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As much as we here at 35 Thousand try to see the glass as half full, even we have been struggling lately.  The enormity of the fallout of COVID-19, political unrest, lockdown 3.0 in many countries, home schooling battles, financial worries, WFH burnout, and being separated from loved ones , is enough to bring even the most upbeat human being down. To top it all off, in the UK, the 8th January is known as Blue Monday because it’s thought to be the coldest, darkest and most depressing day of the year. 

If your normal pep talk isn’t enough to turn your mood around, then it’s time to call on the experts instead. Here’s how to hack negativity and find the blue skies behind the grey clouds, even if you can’t quite see it yet.

The Business Psychologist: Jan de JongE, Founder of People Business Psychology

(Jan has created the following positivity tips in association with online glasses and eyesore store Feel Good Contacts)

Jan de Jong

Have a healthy relationship with the news

Let’s be honest, the majority of the news doesn’t make for pleasant reading/ viewing right now. However many of us feel it’s essential we watch it in order to stay informed.  According to Jan de Jonge it’s important to find a balance between being informed and being overwhelmed.  “Try to limit stressors.” He explains “Whether you’re doom-scrolling or glued to the anxiety-inducing 24-hour news channels, it is important that you consume news in a healthy way. Limit news consumption to set times during the day and preferably not when you should be relaxing, e.g. during meal times or at bed time.”

Recalibrate your priorities

When talking to our friends and colleagues, ‘Overwhelmed’ seems to be the word of the moment. But maybe we are adding to the overwhelm without realising. It’s easy, in crisis mode, to head full steam all areas of our lives in a bid to attack it or charge through it. However De Jonge says it’s actually better to take a step back and ask ourselves if we are prioritising the wrong things.  “Are you working too many hours? Have you said “Yes” too often and too easily? Have you booked up all your available time? Is everything important? Chances are you feel stressed and alienated from those close to you,” he says. In order to address this he suggests  recalibrating your priorities and reviewing how much time you spend on each habitual activity and scaling back the ones that aren’t so important. “You and those around you will be happier for it” he says.

Limit screen time

Our screens are as present in our work lives at the moment as they are in our home lives. As a result our work and home life are becoming increasingly blurred says De Jonge.  “Try to limit your screen time when you’re not working,” he says. “We all know how bad it can be for your health. Also, stress and sleep don’t mix, so it’s important to use the time before you go to bed to de-stress. Reduce your exposure to screens in the hours leading to bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens disrupts your sleep-wake cycle and can lead to wakefulness and lower quality sleep.”

Get off to a good start

When we hit the snooze button in the mornings, we tend to be late, and end up stressed, shouty with clothes on we don’t like..  De Jonge suggests we “Get up a little earlier, drink water and do some exercise. Prepare your breakfast without relying too much on processed food. Get some fresh air and try to absorb some natural daylight – it will help you sleep better. Decide which eight to ten tasks you would like to do today and make sure you accomplish the four or five most important tasks on that list. After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Stretch like an animal 

Whilst so many of us focus on being fit,  De Jonge says that stretching is just as important. “The multi-million-pound yoga industry is built around it,” he says “and animals understand this better than humans do. To wake yourself up after (hopefully!) having had a good sleep or sitting down for a long time, we get ready for movement and work by automatically stretching our body. It’s what’s called “natural pandiculation:” yawning, stretching your arms, arching your back, making yourself as stretched out as possible after first tensing your muscles. Try to become more aware of your own body by contracting your muscles, stretching out slowly and then releasing… it’s relaxing.”

www.peoplebusinesspsychology.com

The life coach and mentor: Susie Pearl, life coach, podcaster, author and cancer survivor

Susie Pearl
Life coach, author and mentor Susie Pearl
Make time for good nutrition

In times of stress it becomes all too easy to forget about eating well and going for convenience and processed foods. However, this isn’t doing us any favours whatsoever. In circumstances like the one we currently find ourselves in we should put making good, nutritious food at the top of our priority lists.  Susie Pearl says, “Drop the sugar, eat light and healthy, prepare nice meals for yourself and family. Make this the time you learn a couple of new recipes.” If you think making your own food takes too long, then follow Susie’s advice, “I have a rule that recipes have to be less than 20 mins or I am not doing it,” she says.  “Plan meals, eat balanced foods, avoid toxic intakes, try to avoid overdoing the alcohol, fizzy drinks, and sugar which will give you a false high and bring you back to earth with a bump.”

Get some routine

If you’re anything like us, since the start of COVID-19, it feels like the lines between work and home life have become somewhat blurred. Susie says, “Being at home means there is no structure to the day.” Her solution? To work out a plan and rhythm for your day and map it out.

“Get ready for the day time,” she says “With a meditation or a walk outside in nature if you can. Plan the structure of mealtimes, rest time, work time, children time, social online time, so that you get some variety and balance through the days.” 

Next, Susie recommends planning in some fun things. “It could be partying and dancing with some friends online –  whatever it is, keep the energy up and do what you like doing, even if that’s on your own.”

Don’t take on too much

Sometimes we have days when all we achieved was unloading the dishwasher and sending a few emails, and you know what? That’s ok. “Set small goals and feel you have made good strides – don’t try to overachieve right now. It is not the time,” says Susie.

Have strong boundaries 

Difficult times call for being decisive – if you can’t have that hour long conversation with your best friend, it’s fine to tell her you’ll chat another time. If your boss asks for that presentation by tomorrow, tell them it’s not possible.  “Whether it’s with work, family or friends, be clear on what is possible and what is not,” says Susie. “Dont feel bad about saying no to things. More than ever think carefully about what you say yes and no to.”

www.susiepearl.com

The neuropsychologist: Mara Klemich, founder of Heartsyles.com

Mara Klemich
Neuropsychologist Mara Klemich

Know that mindfulness is magic

“Mindfulness approaches are really helpful now” says Mara who has been helping front line medical workers lately to get through these unprecedented, tough times, “Practicing stopping and just noting one thing to be grateful for, no matter how small, is helpful to kick-start our thinking back into the positive” she says. Her examples are as follows “I love my sofa – sitting on it is so comfortable,” “I’m grateful for my neighbour who says hello through the fence/sends me a WhatsApp message to see how I’m doing,” or “I’m grateful for my plant/the trees in my garden or the bunch of flowers I bought at the supermarket”.” Treasure the small things.

