I had just given my first ever group coaching event looking at wellbeing and resilience in the workplace when I came down with a short illness. Nothing serious, a chest infection that dragged on, leaving me exhausted and aching. The usual activities that frame my day and keep me happy went by the wayside. The daily walking, connecting with others and meditation were beyond me and I soon felt the effects of the loss.

 

When Things Start to Unravel

By the second week, I was less physically unwell but still tired and listless and that was when the psychological impact really started to show. I felt low and unmotivated and my playfulness disappeared; always a good barometer of my wellbeing. Humour is crucial to me. As one of my top strengths, I rely on seeing the funny side, looking at life from different perspectives and making others laugh. These are the things that buoy me up, they give my life its colour and vibrancy. Without it, everything was effortful and lacked meaning. And this was the toughest part – everything seemed pointless.

It was ironic that I had been coaching others only the week before to help them notice their signs and triggers around life’s stressors so they could build the self-awareness to monitor their wellbeing. Yet here I was, so quickly feeling lost and disconnected with only a minor hiccup in my health.

 

Every Setback Can Be An Opportunity to Learn!

Okay I thought, I should be able to dip into the bag of tools I have been putting together to support myself and others. After all, practising positivity when things are hard, that’s where the real work happens, where I get to explore what is most useful for me! So I asked myself ‘what advice I would give someone else; what would I suggest they do to get back on track?’

No surprise, I failed! If anything I felt worse for not being able to ‘snap out of it. How could I teach this stuff if I dropped a ball at the first sign of struggle? I wondered if a short-term intervention such as ‘three good things’ could boost my mood? But the thought of even starting seemed beyond me and not only that, it just didn’t resonate. It didn’t feel like what I needed right then.

So I stopped and thought some more. I thought about where I was, about how I had been working throughout my illness up to this point, the pressure I had put myself under in the preceding months and how I had been hankering for a break, some fun, maybe a holiday? Instead of listening to what I needed, I had kept pushing on through. I’d been excited, driven, and enjoying a new challenge but I had allowed myself to become depleted. So yes, it was no surprise I was ill. And with that in mind, I reassessed the situation.

 

Being Honest With Myself

I realised trying to lift my mood and focus on the positive was not working because it was not what was called for. What I needed here was to be kind to myself. I was ill and I needed to let myself be ill. There was no ‘solution’ this wasn’t something that I could fix, I couldn’t think my way out of this one. It came to me that what might help was offering myself some kindness as I recuperated. Straight away, this acceptance and understanding released something in me; the frustration and impatience, layers we add to top of our initial condition, all those stories we tell ourselves about why something is happening. Once I had dropped these expectations I felt myself relax and have been able to take some downtime for myself, without judgement.

 

Seeing More Clearly

Simply taking the pressure off myself let me see clearer and offered me some perspective. Life has its natural rhythms, times when we are move active and times when we need to rest. This wasn’t something I had to resolve, it would resolve itself. The lesson for me here was self-compassion and gentleness. I am learning that these things are not just something to offer other people but are there for me as well! So I have turned to Kristen Neff (2011), the ideal teacher when self-compassion is called for and am going to be taking some time to deepen my leaning on this topic.

 

Bringing This Understanding To My Coaching

This experience has got me thinking about how I can best support those coming to positive psychology from a place of chronic illness. Many live with daily choices around how to best utilise depleted resources, often against a backdrop of pain and fatigue. My own mini-experience of ill-health was nothing compared to the battles faced by those with long-term conditions but it gave me some small insight into the determination that is called for to practice even small changes, and how these may have to go by the wayside if they aren’t what you need that day.

Honesty and self-compassion are two essential resources in our wellbeing toolbox and by remembering to use them this month I have given myself the space to truly put positive psychology into practice. It has been another lesson for me in appreciating that positive psychology is not ‘happyology’!

References

Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: The proven power of being kind to yourself. Hachette UK.

And visit – www.Self-compassion.org

 

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