Tag Archives: anxiety

Want less stress? Get excited, join a choir and help others.

7 Apr

We have all felt stressed at some stage in your life, You might even have felt stressed already today. You might feel a little bit of anxiety reading this realising you are meant to be doing something more productive or important. You are alive because of stress, If there was no stress you would be dead.

You might enjoy spending time walking in the park looking at the various animals in nature or feeling relaxed looking into your back garden at some birds that are feeding on breadcrumbs or seeds that you have left out for them.

Watching them sit on the garden fence nervously looking around and waiting for that moment when there seems to be no predators around and then quickly flying to the bread still looking around anxiously and taking quick nips at the bread while still surveying the garden for danger. Eventually flying away in a panic when they hear an unfamiliar noise like a back door slamming.  The bird needs to eat to but it also has a desire to stay alive and it does this by remaining in a heightened state of stress while it tries to eat in a possibly dangerous unfamiliar environment.

No Stress = No Human Race

This is exactly how we have survived as a human race for 10’s of thousands of years. The fight or flight response kept us alive as hunter gatherers thousands of years ago before agriculture when we had to hunt for food in environments where we could also be seen as something elses food. Cortisol, adrenaline, glucose and even oxytocin is secreted into the body to help us defend ourselves in these situations and stay alive or run away and survive. Just like the little bird in your garden. Or the squirrel in the park.

We no longer rely on hunting as a means to stay alive in this modern world. But our bodies are still equipped to experience the same fight or flight response. We might get the same release of stress hormones into our body late at night down a dark alleyway when we feel something is not quite right. These stress hormones help us to fight and defend ourselves and stay alive or depart the situation very quickly and also stay alive. A very similar situation to our hunter gatherer ancestors. But in the safer world that we live in there is less need for this response.

We have a created a number of different activities and situations that cause our bodies to  trigger the fight or flight response now, job interviews, being late for a deadline, road rage,feelings of inadequacy, difficulty paying bills or being overwhelmed at work all can trigger the fight or flight response and stress. The thing is, if the bird in the back garden feeding on the bread, felt that same level of stress all the time it would quite quickly die. Its heart and immune system would eventually break down and life would end. It’s the  exact same for us. Too much stress with out a break kills us.

Stressjpg

We are not good at being stressed for long periods of time. Our bodies can’t take it. In today’s world though how do we avoid any stress at all? We could spend our life avoiding the exam, the job interview,the first date the work presentation. But ultimately live a life unfulfilled and without challenge. Feeling anxiety and experiencing feelings of discomfort in unfamiliar situations are behaviours that our brain has not forgotten. It’s a coping mechanism. Is there a way to harness stress to work in our favour and help us?

It seems there is

Anxiety and excitement are very similar states. They are both aroused emotions. In both cortisol(stress hormone) surges the heart beats faster and the body is preparing itself for action. The only difference is that one is a negative emotion and the other is positive. When we are in an anxious state the first piece of advice usually is to calm down and relax. This is almost impossible as the body is surging with cortisol and adrenaline and the heart is beating faster and the blood is being oxygenated. Returning to a zen like state any time soon is unlikely.  How can we use this anxiety filled state to benefit us in this situation?

congruence

Well Alison Woods Brooks a professor at Harvard business school found some interesting results through research in 2014.

She conducted three experiments.

  1. The first one involved 113 participants in an activity that would certainly raise the stress levels. Sing a song in front of a group of people. The song she chose was “Don’t stop believin” by Journey due to its familiarity and popularity.  She then split participants into groups.  Each group either focused on feeling anxious, excited, calm, sad or angry. With phrases like “I am anxious” or “I am excited”. Using a video game that scored on pitch and accuracy of singing from participants.

The results were interesting. All those in the anxious group scored a 53% accuracy on the gaming results. Those that had focused on calm, anger or sadness had achieved 69% averages. But this that had focused on “I am excited” had seen a score of 80% average and reported a greater feeling of enjoyment while performing. It takes less of a move to change anxiety to excitement( arousal congruence) than to switch it to calmness.