Ask ’What is my true North?’

“When you have those times of feeling overwhelmed or you’re experiencing negative feelings – stop, take a couple of breaths and think “What’s my True North?”” says Mara. By this she means what is it that is the essence of you, that truly matters to you. “What I usually find is that it’s a main value I have, or Love. Whatever it is, stop – think about it, see it/feel it and take two breaths to anchor it in your mind and heart. This can help shift us back into positivity, or if not fully, then certainly it can conjure up some energy to keep you going.”

www.heartstyles.com

The clinical psychologist: Dr Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, LLC – Head of Therapy for self therapy app Bloom

Dr Seth Gillihan
Find mental moments of stillness

It’s important to check in with yourself throughout the day and remembering who you are rather than charging through everything mindlessly. Dr Seth Gillihan says “Let dark or anxious thoughts recede into the background as you find a closer connection with what’s real around you. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you feel in your body? Choose an activity throughout the day as a cue to remind you to come into the moment. Examples include waiting in line at the grocery, being stopped at a red light, washing your hands, mealtime, and bedtime.”

Practise the bedtime recap

One way of putting the positives at the forefront of your mind and building that positivity muscle is to write them down. Dr. Gilliham says “Put a pen and paper next to your bed so they’ll be waiting for you when you go to bed tonight. Before you turn off the light, write down three things that went well today. Make sure to include the role you played in why they went well. Allow these good things to fill your mind as you drift off to sleep.”

The Bloom app

Bloom is a self the self-therapy app that uses personalised video sessions to help users cope with stress, anxiety and depression. Had to www.enjoy bloom.com £13.99 a month

Don’t let the world get you down. If you enjoyed reading this, then why not max out on the good mood stuff with our other articles How to be Happy and Going through the emotions

We all know that lockdown didn’t have the same effect on all of us. Some people thrived, others felt utterly overwhelmed, for good reason. However Mara Klemich who is a top psychologist, neuro psychologist and co-founder of Heartstyles.com an indicator tool that can help us make the absolute best of our selves at work and at home , says that the one common denominator between us all is that we all know what this means for us a second time around. “We all learned that it’s really important to focus and prioritise our mental health,” she says. Her advice is to really focus on self-care, which includes proper sleep, routine daily exercise, harnessing positive social connections and staying mentally stimulated. “The most important thing to bear in mind is that we know how to do this!” she says.

Whether you are already in lockdown or are in Limbo like the rest of us, we asked Mara and other top experts for their advice on staying sane over the coming months. 

Learn from the first time 

“Use your experience during the initial lockdown to your advantage this time around,” says Mara. “Back in March, we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned what we did well to get through the stress of lockdown and we learned what we didn’t do so well. This is a massive positive advantage, so let’s see it that way. Think back to that time and now be proactive, take those steps that you know you needed to do to help sustain you, whether that’s social connection or self-care or coping skills.” Mara suggests making a list of what you know works and what doesn’t, and be intentional about how you will take control of your life during this time ahead.

Choose nutrition over toilet roll

In March the lockdown took us by (relative) surprise and with hindsight we realise that our priorities were a bit warped. With hindsight, we know that we were never short of toilet paper, but that eating well had the ability to vastly improve our mood, our wellbeing and ward off any illness.

We all know about the importance of eating fresh food and eating the rainbow (as many different coloured fruits and vegetables as possible), but nutritional therapist Karen Cummings-Palmer says there is also a lot of nutritional value in many packet and tinned food.  “When it comes to feeding ourselves and our families in these challenging times let’s focus on good and forget about perfection.  Whilst highly processed food is unhealthy, minimally processed food – think tinned, jarred and frozen – can the source of fast healthy nutrient dense meals.  

Nutritional therapist Karen Cummings-Palmer says there are a lot of tinned foods with amazing nutritional value

Her advice is to look for organic tinned food – it is not just about the contents (unlikely to have added sugar, preservatives and colours) but the context – some tins still contain low levels of toxic chemicals in the lining. 

“Having a store cupboard filled with foods that last months or even years means we can whip up delicious nutrition in minutes and we are far less likely to make unhealthy decisions” she says. Her advice is to stock up on good quality beans, albacore tuna in olive oil, frozen peas and herbs, tinned tomatoes and pulses that you don’t have to soak overnight.

Keep moving 

Research has shown that movement can seriously boost our immune system . According to immunologist Dr Jenna Macciochi, our lymphatic system (which carries the white blood cells around our body) only moves when we do. It is therefore vital that we get up from our desks to keep the lymph pumping throughout the day. It doesn’t have to be a full blown HIIT class – Jenna says that a walk will do – but it’s vital that we factor in movement into our day. 

Note: it is also important to remember that moving too much and exhausting yourself can also deplete your immune system so use your common sense about how much is too much.

Be mindful of mornings

We don’t need to be told this (hello The Social Dilemma), but too much tech will fry our brains. Yet with Zoom now the norm, and with limited people interaction right now , it is hard to avoid spending more time on our devices than ever. If we exercised consistently day in and day out we would burn out and the same goes for our brains – it needs downtime in order to function at its best.

One way of limiting technology is to keep the mornings free of it for the first few hours of the day. Maeve O’Sullivan Chinese Medicine practitioner and co-founder of escapadahealth.com in Ireland says this is also something that follows Ayurvedic principles. “Traditionally, those following an Ayurvedic lifestyle would dedicate the first hour or so of the day, before sunrise, attending to their own personal wellbeing, making sure they awoke early enough and refreshed enough to slowly greet each new day. The way we spend the first few moments of the morning undoubtedly has a huge impact on how we feel the rest of the day, which is why so many cultures and healing traditions see this as a sacred time of day. This time could include journaling, meditating or simply taking a few deep breaths and thoughts of gratitude for the new day.”

Self care is not self indulgent

Life was hard enough even before COVID-19 enveloped our lives. Maeve O’Sullivan says, “We can mistake the feeling of being under stress for having energy and this feeling can become addictive, so you run from early morning until late at night, turning yourself into an energiser bunny. Between holding down a job, maintaining relationships, and caring for a family, we can often negate the energy we earn from sleep, good food and good company. When we constantly put our bodies into overdraft, our mental health and physical health suffer resulting in anxiety, depression and physical ailments like skin breakouts, low immunity, digestive issues and much more. Our bodies, especially at time of such uncertainty, crave nourishment, stability and routine.”

