Building Emotional Resources

(Because sh*t happens)

When you first think of resources you may think about things like time and money. These things are undoubtedly important but I would like to invite you to think about your emotional resources.

If you were going about starting a practical project like building an extension on your house, starting up a small business or even a small project like baking a cake, it would seem very sensible to start by gathering your practical resources.

If you are building an extension, you need plans, building materials, experts to help you, money to pay for it, time to build it.

If you are starting a small business, you will need a product or service, somewhere to work from, insurance, promotional materials, a computer.

If you are making a cake, you need some ingredients, a mixer, a cake tin, an oven, and some time.

Yet people can often expect to be able to meet life’s challenges without investing anything into their emotional resources.

Even in the day-to-day life of working, parenting, caring for someone, being a friend, running a car, maintaining a home, there are bound to be many and varied problems along the way.

 

Just as you need building materials for your extension, you need emotional resources to deal with life!

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How do you know if your emotional resources are lacking?

Feeling drained?
Tired?
Irritable & on edge?
Tearful, fretful, harassed or over-stretched?

If it only takes a small thing to tip you over the edge or if you think you couldn’t possibly cope with one more thing going wrong, this is a sure sign that your emotional resources are depleted.

Even if you are OK, it makes sense to keep you emotional resources topped up and it certainly can’t hurt to have more resources available to you.

 

How can emotional resources help?
Let’s do a quick thought experiment to demonstrate the difference between running on empty and having good emotional resources…

Think for a moment about a time when you have felt really overwhelmed or drained.

  • Really picture yourself in this scene…
  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way.

Now imagine your car breaks down.

  1. How would you feel?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort it out?

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Now contrast this by thinking of a time when you felt confident, on top of things, strong or competent. Picture yourself again:

  • Notice how you stood or sat
  • What was the expression on your face
  • Notice your tone of your voice
  • How did you feel in your body.
  • Notice what kind of thoughts you would have when you feel this way…

Now imagine again that your car breaks down.

  1. How do you feel this time?
  2. What would you think?
  3. How easy or difficult would it feel to sort out?

Which starting point would give you more resilience?

 

And…
When we invest in our emotional resources, it can save you other valuable resources too.

If you can solve a problem without worrying as much about it, you will save the time, effort and energy you would have put into worrying.

When you can think in a more constructive way about a problem, you could save yourself wasted time and effort chasing your tail on ineffective solutions or time spent dwelling about how bad things are or how difficult life is.

Whatever level your emotional resources are now, investing some time into building them is time well spent.
You can’t prevent sh*t from happening but you can build up your ability to cope when it does!

Did you know that Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing offers a Building Emotional Resources Workshop for the workplace?

Check out Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing Guided Relaxation & Workshops

The first step in building emotional resources is noticing and naming your emotions.

You may like: Why I Don’t Like the Terms ‘Stressed’ and ‘Depressed’

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5 Signs of Burnout at Work (apart from feeling tired)

One of the most obvious symptoms of burnout is tiredness and this is usually fairly easy to recognise. Here are 5 more signs that you may be burning out and top tips for dealing with them.

 

1. Irritability or tearfulness over small things

Have you ever bitten someone’s head off over something small?

Found yourself crying over a mug you just dropped and broke on the floor?

Felt like it would only take one more thing to ‘tip you over the edge’?

 

In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy we often use the analogy of a ‘stress bucket’ when this kind of thing is happening. The idea is that we have a certain capacity to deal with stress. If you have a lot in your bucket already, you have less space for daily hassles so it takes less to ‘spill over’.

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Usually, you are able to contain the small things but when you are burning out you have less room to deal with them.

The reaction you have – usually shouting or crying – is not just in response to the small thing that has just happened, but to the build up of all of the things in your stress bucket.

 

The answer…?

A metaphorical release valve on your stress bucket.

This may be having some ‘me time’, engaging with activities you enjoy, eating well, exercise, being around people you feel connected with or relaxation or meditation.