2. Public speaking is a frightening prospect for many people but we all have to deal with it at some stage. 140 participants were asked to talk to a team of  judges on “Why they should be considered good working partners” The judges were to ask tough questions and the participants were to be filmed. Participants were asked to repeat beforehand that “I am calm” or ” I am excited”. Independent evaluators judged those in the excited group had more persuasive, competent and relaxed presentations.

3. The third experiment involved a series of mathematical tests. Beforehand 188 participants either focused on “Trying to get excited” “Trying to keep calm” or did nothing at all. All those in the excited group performed 8% on average higher in the test than the calm and control group and reported feeling more relaxed about their capabilities.

The way it works is that it puts people into an opportunity mindset with a focus on the positives that can happen rather than dwelling on a threat mindset where anxiety lies.

 

Kelly McGonigal who spoke on the TED stage back in 2013 spoke about the importance of using stress to your advantage. If we think differently about stress we can see remarkable results. The heart beating faster is helping you, you get blood flowing to the brain and greater oxygenation of the blood vessels.

Kelly says that when you believe that while you are stressed the body is helping you with your current situation your body believes it too and responds accordingly.

She argues that stress makes us social. The body produces oxytocin when we are stressed its also produced when we make love or are hugged by someone. It’s seen as a trust hormone. It’s a neurohormone. When we are stressed and we seek supports and make social contacts with others we produce oxytocin. The more oxytocin we produce the faster you recover from stressful situations. This might account for the high levels of life expectancy within countries that score high for strong social support on the World happiness report. Countries Like Norway, Denmark, Iceland and other Nordic countries score high on trust and social supports. Icelandic citizens in particular with a life expectancy of 83 rely on strong social supports and connections.

Choir6

 Sing like your winning

Iceland has over 300 choirs with more than 9,000 members in a population of 325,000 people, that is very impressive.Choirs are a great way to feel less stressed and connected as explained here  by Oliver Burkeman and experience something greater than you alone.

It’s what we do when we are in a stressful situation that matters. A 5 year study by Michael Poulin released in 2013 at the University of Buffalo in New york involved almost 900 people in the Detroit Michigan area.  The participants all aged between 34-93 were asked two questions

  1. How much stress have you experienced in the past year?
  2. How much time have you spent helping to friends, neighbours and relatives?

Specifically, over the five years of the study, we found that when dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others,” he says.

Self-reported stressful experiences included such things as serious, non-life-threatening illness, burglary, job loss, financial difficulties or death of a family member.

Respondents also reported the total amount of time in the past 12 months they had spent helping friends, neighbours or relatives who did not live with them by providing transportation, doing errands and shopping, performing housework, providing child care and other tasks.

“When we adjusted for age, baseline health and functioning and key psychosocial variables,” Poulin says, “the Cox proportional hazard models (the most widely used method of survival analysis) for mortality revealed a significant interaction between helping behavior, stressful events, morbidity and mortality.

“Our conclusion,” he says, “is that helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.

It’s not that we experience stress that is affecting us it’s what we do with the stress that matters. Stress is inevitable we can’t escape it will always be a part of our lives.

If you are feeling anxious before a test, a first date, job interview or work presentation understand that what is going on in your body is trying to help you. So

What works/

  • Reframe your situation: Use that energy to help you “feel excited” will always give you greater advantage, It’s called arousal congruence.
  • When you are stressed use the supports around you to help you release oxytocin. Get hugs, have sex or simply connect on a deeper level with those around you. The oxytocin will help the heart regenerate from stress related damage. The more oxytocin you produce the faster you recover from stress.
  • Join a choir. The sense of belonging and connection to something bigger has a great impact on our stress,social connections and pain threshold. Research from Goldsmiths college in London explains this
  • Do good for others. Caring for other people lowers levels of stress considerably and creates resilience.

 

Maybe its time to take control of your stress.

 

 

What can we learn from Donkeys

6 Nov

Donkey-Paintings-600x450

There is a fable about a farmer who had a donkey. The donkey was old and one day it had fallen down into a well on the farmers land. The farmer decided that the aged donkey was not worth saving, and since the well had no water in it and had been dry for some time, he would take the easy option and bury both. He began to shovel earth down the well and could hear the cries of the donkey as he did so. The farmer kept shovelling and soon the donkeys cries stopped. Presuming the donkey was now dead the farmer shovelled the last few spades of earth to finally cover the well and the dead donkey. Only to see the animal jump out of the well. The donkey had shaken off each shovelful of dirt and had stepped on the slowly rising mound of earth before finally jumping out and free.

