at Christmas.

 

So what is the answer?

Step 1: Recognise what you are doing

Quite often, we are drawing these comparisons without even realising what we are doing.

If you can catch the comparison, you can do something about it.

 

Step 2: Calm your fight and flight response

Your fight and flight response wants you to focus entirely on threat so that you can keep yourself safe. When you are in this response, it is difficult to think any differently.

Taking a few slow, relaxed breaths so that your stomach moves more than your chest can help to calm this response and make it easier to think differently.

 

Step 3: Recognise that the comparison is just a thought and that your thought is not necessarily factual.

Some or all of the comparison you are making may be completely opinion-based or happening in your imagination.

If you are imagining all your friends cosying up with their families while you are away from yours, you are likely comparing against what you imagine their Christmas is like, rather than the reality.

Your friends may not be able to stand spending time with their family!

If you are making the comparison based on an image in your own head, then it is not factual.

If it is not factual, then there is an alternative (more helpful) way of looking at it.

But What if it is Factual?

 

Step 4: Add context

We often draw comparisons based on one factor and we neglect to take other things into consideration that put it into any context.
For example: I’m single now and I wasn’t last year.

What you may be neglecting to factor in is the huge row you had with your partner last year on Boxing Day or that you have actually been quite happy to be single throughout the whole of November!

 

Step 5: Recognise that social media only portrays an edited version of reality

Like step 4, this is partly about acknowledging that there are other things we are not taking into consideration.

If you find yourself comparing yourself to social media posts, remember that these are not an accurate and unedited version of reality.

The picture of the smiling child could have been followed by an almighty sugar-induced tantrum.

The smiling couple may just be staying together because neither one of them wants to break up with the other at Christmas.

The co-ordinated Christmas jumpers could be itchy as hell!

 

But beware…

The idea here isn’t to replace unfavourable comparisons with favourable ones – it is just to recognise that most of the time, we don’t know.

There is an alterative opinion if we have formed an opinion that ‘everyone else is happy at Christmas’.

In my opinion some people are, and some people are not.

But, focusing entirely on either those who are happy, or those who are unhappy, is not ultimately going to help us to feel better about ourselves.

If you focus purely on the fact that others could be having a miserable time, it is difficult to gain any real joy or wellbeing from that.

 

Step 6: Making your own meaning

So, the most important step of all is to step away from comparison and to re-connect with meanings and values that are important to you.

If you are on your own at Christmas, can you think about what you would really enjoy doing just for yourself?

Can you think of a way you can meaningfully connect with someone if you want to?

If you are feeling unhappy at Christmas, can you re-connect with something you value that could help you to feel better?

And it doesn’t have to have anything to do with Christmas!

Ultimately, Christmas can mean whatever you want it to mean.

 

Wishing you all a meaningful Christmas and wellbeing in the New Year!

Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing is launching wellbeing workshops and guided relaxation sessions for the workplace in Jan 2019! 

Image Credit: Pixabay