So how often should be take time for ourselves? “The simple answer is everyday,” says Maeve, “It can be so beneficial to attach selfcare to some of your favourite beauty rituals like meditation, body brushing, and jade rolling. Not only do these beauty rituals have a fantastic effect on our skin health, they also have a wonderful impact on our inner health. These rituals also allow us the time to pause in our day, check in with how we are feeling and give back to our body so we start to pay back the overdraft from times when our bodies have been under more stress than normal.”

Stretch for success 

It’s all too easy at home to sink into our new working environment (both physically and metaphorically speaking), however according to stretch specialist and TED talker Robert Frampton, sitting for long periods  can put unnecessary pressure on the spine, which is our essential piece of machinery that interacts with the brain. He explains that the spine can also squash our butt muscles and close the front of our hips leading to wrecked posture. So what can we do? Robert suggests dedicating 10 minutes a day to stretching the tightest parts of the body. He recommends the following: 

The HIP Opener – Kneel on the floor with a wall behind you. Next, take one of your legs backwards so your shin is on the wall and you are kneeling on one knee. Then bring your other foot forward into a lunge position and there you have it, a strong feeling of stretch in the front of your back thigh. Spend 2 mins here each side. To make it easier bring the back knee slightly away from the wall. 

Shoulder opener – Sit on the floor, legs outstretched and place your hands behind you, shoulder width apart, elbows bent with your thumbs facing forwards. Next walk your body away from your hands and push the rib cage open. When doing this you should feel a strong stretch in front of your shoulders. Back off if you feel any pain and remain here for 3 minutes. Aim to keep the elbow above the hands. 

Ted Talker and stretch specialist Roger Frampton gives his advice on the importance of stretching
Stop the work traffic

For many of us, working from home is a blessing but it can also be a curse. With no ‘end of day’ finishing times, work and home life can become a blur, especially if you work for yourself. One way that we can draw a line is to instill a traffic light approach that many life coaches use. 

It works like this: When you’re working you’re on green and are full-steam ahead. As it gets into the early-evening you stay on orange meaning you’re relatively alert and can pick up work if needed. But set yourself a deadline, for example beyond 8pm, you’re onto red meaning you ignore emails and calls. This will allow you to wind down for the evening and get work off of your mind right before bed.

Identify your coping skills

We have all had our moments in the last year –  whether due to work, family life or the juggle of it all  – when we’ve been overwhelmed and feel unable to cope. Psychologist Mara says it’s important that we identify three specific things we can do to cope with high-stress situations, and most importantly, to actively use them. “These are things that you do when you know the stress levels are going up and self-care isn’t enough,” she says “It could be things like breathing techniques, practicing gratitude by speaking it aloud or writing it down, a walk outside, listening to a specific playlist. Find three and use them intentionally and regularly.”

Plan ahead

Whilst many of us feel like planning ahead is not something we are capable of right now, Mara stresses that it’s important to have a routine.  “We learned that in the first lockdown,” she says

“So be intentional about scheduling your work time, and your socialising time, your exercise time, and your “just being” time.

Identify your trouble spots

We all had our individual stresses and triggers in lockdown. For some it was home schooling, for others it was 24/7 Zoom fatigue. It is key to identify your problem area (the one that triggers stress) and plan ways that might make it easier a second time round. For example for us we felt overwhelmed by relentless cooking and coming up with new ideas for the family. We’ll be investing in a meal delivery service from now on such as www.gousto.co.uk who deliver fresh ingredients for tasty meals straight to your door.

The other day I found myself staring at the walls of my office, head a little foggy (I know what you’re thinking – no I wasn’t hungover), yet I was unable to physically and mentally crack my own whip. I knew there was a lot of work to do, and a pile of admin to tackle but, I was struck with a mental paralysis that wouldn’t allow me to move forward.

It appears I’m not alone. Speaking to my friends and colleagues recently, motivation is hard to muster right now. Mindset coach Alister Grey couldn’t agree more and says that the current uncertainty in the air is causing us to flounder, “When there’s uncertainty, we tend to feel there’s nothing to look forward to and we can wander aimlessly through our work and our days.” 

So how can we put the motor back in our Mojo? We spoke to 35 Thousand founder and executive coach Misty Reich as well as Alister about how to rediscover our enthusiasm.

INVESTIGATION DEMOTIVATION

Misty explains that there is no singular solution to reigniting motivation as it depends on the root cause . She suggests asking taking some time to really ask yourself where this lack of motivation is coming from. For example, is it because you are disillusioned with your job? Are you overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work on your plate or is your mood generally just low?

Below are some reasons that may affect your motivation levels and some potential solutions from our experts.

YOU MAY BE MENTALLY SPENT

Let’s face it, right now you probably have a lot going on. Whether you’ve been juggling the return to school shenanigans with a full-blown back-to-work schedule, or you’re starting a business, a new job, or looking for work, we all have a lot on our brains right now. The impact of COVID-19 has been enormous and your brain dip may be due to sheer mental overload, and as a result, exhaustion. 

Solution 1: Find what makes your heart sing

Alistair says it’s hugely important to rediscover what makes your heart sing. “Finding motivation is about finding purpose,” he says, “It’s about finding the ‘why’ that drives you.” This he says doesn’t mean you have to try and find a ‘life purpose’ but to put your focus on a project or topic that inspires you.  He is a big believer in the saying, ‘Where your focus goes your energy grows,’ “If we are focussing on the negatives then we aren’t going to feel motivated but more disempowered. But if we put our attention on the things that matter to us then the energy will come back.”

Solution 2: Walk it out

Misty has a practical tip for when she feels emotionally and mentally drained and that is to go for a walk which she says will “Consciously get oxygen to my brain.” If Misty is really tired then she finds that a short power nap will reboot her mentally and physically. 

YOU MAY BE OVERWHELMED

Your child may be struggling at school, at the same time you may be having to cover three people’s jobs after a post COVID reshuffle, meanwhile you are working from home and the house chores and your work life are all blurring into one. Sound familiar?  We can feel like a rabbit in the headlights when we have so many things to do and don’t know where to start . 

Solution 1: Clear the Clutter

For Misty, simply clearing her desk or organising her office can give her a sense of organisation that will also unlock her brain and help her to think more clearly. 