The reality in a lot of our lives is that… relationships will end, Jobs will be lost, cars will be crashed and people we care about will pass away. As much as we might like to,we can’t escape the fact that sometimes life is tough.

What we have though is an ability to see these events in our lives as a chance for us to grieve, grow and have a greater ability to cope when something unexpected happens to us again… It’s called RESILIENCE. Resilience provides us with an ability to express what we feel,grieve and understand emotion when something difficult comes our way in life…But also to learn from what happened and understand that this will give you coping skills for when something similar happens again.

We are probably very guilty of producing a generation of children with less resilience. As we tell our children that they are  “Special”  and “Amazing” . The truth is that the word special itself explains that not everybody can be special or else the it would be redundant. Tell an interviewer that you think you are “Special” and balk at his next question when he asks why you think this is true? This excellent article by the Huffington post outlines the problems that generation Y are experiencing.

You mightn’t get your first your second or even your third job after interview. But you will be learning valuable life skills and you will be better prepared and more appreciative when the door finally opens for you.

Your first girlfriend might dump you because it’s not all about “You” and maybe caring and paying attention to the other person in the relationship is what you need to work on for your next relationship to work.

Life is a work in progress and the key word here is “progress” Try nothing new or never venture out of your bubble and you will rarely feel that you are learning and your life is moving forward.  Run away from difficult decisions or experiencing life’s emotional upsets will never build resilience.

Be that Donkey…or die.

Positive mental health -What would Gandhi do?

19 Jun

Mahatma-GandhiSometimes life doesn’t seem to offer many glimmers of hope.  Our thoughts can really effect our lives.Negative thinking can lead to negative behaviour and thus can contribute to negative feelings or physical feelings that make it difficult to see that life can change for the better any time soon.

The thoughts that we have are not always based in fact. Actually, most of our negative thinking has no base in reality at all. We might think I’m not good enough when we can write a list of all the activities we have accomplished and a large list of reasons that we are good enough.

We might think that we are not loved when we have a large number of friends and family that care for and love us.

Our thoughts might lead us to think that we will never find a partner in life because we think we are not loveable. All this leads to actions that don’t help us. We might become very inward. We might stay in rather than socialize. We might turn to stimulants or alcohol. We might even get angry at people  because of our situation. All actions that will not help with our negative thoughts and feelings.

Next time you are having thoughts like

  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “Everything always works out for the worse for me.”
  • “No one would want me as a partner.”
  • “I’m too nervous to meet new people so I will give it a miss.”
  • “That job promotion is not for me.”

Think of someone who you look up to in life. It could be a really dear friend that you have in life . It could be your best friend or partner. What would they say to you if they knew you were thinking like this. They would tell you that there is no reason to be thinking like this and they would give you many reasons why.

Think about it like this what if you discovered someone you really cared about was thinking like this. What advice would you give them. You would outline all the great qualities they have and all the reasons that their thinking holds no truth.

Simply apply this advice to yourself. Quickly it begins to change your perception of your situation.

My favourite method for this is I imagine a role model past or present in life and I think how would they act if they were thinking like this. Your role models might be Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Eddie Vedder or an old teacher that you once looked up to. This is really powerful and helps us stop and analyze why we are thinking a certain way and if it is serving us well.

Negative thinking ruins our lives as I talked about in my article about Worry. So make an effort to stop it by

  • Think about someone you care about what advice would they give if they knew you where thinking like this. Take it.
  • Imagine someone you really cared about was struggling with negative thinking. What advice would you give them and simply apply it to yourself.
  • Take a role model past or present and imagine how would they act if they had thoughts similar to yours. What would Gandhi Do? and Follow it?

Lately when those negative thoughts start to emerge I immediately think of one person and think …….” What would Pooh do?”

Positive Mental health- Action matters

30 May

to-do-list-nothing[1]Life it seems is a series of choices that we make. These choices are generally made up of actions or behaviour. We either decide to do nothing… and nothing changes or we decide to put an action in place that will make a difference.

