Remembering to Uncurl: Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

Remembering to Uncurl: Your Parasympathetic Nervous System

The world moves so quickly. It’s not surprising that our minds and bodies can sometimes struggle to keep up. Evolution takes a long time. A really long time. We often forget because our brains are wonderfully plastic and constantly adapting but some parts still remember the stone ages like it was yesterday! Whilst we are capable of assimilating new information at a fantastic pace, the area of our brain that was used to dealing with ‘that shadow looks like a bear’ can find it hard to interpret messages. The input becomes conflated and distorted, from ‘nice headphones’ to ‘everyone else has those headphones’ to ’if I don’t get those new headphones I’m in trouble’. We are left on high alert, our senses primed for danger, watching for the threat our brain tells us is out there.   Stress Is Normal We don’t always notice the daily stressors we encounter because they are a constant low buzz in the background but coming out of lockdown offered me occasional moments of clarity. I noticed the discomfort created by motorway rush hour traffic or being back in an office. These things generate a strain on the nervous system and require some effort, heightening our stress response system. Let me be clear, these are not bad things. We were born for stress, effort and challenge, they fire us up and teach us skills. The problem comes when we stop acknowledging stress and forget to do the things that help us come back down again afterwards. Without the self-awareness it also gets harder to connect the resulting anxiety with its origin.   Balancing The...
Staff Wellbeing: Lessons From A Global Pandemic

Staff Wellbeing: Lessons From A Global Pandemic

Acknowledging the value of staff wellbeing has come a long way in the last few years. The pandemic bought the topic into sharp relief and did much to convert policies into practical action. There was a genuine need to check in with isolated employees to make sure they were OK. If a colleague asked ‘How are you doing?’ it was a real question not a social nicety, and it felt like a safe space to say ‘Actually, I’m finding this really hard’. Because we all suffered to some degree, the global experience of Covid did much to narrow the divide between the, generally, mentally healthy and those who have experience of mental ill-health. The ‘us and them’ distinction at the root of stigma diminished.   Mental Health and Mental Ill Health It’s a strange by-product of the disease model of mental health that we define our mental wellbeing in the negative. We refer to our ‘mental health’ when we are actually talking about ‘mental ill health’. In fact, mental wellbeing is much more than the absence of mental illness, and it can be helpful to think of them as two different constructs, not opposites on the same continuum (Cheavens et al., 2006). To use an analogy with our physical health; when we break a bone or have high blood pressure, we go to the doctor with the goal of getting it fixed but we are aware that the most important aspect of managing our physical health is the day to day maintenance; exercising, eating well, good sleep and so on. It’s this regular effort that keeps us healthy. Likewise,...
Wellbeing At Christmas: The Three Gifts of Mindfulness, Balance and Compassion

Wellbeing At Christmas: The Three Gifts of Mindfulness, Balance and Compassion

Love it or hate it, Christmas is upon us once more! As I get older I find myself more often in the ‘love it’ camp but I still have to watch that I don’t let things don’t slip over into ‘The Season of Too Much’. If I do, I start to feel overstretched and it can become hard to enjoy even the good times. Too many late nights and parties can leave me exhausted before I even get to the big day. I know for some, time with family can be a celebration, but for others it can be fraught with trying to meet expectations, negotiating difficult family dynamics or a reminder of those we have lost. At times, Christmas can also feel a very lonely place, especially when, if you are to believe Facebook, everyone else is basking in the warmth of their harmonious families! On top of this, we add the financial strain that a commercial Christmas brings. We can forget to take time for ourselves and savour the joy of what can be a very special time of year. People are often kinder, more open and more generous. If we take a step back and keep mindful of the simpler moments then we can reclaim this season as a positive chance to connect with ourselves and with others.   A Christmas Wish List of Your Own It used to be that by the time I finished work for Christmas I could generally expect some form of illness. My batteries had been drained and as soon as I stopped my body collapsed! I would spend much of...
Reframing Change: Staying Resilient As Life Happens

Reframing Change: Staying Resilient As Life Happens

This September my daughters left for their first term at university. They are twins so milestones arrive in duplicate. No dipping toes into changing family dynamics for me; it’s a head first dive into an empty nest situation, and it has churned up a lot of emotions. Will the loss of my ‘mum’ identity mirror the kicking and screaming of my younger self as I was dragged in to motherhood 20 years ago? Can I step back into the pre-child version of me or is she lost forever? Am I equipped to navigate this time of change and uncertainty? Luckily the answer to that last one is, hopefully, yes. Positive Psychology has offered me some tools that come into their own when life gets uncertain. That doesn’t mean the sea doesn’t get choppy it’s just I am more confident in my ability to float, perhaps even swim. So today, Day 2 in a childless house, my chest is tight. It feels like there is a tangled knot of something stuck there and unpicking the mess of feelings may just help me digest the whole. So here is what I have learnt about transitions, emotions and resilience.   Emotions This season of change is bittersweet. Positive and negative emotions are jumbled together and hard to separate. The aim is to acknowledge these, trying to discern them as clearly as I can, without assigning judgements like ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For me, there is pride in my daughters’ success in their exams and excitement as they move towards adulthood but there is also sadness, loss, regret and emptiness. I accept I will...
Starting A New Job In The Post-Covid Workplace

Starting A New Job In The Post-Covid Workplace

The company I work for went through a merger this month and I’ve been planted into a new role. In many ways it is very similar to my previous position but with any new organisation comes new ways of doing things; new policies, new procedures and crucially a new culture.   Workplace Culture I write this from the viewpoint of an employee; I’m not an expert in organisational culture but it is a topic that has always fascinated the psychologist in me. I’ve worked within many organisations over the years, from local government to third-sector charities and housing associations. As I settle in to each new place there is that feeling, after a few months, of becoming known. You start to be a part of things, a part of the family. Your role – what you do – may be very similar, you may even have the same job title, but the way you do things, the attitudes and behaviours you adopt, can differ substantially. Organisations are a construct shaped by many different elements; employees, managers, directors, the CEO, a Board and other stakeholders. They all put a stamp on its character. Some places are more top-down, others may be more organic, some carry a more historic sense of institution, but each has a personality of its own, an identity beyond that of its constituent parts. Newbies are assimilated and we find a place for ourselves – or realise it is not the right fit and perhaps move on.   Belonging For me, my place has often been on the outskirts. I am an observer by nature and I...
Becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner

Becoming a Positive Psychology Practitioner

From Student To Practitioner I’ve always loved transitions. Moving from one place to another, starting things, packing up. It is a time full of potential and I relish the change. I’m meeting new people and feel buoyed up by optimism. It’s energizing. In my current transition stage from ‘coach in training’ to fully fledged practitioner I am in a good place; the fear : excitement ratio has tipped slightly in the favour of the latter and that’s all I need to keep going.   The Between Space For me, the difficult part was not the ‘becoming’.. it was ‘beginning’. This time last year the chasm between student and coach was a dark place with no discernible path. I had a dream of being a successful coach, running my own practice and making a difference in people’s lives, but the in-between place was a no man’s land. How could I get started when what I was aiming for seemed an impossibility, a pie-in-the-sky scheme? Visualising didn’t help. The picture I would try and build in my head seemed too far removed from where I was. I couldn’t relate it to myself, the disconnect was too big. Me, self-employed and running my own business? Or the biggie; me, being commissioned and paid for my skills and expertise? No, I just couldn’t see that. Because how can you imagine anyone else valuing your abilities if you don’t value them yourself? This is where my biggest doubts crept in; believing anyone would part with their hard-earned cash for what I have to offer.   Those First Steps So, how did I move past...