Misty’s other solution is to clear your mental space of clutter. When your brain feels like a washing machine, she suggests doing a mind map. If you are unfamiliar with the concept, it’s a diagram used to visually organise information. It is often created around a single concept which is normally placed in the centre of the drawing. Major ideas then branch off the centre piece and smaller ideas branch off those, “This” she says, “Can especially help creative people who don’t think in a linear way. I find I come up with ideas from a mindmap that I just wouldn’t with a list.”

An example of a mind map
Solution 2: Focus on one thing 

For Alistair, his greatest hack is to be present and to focus on one task at a time.”Focus and get immersed in it,” he says “Multitasking is actually a myth as we are really ‘switch tasking’ and in the process we lose up to 40% productivity and get overwhelmed. If you focus on one task at a time and go through your day like that, then things flow more easily. It is the fear of how much you have to do that is stopping you moving forward not the actual task itself.”

YOU MAY HAVE A FEAR OF FAILURE

Many of us feel we don’t really want to start a project or a big task unless we can do it perfectly or guarantee it’s going to go exactly as planned. 

Solution 1: Eat the Frog

For Misty, when she gets like that she decides to pick something she doesn’t want to do and she does it first. She recommends Brian Tracy’s book, Eat That Frog (above) which is about doing the hard things first. If you force yourself to do this then there is a sense of achievement and breakthrough that will then lead you onto the next task.

How to hack your motivation
Misty recommends this book which is about tackling the hardest task first
Solution 2: Just take the first step

Fear of judgement or failure stops people making the next step explains Alistair. “ Just take the first step and trust it, when you take action and get in the game it’s not as daunting as you first think.” After the first step, he explains, the second step will then become  clearer.

It may be psychological

Times are hard right now and it’s only natural that many of us feel down or low occasionally. The result is that you just can’t face doing anything. 

Solution 1: Talk it out

Misty says that sometimes feeling low can stop her feeling motivated at work. She finds two solutions effective  – the first is talking to someone, “Unless you think it’s necessary to go to therapy, it can also be very effective talking to a friend or a close colleague,” she says, “Find people you can create a network with.” Another remedy she has is to write down what she is feeling, “ There’s something about sitting down with a pen that separates you from it and allows you to see an issue from a different perspective.”

(Note: If you feel you or a friend are in need or professional help, please see information at the bottom of this article)

You may just need to kick your own butt

Occasionally you don’t need to dig around for a reason behind your lack of motivation, it may be that you are just being a bit lazy and need to admit it.  

Solution 1: Tackle one tiny thing

Misty says she knows this is the case when she realises that it’s not that she lacks energy, “I’m just not doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” she says. If that’s the case then her top tip is to do her mind map and make a list of the things she has to do. 

She also picks the smallest thing on the list that would make an impact on what she’s trying to accomplish, “I say to myself, what’s the easiest thing I can do? So I pick something really teeny tiny and it makes me feel satisfied that I have at least accomplished something.”

Solution 2: Set an intention

Alistair recommends setting your mind up  for the day ahead at the beginning of the day. He uses affirmations to help him visualise himself having a successful day. “‘You have a choice,” he says  “Tell yourself that you will choose for it to be great, that you will smash it and immerse yourself in it.’” Alistair says he also sets an intention for how he will feel the following morning such as ”Tomorrow I will wake up with full vitality and energy – it’ s amazing the impact this has” he says.

and finally…

Be kind to yourself

It’s important if you don’t feel motivated that you don’t beat yourself up about it. “Don’t forget the importance of how you are going to define success in your day” says Misty. “Pre COVID-19  we may have squeezed every last drop of productivity out of our days, however life is really not normal right now and even if you are going back to an office, life will not be normal there either.  If you actually only achieve one small thing in your day then anything else will be a bonus.”

Notes on mental health

Confidential mental health helplines

Please note that these tips are not meant to be a replacement for speaking with a licensed therapist and/or a psychiatrist. Please do not be afraid to seek help if you feel that you or someone else is struggling and could benefit from it. Contact your local GP, family doctor or insurance company and/or your local government/ council to seek other government funded resources for mental health

US – SAMHSA (Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

UK – MIND – Call 0300 123 3393 or text SHOUT to 85258 which is a crisis textile for support in a crisis www.giveusashout.org/get-help/

If you enjoyed reading this, you might enjoy hearing what TED talker Mo Gawdat has to say on happiness here

Mo Gawdat is a Ted talker and a best-selling author on the subject of happiness. He has partnered with bath, body and self care brand Rituals to help them reinforce their mission which is to help people slow down and take a breath, especially in these difficult times, but essentially help them how to be happy.

Mo Gawdat wasn’t always a happiness speaker or a happiness author. He started out his career at IBM before moving to Microsoft and Google where he became Chief Business Officer of Google X which he said was ‘Probably the most innovative place on the planet.” With a beautiful wife and two children he felt he should have everything, but yet he says now he still felt depressed.

But then tragically he experienced the loss of his 21 year old son when a routine operation went horribly wrong. As unbelievably difficult as this was, Mo says ‘When you suffer this kind of loss, for many, it’s a defining moment which can lead us to avoid the world and into decay. But for others, like me, I found an opportunity.”

Rituals’ Ritual of of the Happy Buddha Happy Foaming ShowerGel

Mo’s daughter shared with him a conversation she and his son Ali had had a few weeks before his death. “Ali told his sister that he dreamt he was everywhere and part of everyone” he says. Mo saw this not just as a sign to create something good out of something horrific, but he also saw it as a goal. He ended up writing his international bestselling book Solve for Happy and gave himself a target for its’ message to reach 10 million people. But when Channel 4 did an interview with him that went viral, it reached 87 million viewers in just 4 days. Mo and his team then upped the target to make 1 billion people happy which led to Mo travelling the world to spread the word.

As part of his collaboration with Rituals (for which he is unpaid), Mo explains here the fundamentals of his beliefs in happiness.

Don’t mistake happiness for fun

“We have mistakenly understood happiness as fun,” says Mo. “Happiness is peacefulness, a calm inside you when you are ok with life as it is. When you have that feeling in you, you are able to perform better.” Mo goes on to explain that a study at Stanford university shows that people who are happy are in general 12% more happy in whatever they do.

Why is happiness important?

“People care so much about being healthy, and the reason for that is because healthy is the optimum mode we can perform in life,” Mo explains. “We don’t want to be unhealthy as it’s not an optimum way of performing or surviving . Similarly happiness is an optimum way of performing in life. People who are happy are proven to be more productive, they are more loved by their colleagues and clients and more engaged in what they do and report less absence.”