It is the action that makes the difference. Are all actions good? Not necessarily!. Some actions like overeating, hitting out at others, drinking excessively or spending money we don’t have are actions that will contribute to how we feel about ourselves or the world in a negative way.

We know that our thoughts can affect our feelings and our physical feelings. Our Behaviour(actions) can also contribute to negative responses in our thoughts and feelings.

Remember I said that if you do nothing, nothing changes. That’s a given. If there is something in your life that is impacting negatively on your life put an action in place that will help you.

Here is an example: If you wanted to lose 12lbs in weight what actions could you do.

  1. Order an Ice cream and tell yourself you didn’t want to change anyway.
  2. Talk lots about how you used to be a stick insect years ago.
  3. Buy lots of books on weightloss
  4. Watch Tv programmes on weightloss
  5. Talk a lot about wanting to lose weight- Tommorrow-Maybe!
  6. Go shopping on an empty stomach
  7. Get excited about special offers on Your favourite Ice cream tubs while shopping.
  8. Clear out your kitchen and fridge of foods that are not helping you lose weight.
  9. Eat everything that you were just about to clear out of your Kitchen and fridge and then revert to numbers 3, 4 and 5 above.
  10. Do nothing!
  11. Change your diet for the better
  12. Start to exercise 3 times a week.
  13. Find a form of exercise you like and start slowly at it.
  14. Cut down on portion size.
  15. Avoid High calorific foods.
  16. Set small goals of losing 2lb a week over a 6-8 week period.
  17. Put a plan in place to do this.
  18. Treat yourself a little on milestones or weekends.

So listed above are a series of actions that we could do if we thought about losing 12lbs of weight. I have made it quite obvious that Actions 1-10 might not get us very far or revert us back up the weight scale a little. Nevertheless they are still behaviour that might seem very familiar that we are quite capable of resorting to.

What I have listed on 11-18 are actions that are much closer in getting us to the goal we had in mind.

So now we are aware that Actions make the difference. It is important that we know which ones will help to change patterns in our lives that are impacting negatively.

Get out there and put more positive action into your life. As I have said before

Do nothing and nothing changes. Pick the right action and your life will never be the same again”

As Aesop once said. “After all that has been said and done there is a lot more said than done”

Positive Mental Health- Gratitude

16 May

Thank you

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is  as though everything is a miracle” Albert Einstein

Of all the areas of positive mental health improvement. Gratitude to me is the greatest.

When we are thankful for what we have in lives we begin to open all these little doors that are in our lives that we never looked behind before. Being grateful rocks in so many ways.

Gratitude comes in many forms. What I do is ask people to begin to look at what it is that they are Grateful for in life? We do that by creating a simple gratitude diary. How it works is that at the end of each day we look at the 3/4 things that went well today. They might be very simple events like the fact that a friend called around with cake and you had an enjoyable chat or that you received a smile from someone who brightened up your day. You may have been told in work that you have done a great job today, or it might be the fact that you achieved something that you wanted to for a while. Simple usually unnoticed events that we take for granted are placed in our gratitude diary. Each night as we write these down we begin to see that we are far more thankful for our lives than we thought before. The small things that happen become wonderful parts of our day and life. When the amazing wonderful events cross our path well they just seem to be unbelievable. Simply because we have learnt to become grateful for the small things in life. The neural pathways in our brain are now hardwired to look for the good in life. I recommend that you do this every night of your life. We start with 21 days and see these amazing changes in our view of our beautiful world. Which uncovers wonders that happened to us daily it’s just we never took time to notice.

The other way is to tell someone in your life that you are grateful that they are there. You can physically tell them or you can write it down on a piece of paper and deliver it to them personally. Let them read it out as you are there. It is a wonderful sharing experience between two people and deeply moving. Try it some time. It is wonderful.