Whatever it is, it should be something that helps you to feel re-charged. It should free up some space to cope with the day to day hassles that life throws your way.

 

2. A boom and bust pattern of activity

Are you running around like a headless chicken all week, then feel absolutely worn out and unable to do anything at all by Friday?

Then you may be in a boom and bust pattern of activity.

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A boom and bust activity pattern is often associated with chronic conditions.

When someone has a good day, they can often try to cram everything in. Unfortunately, people can then feel like they are paying a heavy price for the next few days.

However, it doesn’t only apply to chronic conditions and anyone can fall foul of boom and bust.

If you are burning out, maybe you are trying to fit in as much as possible on any given day to feel on top of things. Then at the weekend, you feel like you need to do ‘nothing’ to recover.

 

The answer…?

It is all about balance.

Aim to do a little less on your boom days and a little more on your bust days.

Dialling it down may feel counter-intuitive when you have a lot to do but consistently working at 80% may actually be more productive than working at 100% one day then 20% the next.

Of course, if you do have a chronic condition, there can be more to it than this. It may be helpful to ask your GP if they can refer you for additional support.

Many Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) services can support people with long term conditions using CBT and CBT-based techniques.

 

3. Putting things off

On the flip side of over-working to catch up or feel on top of things, you may be procrastinating.

Are you putting off opening your post because you don’t want another thing to deal with?

Are you ignoring that e-mail you know you need to reply to?

 

The answer…?

There could (and will be) a whole blog about procrastination.

When we procrastinate, we are really trying to avoid the anxiety we are anticipating the task will cause.

Here’s the thing – you feel anxious about it anyway and it is lasting longer.

Try to ask yourself why you are avoiding the task and whether putting it off it going to make it better or worse in the long term.

If it is a large task, break it down into manageable steps and aim to do just one step to get you started.

Notice when you are doing the task or once it is completed if it was as difficult as you expected and give yourself credit once it has been done!

 

4. Heart-sink

When you think about going back to work on Monday morning, do you get a sinking feeling?

Do you dread going back into the office and facing the next working week?

Everyone feels this way from time to time but if this is a regular experience for you then maybe you are at the point of burn out.

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The answer…

I think this one really comes down to a question of values.

Maybe your job really doesn’t fit with your values or maybe your values have changed since you started working in your role.

In which case, maybe it is time for a change.

Maybe you do still value certain aspects of your work but you have been bogged down by other aspects of what you do. If this is true, then can you re-connect with your values?

If, at the heart of your job you are helping someone and this is what you value, can you keep a journal of the good that is coming from your work?

If your values are linked to learning and development, can you apply for training courses or get into a good book or podcast about your subject area to re-connect with your interests that steered you towards the job?

Can you proactively bring your personal values and passions into your job role?

On a more practical note, if you are bogged down with other tasks – can you say no to any of them? Can you delegate any of them? Can you ask for help?

 

5. Numbing out or distracting yourself.

Are you consistently numbing yourself or distracting yourself to avoid how you feel?

Are you spending way too long scrolling through social media?

Do you need to collapse in front of Netflix with a bottle of wine to numb yourself from your emotions?

There is nothing wrong with social media, Netflix or drinking wine (in moderation, of course) if these things connect you with genuine interests and enjoyment. But if you are using them to get rid of something bad, rather than to gain something good, then maybe it is a sign that you are burning out.

 

The answer…

The same as point number 1!

Regularly caring for your wellbeing  by using relaxation or meditation practices, connecting with your emotions and learning how to self-soothe effectively, connecting with the things you value and enjoy, spending quality time with people important to you…

Don’t know where to start?

Lemon Squeezy Wellbeing is here to help.

You may like these 5 Relaxation Myths

Visit here for information about wellbeing workshops and guided relaxation sessions in Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees.

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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!

 

 

The Moaning Trap

The Moaning Trap

Now I like a good moan as much as the next person.

Sometimes it can be just the thing you need. You have a good moan, get something off your chest, then move on.

But what about when you don’t move on?