We need a happiness intervention

“People who aren’t happy are losing their lives  – depression is at an all-time high, as are suicide rates” says Mo. ” Until 20 to 30 years ago it was very rare for a woman to take her own life. Today it is 10-15 times higher than that.”

Mo himself understands what it feels like to suffer depression through his own battles, “When I was in my late 20’s I really struggled ” he says. As an engineer and a mathematician and a self-confessed control freak, Mo admits he was probably overly critical with himself ” I think all the time, and I criticised myself all the time which made me constantly unhappy. I attempted to find a predictable path to happy.”

On the outside it would appear that Mo had it all – a beautiful wife, great wealth, two beautiful children – and therefore he figured there must be something wrong with the code of his brain. After his so died and feeling he needed to ‘debug the code in his head’ he set out on a mission to try to understand what causes unhappiness, to discover “What bugs where in my code” he says.

Rituals Sweet Orange and Cedar wood Perfume D’Interieur
Happiness cannot be attained

The first eye-opening statement Mo discovered was very simple, that happiness is never going to be bought. “All the money, vacations, clothes, fancy gadgets and cars – none of it would make me happy because happiness cannot be attained,” he says. He goes on to explain that if you look at babies who are content (when they are fed, warm, loved, clean) you realise that we are born happy. “Happiness doesn’t come to us, it is within us, it is our default setting,” he says, “Babies don’t ask for X Box’s to be happy, or someone to like their butt shot on Instagram. Looking for reasons to be happy is not the answer, but looking for reasons that make us unhappy and removing them is.”

The happy list

Mo describes a very simple exercise that makes people really think about what makes them happy, something he says we don’t do enough of. It involves taking a piece of paper and finishing the sentence ‘I feel happy when…..’ five times. This he explains, could be as simple as having a good cup of coffee, a hug, or listening to music.

What Mo saw (and you will see if you do it at home) was that when you look at your list, you realise that most of the items are very simple. He goes on to suggest that it is a great practise to invite these things into your life on a daily or weekly basis. 

The other observation he found was that “You won’t find all the things that society lied to you about on that list.” By this, he means that you won’t find “I feel happy when I’ve bought a Ferrari” on the list. “As a matter of fact,” he says “Very few people feel happy when they’ve bought a Ferrari for more than 3 minutes – most people who buy a Ferrari get inside and say ‘When am I going to get my Lambhorgini.'”

Mo also says that no one ever writes ‘I will feel happy when I win the Nobel Prize.’ ” In fact when you ask those that won the Nobel Prize they say they felt happier when they achieved the breakthrough that lead to the Nobel prize,” he says. The prize itself wasn’t what made them happy.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Mo also discovered that every moment in your lives we have ever felt unhappywasn’t because of what was happening in our lives but because of a comparison between your life and how you want your life to be. He gives an example about his experience of rain in the UK. “Rain doesn’t make us happy or unhappy,” he says “The reason we feel unhappy about rain is because it misses our expectations of how life should behave.”

The happiness equation

Mo realised that if he could find the reasons behind unhappiness he could list them down, or even better, as an engineer he could find an equation to solve it. He went about his mission as he would an engineering test. “When you get a system that gets results that seem unpredictable, you plot the results on the chart and attempt to find a trend line.” Which is exactly what he did. This is the equation he came up with:

Your happiness = to or is > the difference between the events of your life and your expectation of how life should behave

(Your happiness equals or is greater than the difference between the events of your life and your expectation of how life should behave) Translated: If the event surpasses expectations you will be happy, if it misses expectations then you won’t.

Fun is a painkiller

“Happiness is this peaceful feeling,” says Mo, “And yet we confuse it with going to the pub, dancing at a party or jumping out of a plane. We mix it up with a target – something we aspire to achieve. Fun is not happiness, pleasure is not happiness they are weapons of mass distraction” he warns. “They are things we have replaced happiness with. These are things that numb our brains long enough that we don’t solve the happiness equation. Fun never lasts but we use it as a painkiller, and whilst it’s a dose of numbness it doesn’t fix the problem.”

Side note: Mo also explains that there is nothing wrong with fun if you are already happy – it’s like a supplement or vitamin he says that can boost our wellbeing.

So how do we solve the happiness problem? 

We have to first understand what unhappiness is. “it’s important to understand that unhappiness is a survival mechanism,” he explains, “Your brain is responsible for analysing the world around it and warning you if there is something that threatens your survival.” Our brains can create all sort of stories that will make us unhappy, “These cause pain emotionally or physically,” he says ,”They tell us things aren’t perfect and that you may want to take action. I’m not saying we shouldn’t feel the pain as life can be difficult, but when we play it over and over like the ‘Netflix of Unhappiness’ then that’s when it’s really damaging,” he says.

“Unhappiness in that case is a choice. It is a choice for me to play over the over the loss of my son which makes me suffer, but in reality I can choose to play over and over the birth of my son and the 21 beautiful years I was blessed with.”

Remember that the good in life naturally outweighs the bad

If you are struggling with negativity right now (and let’s face it who isn’t?) then Mo explains that, when you look at life, moments when everything is ok are many many more than when things are aren’t.  “If you were born in 1900” for example “Then by 1914, 22 million people would have died in WW1. By 1922 50 million people would have died of the Spanish flu. By the end of WWII, 75 million people would have died, and by 1950 300 million people would have died by Smallpox. The truth is when you think about it we have been blessed in life.”

Mo has collaborated with www.rituals.com to set up a two week happiness challenge with tips and exercises to grow your happiness muscle. Until 19th September.

If you like this article you may like to read about How to Hack your own Motivation here

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In part 1, yogi, author, actress, model and cancer survivor Sara Quiriconi (AKA @Livefreewarrior) told us how she finds her way out of a panic spiral, here she tells us how, on a daily basis she works to prevent an anxiety attack getting to that point.

“Feeling stressed out? You’re not alone. Whether you’re working from home, self-quarantined, you’ve been made redundant or you’re just feeling the effects of the information the news is pouring at us, with matters taken out of our control, anxiety is at an all-time high. 

Even in times that you feel emotionally well, it’s important to use emotional maintenance tools to prevent anxiety from setting in. While therapy can be a useful option, it may not be at the moment for many reasons. However, the following tools are what I use daily to manage anxiety and emotions, and which can be useful in these unsettling times for staying as balanced as is humanly possible.