You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera and grace before the play and pantomime and grace before I open a book,and grace before sketching,painting,swimming,fencing,boxing,walking,playing,dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink” Gk Chesterton

Also simply from the moment we wake in the morning until the moment we close our eyes and drift to sleep at night we should be saying Thank you to your God , Spiritual leader or Universal life force for all that you have. Thank you for the hot water in my shower  the Sun that lights up my day. The fact that I press a switch and  a light turns on. Thank you for my fridge that keeps my food fresh. Thank you for the roof over my head and the clothes on my back. The car that I drive and the people who I love. Being thankful for everything that you experience throughout the day and just as you are about to finally close your eyes for the last time that day be Thankful for the bed and covers that you are drifting off to sleep in.

In the end it is this quote from David Steindal-Rast that says it all.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy” David Steindl-Rast

Positive Mental health- Exercising your Endorphins

4 Apr

endorphinsAs I said in my last blog I am going to share what contributes to great mental health. We talked about actions making the difference. Well here is an action that makes a real difference and contributes greatly to our mental health. as far as I am concerned this is probably the greatest game changer with concern to positive mental health….. It’s exercise.

We live in quite a sedentary world. It has been engineered so that we no longer have to move to be entertained. We can happily sit in front of our game consoles, laptops and ipads and engage with YouTube, Facebook and video games which will all entertain us without ever having to leave the comfort of our couches. We use technology to babysit our children without looking at the consequences of what they are processing subconsciously. How difficult as a parent must it be to compete with the excitement of technology especially video games were they are designed to set of neural firecrackers of pleasure and reward in your child’s brain at just the right intervals. Beat that Pops.

We travel on lifts without ever thinking of taking the stairs and we love travellators in airports we can access our smartphones and still make it to our destination while still discovering who has liked our last photo on Facebook, it beats walking between terminals. We sit in cars or trains for long periods and pacify our children with consoles and DVD films on the back of headrests.

We purchase products in supermarkets that confuse us about their health benefits. we secretly pile on the pounds when we think that we are improving our health because of this purpose led confusion. In one class I asked a participant to tell me the calorific value of the soft drink he had in his hand. He read the label and said just 105 kcal per bottle. The bottle was a 500ml bottle of Coke as we looked closer at the nutritional(really!) facts we discovered that it was 105cal per 250ml of the bottle but who only drinks only half a bottle of lemonade.It’s 210 cal per bottle of soft drink which will take roughly a 3km run to burn off. Confusion reigns. But enough about the troubles with food confusion. Lets look at the actions we can do to benefit our mood and mental state.

I can not emphasize the importance of exercise to our wellbeing. I am presently looking our my office window at a sports field where my office is it’s a sunny spring morning and I would be first out the door and changed ready to play if I had a group of friends and a ball free for the next hour for a kick about. I understand the importance of exercise. Firstly I feel great when I play in team games.I enjoy meeting other people(social connections) and I enjoy working with others to a common purpose(try to win). I also love to get out and have a run around because I know what exercise is doing for me. When I am involved in regular  vigorous physical activity not only am I maintaining some level of fitness, flexibility and building resilience in times when it is needed, I am also contributing to my mental wellbeing.

My body is also reacting positively to this physical activity and is providing a chemical response in the form of Endorphins which are produced when I do anaerobic exercise which may involve sprinting or heavy weight lifting.This will cause the production of neurotransmitters called endorphins that lock into special receptor cells that block the transmission of pain signals and also produce a euphoric feeling just like opiates.

I have tested this regularly. I will gauge my mood on a scale of 1-10 before starting exercise. I might find for whatever reason my mood score might be a 4 out of 10. After 25-30 minutes of vigorous exercise running or cycling I will gauge my mood gain and discover I am a 7 or 8 out of 10 what a difference a half hour of exercise has done for my wellbeing.

Exercise also reduces stress. People who exercise more produce lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol(which produces extra sugars into our system in times of stress) and ultimately have lower levels of anxiety.

So get out there get moving. Get out of the house and pick something that you love to do. This is the key to enjoying exercise. I enjoy team games so I play team games. I only run short distances because the will to stop and boredom are increased for me without a team around me. That is just me. If you don’t like cycling don’t cycle. Find out what you enjoy and follow it. It reminds me of the time the comedian Eddie Izzard ran 43 marathons in 51 days for comic relief in the UK. In an interview afterwards British chat show host Jonathan Ross asked him ” Running 43 marathons over 51 days is some achievement what was your favourite bit” Eddie without pausing says “Stopping… stopping was my favourite bit”.