I’m sure most of us can think of times in our lives when we have moaned an awful lot or been on the receiving end of a lot of moaning.

I wonder how useful this repetitive moaning actually is.

 

Why Do We Moan?

Here is the thing – we are all motivated by the immediate short term consequences of our actions.

If the immediate short term consequence of moaning is a bit of relief, then we are likely to use this strategy again.

However, if we break moaning down into the short and longer term consequences we can start to see how it can keep us stuck.
So let’s imagine you are moaning about something like work…

 

Short term:

  • You feel the immediate catharsis of getting it off your chest.
  • You may elicit sympathy or empathy from others or feel validated for your opinion.
  • It helps you to tolerate the situation.

 

There is no wonder we like to do it!

 

Long term:

  • Moaning may help you to tolerate the way things are in the short term but this may prevent you from taking action to change anything.
  • It keeps you focused on the terribleness of the problem which keeps us in our fight and flight system and in our ‘threat-focused brain’ rather than our ‘thinking brain’.
  • The relief you initially felt wears off and you remain fed up about it.
  • You don’t take any action to change anything, you feel more stuck and the urge to moan again increases.
  • You moan again and again and soon enough other people switch off and stop offering the sympathy/empathy or validation.
  • You stay fed up.
  • Nothing changes.

 

My Dad

To illustrate this further I’m going to use the example of my dad.

I’m sure he won’t mind because he’s a pretty laid back chap (and pretty unlikely to read this blog).

I can remember as a kid my dad counted down from 100 months to go until retirement and sure enough every Sunday evening was a dedicated moan about work.

Let me say that again – 100 months!

That is a long time!

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It actually ended up being longer than this until my dad really did retire but in all that time my dad did not enjoy his job one bit. OK, maybe the moaning helped him to survive those years but the point is that he stayed there for all that time, disliking it.

To add context, changing careers was less common back then and he was working at a time and in a place where pensions were pretty good so my dad did have some reason for staying put.

He is now happily retired and enjoying every moment of it, by the way!

But maybe he really didn’t need to be unhappy for all that time.

 

So what is the alternative?
I’m not going to tell you to just stop moaning; we have already established that venting can have some helpful consequences.

What I propose is to do it in a focused way with awareness of it.

Then take steps to make positive changes.

Step 1: Have a focused and time-limited vent. You could do this with someone else or you could write it down if you have experienced other people switching off.

Step 2: Use a 5 minute relaxation to bring you back to your ‘thinking brain’ rather than your ‘threat-focused brain’.

Step 3: Ask yourself 3 questions
* What can I change?
* What can I accept as it is?
* What can I let go?

Step 4: Change the things you can change! This may involve more than one task and it may mean breaking it down into small chunks.

Step 5: Acceptance is not the same as resignation and does not necessarily mean that it can never be changed. It may be an acceptance that ‘it is what it is right now’.

Step 6: Letting go of smaller stuff is probably a good place to start. A good question to ask if you are trying to let something go is ‘is it worth the energy I am expending on this?’

Next time you feel the urge to moan, why not give it a try?

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

How to Know What Works

How to Know What Works (and what doesn’t)

In my work as a therapist I see people who have been caught up in the same kinds of unhelpful patterns time and again.

Usually people work very hard at trying to feel good and do well but sometimes despite their best efforts, it seems to backfire.

Sometimes we are well aware of what actually works well for us and what works less well.

Sometimes, though, we can misattribute what is actually working in our favour and sometimes we just get it plain wrong!

  • Have you ever said that you work best when you leave something right up until the deadline because the adrenaline fuels you through it?
  • Have you ever thought that being harsh or critical towards yourself helps to motivate you?
  • Have you ever skipped lunch or breaks because you believe you need to in order to get everything done?

If you have answered ‘yes’ to any of these then I will show you a method of analysing whether these things are actually working or not.

Why Do We Do Unhelpful Things?

First of all, let’s look at why we fall into unhelpful patterns in the first place.