EAT OPTIMALLY

While we may not be able to control the world around us, we do have 100% control over what we put into our bodies. Every day I make it a point to eat a broad range of healthy, high-fiber and nutrient-dense foods. These particular foods help my moods and keep my immune system feeling strong and resilient. 

It’s never a good time to get sick, but especially right now, keeping my immune system sharp is at the top of my priority list. I’ve been loading up on nature’s Vitamin C foods, such as berries, oranges, tomatoes, and other summer fruits, including watermelon, melon and cherries. Not only are they hydrating, they’re also packed with nourishing vitamins and powerful antioxidants.

In Ayurvedic medicine, when one feels an imbalance in their Dosha energies (there are three: Pitta, Vata and Kapha), it’s believed you can heal those imbalances with the right foods. Typically, in the United States, you’d eat these foods in the fall time, to help us ground with the change in seasons. I believe they have the ability to ground us now too. Which is why I’ve been eating more cooked root vegetables and cooked squashes, such as sweet potatoes, butternut and spaghetti squash, zucchini and beets. All of these foods are grown close to the earth and provide an inner sense of warmth and comfort.

MEDITATION

Without a still mind, we are nothing more than a machine. A mind with constant chatter can be a very unsettling and loud, chaotic place, which is why I meditate.

I’m far from being the perfect meditator – often in fact I allow my mind just to wander off and see where it goes. Successful meditation isn’t about emptying the mind to be completely blank. Successful meditation is putting in that effort to be alone with yourself, with no additional external influences. It’s to have that space to SEE what comes to mind, to become aware of when your mind wanders off to other subjects, and to practice bringing your focus back to one point or target (typically your breath but it can be a candle light, or even a spot on the floor). 

Every morning, I take 10 minutes in the morning to sit, breathe, think, wander, and practice, before checking my phone, and even pouring myself water or coffee. I practice bringing my thoughts back to my breathing, my body moving subtly with my breath, and focusing on my own personal mantra and power phrase that reminds me of my personal goals and purpose in life. 

ALLOWING MYSELF TO BE 

I’ve recognized at this point in my life, that being positive and happy all the time is just not sustainable. It’s human to feel sad, disappointed, hurt, upset and angry. To feel and have emotion IS to be human.

What do I do in those emotional times? I give myself to permission to be. I give myself permission to cry when I need to (however, I put a time limit on it) instead of holding back tears to be tough. I give myself permission to take it easy some mornings instead of ploughing through the to-do list on my calendar. I give myself permission to blow off the afternoon and watch something on Netflix for an hour if I’m inspired to, instead of working on the next client project. I give myself permission to self-preserve, and let go of the pressure that I need to achieve something incredible during this time period. 

Give yourself to permission to BE too.

YOGA & MOVEMENT

Movement is a a non-negotiable for me in my day. In fact, I schedule in an hour in my calendar and day specifically for yoga, running, or some form of exercise. It doesn’t have to be the full hour, or it can even be split up in the day. For example, running in the morning, practicing yoga and abs later in the afternoon. Either the time or movement is a daily part of my lifestyle, no matter what.

I have a few mindset habits that help me stick to it: I leave my yoga mat out next to my desk to stretch whenever throughout the day. My running sneakers, headphones, and hat for running are by the door, ready to go for some outdoor air. And, I have a set run route and yoga practice that I complete, making this habit excuse-proof. 

That consistency of doing something good for my body that leaves it energized, awakened, and renewed is empowering, leaving me feeling resilient for whatever stress the day brings my way. 

You can do it to. With a bit of planning, it’s easy to make movement (and any of these healthy activities) a part of your daily routine as well. 

How to prevent anxiety
MAKING A “REVERSE BUCKET LIST”

You cancelled your summer trip. Spring break just didn’t happen. Visiting the family last month is impossible with air travel bans. What the…argh!?

You’re not alone in this #FML feeling. We’ve all had to cancel our travel in some way or another, myself included. As a wellness travel content creator and actor, I missed out on a lot plans that were in the calendar and flight plans that now are just impossible. 

Instead of dwelling on what I am not doing on my future bucket list, I’m looking back and creating a reverse bucket list. Where did I go in the past four or five years? Looking back through old hard drives and video files, what memories did I maybe forget or pass by? What locations did I surprisingly love when I visited? Who were some of the amazing individuals I was fortunate to connect with on my adventures? 

Reversing this list shows me all that my bucket is already full. Suddenly, anything that can happen in the future now feels like extra cherries on top.

GETTING GOOD SLEEP

Quality sleep is related to our personal well-being in just about every aspect. There’s not one element of our well-being that isn’t correlated, so why not put more of a priority towards the activity we spend 1/3 of our lives doing?

In times of uncertainty, it’s easier said than done however – anxious thoughts are rob those precious REM cycles and Zzz’s in the night. Habits that help me get better quality sleep in difficult times  are:

• going to bed and waking up the same time each day — weekends included

• no eating or snacking 2-3 hours prior to bedtime

• leaving my phone and other connected devices (email and social media, in particular) in another room after 9:30m

•   creating the optimal sleep environment, including a cool temperature, light and noise blocking

•   watching a relaxing series, reading a book before bed, and journaling in my gratitude journal (see below)

DISCONNECT FROM SOCIAL MEDIA

It’s human to feel, and it’s human to compare. Social media gives us both of those elements. Except, looking and scrolling on social media endlessly won’t get you any closer to actually achieving your life goals unless you get off the platform and start doing them in your real life. 

When I find myself getting sucked into the rabbit hole scroll, I take a pause, recognize what I’m doing, what I’m feeling and if I can, acknowledge why I’m doing it. Often I’m avoiding doing something else that I really need to get done and am procrastinating; or, feel the pressure to keep up with the comments, DMs, and what others are doing to stay “connected.” 

To be honest, the only connection and ‘like’ that truly matters the most is the one I have with myself. When I give myself that pause to break away from posting, sharing or commenting, I have so much more creative energy to actually accomplish some of the other creative endeavors I’m truly passionate about. For examples, acting, learning new monologues or accents, developing the script for a short film, writing fresh wellness blogs, or editing a new travel “reverse bucket list” video. These are equally, if not more, important for my creativity and connection than social media. Then, the only person I need to compare myself to is to my own self that I was yesterday  Remember that, and apply it to yourself as well. 

