Hurrah! Christmas arrangements are clear(ish) at last and I seem to have convinced my teenagers that the three-household bubble really doesn’t mean a different one every day #sigh. But as work and home life continue to pile on the pressure, I’m still reflecting on how to keep a clear head and how to help my coaching clients do the same. My last post offered five ideas for avoiding peak freak out as 2020 draws to a close. Here are five more.
1. Be grateful
One of the few habits I’ve practiced fairly consistently through the pandemic is gratitude. In March I set up a WhatsApp group for friends and family solely for posts starting ‘I am grateful for…’ It’s a beautiful, positive space and is still going strong. We’ve been grateful for the small things like the sunlight on a kitchen wall, online singing, a good night’s sleep. The impact of being grateful is truly extraordinary and there’s a ton of research to back it up. I know conscious gratitude can feel cheesy but when you are grateful for things that come along with no effort or intention on your part, however tiny, you help to shift your mood. How about starting with an evening gratitude diary – five things I am grateful for today – and see what happens? I invite all my clients to do this and it works.
2. Avoid what doesn’t make you feel good
Are you endlessly checking the news? Do you find yourself feverishly following conspiracy theory threads on Facebook? Do you get tangled up in unnecessary conflict with others? These behaviours add to the stress and strain of life at the best of times. Right now, they can be toxic as they undermine your resilience to cope with what really needs your attention. I encourage my coaching clients to be brazen in their self-kindness and give themselves permission not to do what doesn’t make them feel good. It’s not avoidance. It’s about being supportive and loving to you. You can always return to the scrolling when the news isn’t quite so grim.
Meditation is proven to calm your mind and slow your heart rate. It is nothing but good for us and yet – it’s so flipping hard to actually do! Well, it is for me, and for many of my coaching clients. Unless it’s a deeply entrenched habit, it can go by the wayside the minute life gets frantic, which is exactly when we need it most. I love and hate the quote ‘Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are busy. Then a full hour is needed.’ Arrgh. How infuriating.
So, what’s to be done? The approach I’ve been taking is not to worry too much about doing it ‘right’, at the same time each day, with candles, incense and all that malarkey, but to take just a few minutes every now and again. I just sit with as straight a back as I can manage, breathe slowly, and notice my thoughts coming and going without judgment. I then stop and do something else entirely.
4. Plan for clarity
Peak freak isn’t necessarily because there’s lots of challenge whizzing around. It’s as much about how you feel about that. Taking time to list out what you need to do or what you’re worried about orders an anxious mind and gives a greater sense of clarity. The process of listing tasks and breaking them down into smaller doable chunks has a calming effect, even if you don’t have the answers to the challenges they present. When could you give yourself half an hour to give that a go? It’s a bit like meditating. It’s hard to do when there’s a lot on, but massively reaps its rewards.
5. Breathe deeply
Conscious breathing is one of the simplest ways to lower your stress level in a tense moment. My favourite technique, and the one I teach clients, is the very simple Box Breathing approach. Breathe Out for four, hold empty lungs for four, breathe in for four, hold for four. That’s it. You can say a soothing phrase in your head in time with the breath, such as ‘Now I feel calm’ or ‘This too shall pass’. Have a go at a deep breathing exercise just for a minute and you’ll notice your mind calming down almost immediately. And the beauty of it is you can do it anywhere, anytime.
Do you know what calms you down when you’re feeling up against it? What lifts you up when things feel too much? Whether you use my ideas or come up with your own, consider this an invitation to create your very own menu of feel-good fixes. It can be hard to know what you need when you’re stressed and overwhelmed, so it’s worth taking a moment now to give this some thought.
(Remember too that you don’t need to navigate difficult times on your own. If you need support, please do ask for it. If you feel I might be able to help, I’d love to hear from you. Just fill in the form below and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.)