Like all animals, we are wired up to learn based on the immediate consequences of our actions.

An example I often use in therapy is that if you are training a dog to do a trick, you would give it a treat straight away when it has performed the trick, right?

This way, the dog associates performing a particular action with a reward.

If you gave the dog a reward half an hour after the trick, it would not associate the action with the reward so it wouldn’t be as likely to do it again.

We learn in just the same way.

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If our action produces a reward in the short-term, we are more likely to do it again.

Those of you familiar with psychology will recognise this idea as positive reinforcement.

The same is true if we avoid a negative or gain some kind of relief from discomfort  – we are likely to repeat this action.

This is called negative reinforcement.

As humans, we can all recognise that our actions have long-term consequences too. The problem is that we are not wired up to respond to these in the same way.

The good news though, is that we can reflect in a way that can help us to make choices based on the longer term consequences of our actions and get a better outcome as a result.

For Example…

Let’s take the example of skipping lunch or breaks (or both) to get something done.
Step 1: Identify the aim of the behaviour. 

Aim: Let’s say the aim here is to be productive or efficient.

Step 2: Identify the short-term reward or how it removes some form of discomfort in the short-term.

This will tell us what is reinforcing our action.

Short-term consequences:

  • We may feel relief of a little pressure because we now have more time.
  • We may have the thought that we are being conscientious or diligent
  • We may feel a certain amount of pride in the thought that we can work harder than everyone else or that we are determined enough to get it done.
  • We may temporarily feel like we are  ‘good enough’ as long as we are constantly pushing ourselves.
  • If nobody else takes breaks in our workplace, maybe we are pushing through to avoid criticism from our colleagues.

There are many potential short-term rewards (and relief) for this particular action.
So now for the long term consequences…

Long-term consequences:

  • The first and most obvious longer term consequence is fatigue.
  • If we have actually skipped eating rather than eating while we work at our desk, there will also be the obvious dip in your blood sugar levels (which – by the way – can be an internal trigger for increased symptoms of anxiety).
  • Our concentration will undoubtedly suffer and the chance of making mistakes will increase as a result.
  • A lack of focus will cause you to take longer in whatever it is you are doing and it will feel harder.
  • Then, the pressure increases again and our thoughts may turn to more negative ones: ‘I’ll never get this done’, ‘this is taking too long’, ‘even though I work harder than other people, I don’t do as well’, ‘See, I’m really not good enough’, ‘I’m going to get criticised for not getting this done in time.’

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All of our short-term rewards have flown out of the window and the initial aim of being productive or efficient is not being met at all!

How We Attribute What Worked
Let’s imagine you do actually get the job done.

How do you attribute what has worked for you?

I’m willing to bet you would think something along the lines of

‘I would never have got that done if I had taken my lunch or my break.’
THIS IS NONSENSE!
You got it done in spite of hugely disadvantaging yourself!
Now let’s imagine you did not get the job finished.

How do you attribute what didn’t work?

‘I bet you wouldn’t say:

‘it is because I worked all day long without a break.’

Even though this is likely to be the reason you were unable to complete it.

It is much more likely that you would think something along the lines of:

‘It is because I am not as good/fast/efficient/productive as everyone else/as I should be… and next time I will have to try even harder.’

So, the next time a similar situation comes along you skip lunch and breaks again in an attempt to do better.

Hopefully, you can see that if we look at it this way and break down the aim, the short-term consequences and the long-term consequences, you can begin to see if a strategy you are using is actually working or not.

If it doesn’t, then you can make a choice to try something different.

Hopefully it is also clear that even though our unhelpful actions are well intended, they are not things that we would suggest to someone else as a helpful strategy.

Often we already know what the downside of the action is.

I’m sure you all pre-empted the long-terms consequences of this example – we all know that working constantly will ultimately lead you to burn out.

So, take a break, start noticing your aims, your short and long-term consequences to find out what works… and what doesn’t.

Lemon Squeezy makes wellbeing easy!

Image Credit: Pixabay