DEVELOP PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE

“Always learning” is a phrase in my life that I take seriously. I need to be learning and taking in new information to feel alive, creative and involved in my artistic crafts to continuously be inspired. Plan ahead, so that you don’t feel stuck in the moments you need them the most. What I do is, instead of having to search for them, I keep a log, or playlist, that’s ready to just hit play. These vary, depending on the inner emotion or motivation I’m in need of in that moment, but here’s a quick list of examples I keep on hand:

On YOUTUBE:

For motivation, search “Simon Sinek” for an honest dose of motivation.

For creativity, I’m personally getting back into acting and have been  listening to Backstage (in particular, Ricky Gervais & Giancarlo Esposito) for insights on the film and TV industry.

Other APPS:

For learning, I’m a huge fan of both 12 Min (listen to best-sellers in 12 minutes, give or take) and MasterClass (learning a variety of crafts from masters in their art forms).

For more education and self-inspiration, I purchased both eBooks “Girl, Stop Apologizing” and my own “Living Cancer Free” eBook. And, in eMagazine version, I purchased an annual subscription of “Conde Naste Traveller” and “Travel + Leisure.”

These particular topics may not relate directly to your interests. But, I encourage you to look in various mediums and forms for tools that inspire you to keep your head high, informed and always learning too. 

ACKNOWLEDGE GRATITUDE

It’s no secret, expressing gratitude is the attitude of true wealth. Being grateful for what you already do have increases your feel-good emotions, and puts you into the present moment. Instead of wishing you had more into the future, or what you had in the past, gratitude shows you all that you already do own in this current moment. 

What more would one need to fill our own cups full of thanks? Well, we’re tricky humans and always need or want more. And, that’s OK to want better for ourselves! However, when we only focus on more, or what was, that’s where the negativity and unsettling thoughts can creep in. 

This is a newer practice for me, but every night before bed, I jot down in a beautiful journal I was gifted on a recent trip to Indonesia three things I’m grateful for from my day that has passed. That not only reminds me to keep a mental tally during the day to jot down at night, it’s also gives me something beautiful and positive to dream on.”

@livefreewarrior

Read about how Sara manages emotions with different yoga poses here

Notes on mental health:
Please note that these tips are not meant to be a replacement for speaking with a licensed therapist and/or a psychiatrist. Please do not be afraid to seek help if you feel that you or someone else is struggling and could benefit from it. Contact your local GP, family doctor or insurance company and/or your local government/ council to seek other government funded resources for mental health.
Confidential mental health helplines:
US – SAMHSA (Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
UK – MIND – Call 0300 123 3393 or text SHOUT to 85258 which is a crisis textile for support in a crisis www.giveusashout.org/get-help/

Yogi, model, author, actress and cancer survivor Sara Quiriconi AKA @livefreewarrior has suffered from anxiety since her teens. She describes, in her own words, how she pulls herself out of a spiral of panic

“There’s no doubt, we’re all under a lot of stress at the moment. Challenging times can trigger even the most trained leaders and wellness experts, and anxiety inevitably stirs up a load of conflicting emotions in all of us. I’m no exception. The other day, I had an anxiety attack – in a ball, on my bed, huddled in a pile of pillows, drowning in my own tears. Instantly, the self critic chimed in, “And you’re the wellness leader, huh?” My immediate reply was to shut that inner critic up, which went along the lines of, “Yes! This is happening to me, and that’s OK. After all, I’m human too.

The truth is, I’ve struggled for years with anxiety. Since I was a teenager, I was prone to deal with stresses worse than most. In moments of great stress, or when I take on too many tasks, the familiarity of that panic comes on strong. I was anxious as a kid, and as teenage years crept in, it seemed to get worse in the peer environment. 

Other empaths will agree that perhaps the world’s emotions always sit heavier on us than most. However, I have never accepted the idea that a mental disorder or issue has to be a life-long sentence. I believe that with awareness, education and will, anything is possible.

Fortunately, over the years, and through a lot of self-education, I now have better tools to cope and deal with those moments when anxiety builds to overflowing. Below is my toolkit for managing panic and next week (in Part 2) I’ll write about the daily maintenance I use to stay emotionally buoyant. These include Yoga, good nutrition, exercise and sleep, all of which I feel are  required to prevent an attack coming back or having to live with underlying low level anxiety. Ever had the jitters having too much coffee? Then you know what I’m talking about.

Photographs taken from Sara’s Instagram @LiveFreeWarrior
HOW I MANAGE AN ANXIETY ATTACK

Time and experience have helped me to manage the symptoms of an anxiety attack. I am able to recognize what’s happening in the moment they occur. The feeling of my chest getting tighter, the lack of ability to breathe freely, and the flood of overwhelming thoughts all coming at once — they now feel quite familiar to me. I hope this can help those of you unfamiliar to the feelings.

The great news is that I am able to recognize these feelings and give them a name, such as ‘There’s panic.’ Once I can name it, I can slightly detach myself from it, then use the tools below that I’ve developed with time to help calm the panic. 

Take the focus out of the fear

There’s a saying that goes, “Where your focus goes, your energy flows.” Wherever you focus your mind, your body will follow, which can be the upside and downside of the power of the mind. 

Just Breathe

If you focus on the fear of the attack, it will only increase it. Instead, it’s important to focus on something else such as your breathing –  inhale and exhale slowly, and continuously and focus on the breathe coming in and going out. Say ‘breathe in’ and ‘breathe out’ slowly in your mind as you do so, or even say it out loud if you need to. Focusing on the breath, you’re able to see instantly what you can control, rather than what you can’t. 

Focus around you

The mind is where the attack is happening, and the body’s reaction is the by-product of the thoughts. Look for inanimate objects around you, and say them out loud. For example, if you’re in the living room, see your sofa and literally say out loud or in your mind, “sofa.” Then, move on to the next object you find. And so on. This is taking you out of your head into the real world.

You’re now putting the mind to work on things it can focus on in reality that truly do exist. Giving the objects a name helps to create an image and connection in your mind of past knowledge and present situations, rather than focusing internally to what’s happening to you. This in turn gives your body and mind time to calm too.