Here is another interesting fact when it comes to those mood changing endorphins.Endorphins are also released when we eat chillies. Not as a reward because the body loves chillies but your body releases endorphins to help ease the pain. Funny that.

Next time your mood is low remember that vigorous exercise will up your mood levels add a chilli half way through and you just might have discovered why Usain bolt is always smiling

Actions make the difference.

3 Apr

IMG_7116I like it when people come up with their own solutions. We nearly always have the answer but it is the failure to act on that realisation that prevents change. Actions always make the difference If you want something in your life to improve for the better a positive action is required from you. As Aesop once wrote “After all that has been said and done, there is a lot more said than done”. So true.

Over the next series of articles I am going to talk about what can we do that will help when we are feeling down for a period of time and need our mood lifted. Life can throw up some difficulties, that is simply life, we do not get to escape this. Nobody gets to sail through life without feeling the strains of a difficult period in a relationship,the loss of someone we care about or the stress of accidents and injuries that our Children or us encounter. It is the actions that follow that matter.

If you do nothing, nothing changes

So I have put together some examples of solutions that my course participants have provided that when put into action will help move you on to a brighter place. I will talk about them over the next series of blogs.

Some of them will seem very obvious but as obvious as they seem,you need to ask yourself when was the last time you did this and what are the benefits this action will bring to your life.

Years ago I had a huge fear of heights. I decided I could live with this fear of heights simply through avoidance of situations that caused this panic…. or I could do an action that might change this. I decided to jump out of a plane…. by myself.

I always remember that morning when I turned up for training at the airfield. The camaraderie and laughs with the other potential jumpers that morning was a great distraction from what really was ahead. We laughed as we changed into our silly orange jump suits and jumped off  7ft platforms learning how to roll as we hit the ground and “kick out” if our parachute became tangled mid-air. We happily rolled up parachutes that morning, cracked nervous jokes and chatted over lunch.

It was after lunch that the mood began to change. It was explained that the jumps would be taking place in groups of threes as the plane was a small Cessna. “Who wants to go first?” said the instructor I thought that sight of someone else heading towards the earth without their chute opening might put me off. So I volunteered for the first group.

With my parachute on my back and the plane bobbing towards us on the grass airfield all the fun and games of the morning seemed a distant thought as the colour drained from my face and the nearest toilet seemed like a good option. The pilot asked me my name and details… I could not even speak… complete fear had taken over I had never felt as scared in my life as I did at that point… and we where still on the ground! As we climbed into the plane and knelt facing forward I thought I was going to get  ill as the plane began to taxi down the grass runway and hover into the air. All the jokes in the world from the Instructor  and Pilot could not alleviate the fear that I was feeling right then.

As we approached 2000ft and the door off the plane opened I was never more awake or aware than at that moment. The instructor indicated to me to move slowly towards the door… place one foot on the wing strut and one foot at the door…. I could see all the fields and cows below me. Just like Father Ted explaining to Father Dougal the difference between “Near and far away” these definitely where far away.  My heart was ready to explode…. I could hear the instructors voice behind me shouting three words Go! Go! Go!. …..What did I do?

I looked down at the fields below me and felt the wind gush against me as I stood at the plane exit and I thought this is it, pause and I will never do it. I jumped…. one thousand, two thousand, three thousand…. aaaaaaaaaaaahhhh( I am being kind with my phrasing here).

I looked up at my parachute to check It had opened properly. It had not … it was slightly tangled…this would cause it to drop like a burst balloon… if I did not kick out as I did…. and suddenly begin to float slowly towards those beautiful green fields. What a feeling, oh what a feeling. The adrenaline and excitement were pumping through my veins as I celebrated with some of the coarsest words in the English language as I floated downwards. Thinking there are world leaders,politicians and some of the greatest minds  of our time who would never attempt to do what I have just done!!

Had I changed my fear off heights? It certainly helped. My next jump at 12000ft feet felt less nerve-wracking . My next one in a few weeks time will be just as much fun.

Actions always make the difference. Do nothing and nothing changes. Just be mindful of what ones you choose.

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