Journaling

Journaling helps me to see my fears out on paper and recognize the emotion, rather than stifle it. A common fear I experience is that I won’t be able to get out of the situation I am, or I feel stuck. That feeling of ‘no-way-out’ could be due to an overwhelming workload, emotional anger from a disagreement, or not being able to visualize or foresee an opportunity working out in the future. 

All of these fears, when they build up to an anxiety attack, can leave me with a feeling of a giant rock or weight that’s compressing on my chest. It can result in a feeling that I cannot breathe, that I’m gasping for air, or that the thoughts keep pouring into to mind with no end in sight.

Journaling helps me to take those thoughts out of my mind, so that I can see an end, and begin to carve out a foreseeable path. Then, the fear doesn’t seem so scary after all. 

Watch what you eat after your attack

Lowering the amount of caffeine I drink and eating plenty of greens helps to calm my body and my mind. In addition to what I’m consuming, certain Yoga poses help to soothe the anxiety as well. 

My go-to poses are forward folds, reclining bound angle pose with my hands on my chest and breathing, and child’s pose. These all help to compress the heart, like a gentle massage while I breathe through the anxiety until it passes or subsides.

Don’t feel guilty about indulging in rest

Rest, and good sleep, is the basis and foundation for all of our personal wellbeing. When overload hits, sometimes the best thing I can do in the afternoon is close the laptop, and grab a book, or watch a funny show on Netflix.

When you’ve rested enough, move

Yoga and movement help to lower my stress levels and prove an inner, personal strength that empowers me. I always joke, when I’m feeling down, I always do abs at the gym to build a stronger core — physically, but more so, spiritually. 

Dont try to control it

Remember that feeling unsettled may seem out of your control, however, that’s an emotion and a feeling.Situations don’t control us, our reactions and emotions attached to them do. So, let them go, focus on what you can and be free from what you cannot. Admit that thought to yourself and you’re one step closer to feel settled in the here and now. 

On a personal note, thank you to 35 Thousand for offering the space to share this personal, intimate experience and touch on these deeper emotions. If you, personally, struggle with anxiety, you’re not alone and there are tools that can really help. If you know of someone who is struggling, perhaps this article was insightful to you to understand what s/he is going through. Please do share with someone who could benefit from reading this. Together, we’re stronger, and empathy is a strength, never a weakness.

Look out for Part 2 next week – How Sara maintains daily emotional wellbeing and prevents anxiety  

Read about how Sara manages emotions with different yoga poses here

Notes on mental health
Please note that these tips are not meant to be a replacement for speaking with a licensed therapist and/or a psychiatrist. Please do not be afraid to seek help if you feel that you or someone else is struggling and could benefit from it. Contact your local GP, family doctor or insurance company and/or your local government/ council to seek other government funded resources for mental health.
Confidential mental health helplines
US – SAMHSA (Substances Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
UK – MIND – Call 0300 123 3393 or text SHOUT to 85258 which is a crisis textile for support in a crisis www.giveusashout.org/get-help/

 

 

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How are you feeling right now? Anxious? Distressed? Sad? Lazy? Angry? Worried? Lonely? In this confusing, unprecedented Corona hurricane, many of us are experiencing emotions that we’ve never felt before in our lives, or have never felt them so intensely. These feelings can often overwhelm us, and if left unchecked can potentially spiral out of control especially if we are at home with little to distract us. However we can also take control and with a little guidance, we can help ourselves change the way we feel.

Mara Klemich is a Psychologist and Clinical Neuropsychologist and can help us to understand why we act the way we do. She is an expert in how our minds and hearts affect human behaviour and how to change for the better. Having worked within hospitals, within murder trials and leading trauma teams in natural disasters, she also brings neuroscience into the areas of leadership development, consulting, coaching and counselling, and as an executive coach, helps to develop leaders at CEO and senior executive level to bring about change both personally and professionally. Her recent book, which she has co-written with her husband Stephen (a Leadership and Culture Development Consultant,) ‘Above the Line – Living and leading with Heart’, is based on their model Heartstyles, a hugely successful indicator used by businesses that helps us to recognize the deep fundamental drivers of human behaviour (the indicator has been translated into 25 languages).

Psychologist and Neurospychologist Mara Klemich

We spoke to Mara to find out how we can bring ourselves out of a negative emotional state. Here she gives us tips, both physiological (our brain and body) and psychological (our thoughts, emotions and behaviours) that can help all of us navigate these difficult times.

If you are feeling unfocussed

Strategy: Create physical spaces at home

With so many of us WFH at the moment, it’s inevitable that the lines can get blurred between home and work life. It’s easy to find yourself working from an armchair whilst watching the news for example, or even from bed in the mornings. However Mara says that it’s incredibly important to create places of work that gives us structure and certainty. “What’s happened is that we have been enclosed in a single space for quite a long time, and our neurological makeup doesn’t know what to do with that.”

Mara’s advice is to create a mental space for yourself by physically devoting an area to work. “The Coronavirus and its far-reaching effects has happened to us,” she says, “Which can leave us feeling out of control . It’s very important, as human beings, that we feel in control.”

She also suggests creating a ‘space’ for other areas of our lives, such as a place where you can exercise or keep your exercise equipment, “Creating spaces devoted to particular purposes can give us a sense of “different” places  at home (like we’re normally used to when we have a free ability to get about.”

If you’re feeling worried

Strategy: Let go of trying to gain certainty (by worry) and try to gain clarity (by concern)

If Google search is anything to go by, searches for the word ‘anxiety’ globally are currently at an all time high. “Mentally,” says Mara, “We are pretty much in a constant state of uncertainty about every aspect of our lives right now.” Whether we are concerned about our wellbeing, our children’s schooling (or lack of it in some cases), financial security, our job, or our friends and family,  this whirlpool of worry can hugely impact our sleep patterns and our mood.

“Uncertainty makes our brain search for answers,” explains Mara, “When we can’t find them, our minds will create scenarios going around and around trying to create a picture of certainty. That’s called worry.”

Of course, as we know, worrying doesn’t solve things. As long as we’re focusing on trying to solve questions with unknowable answers and circumstances outside of our personal control, this strategy will get us nowhere—apart from make us feel drained, anxious, and overwhelmed. Worry doesn’t actually change our circumstances. BUT it can change us, and not in a good way – it can spiral us into anxiety. This causes our brain’s usual blood flow in the frontal areas (where our mechanisms like insight, objectivity, analysis, logic are) to get pushed into the back part of the brain where our Fight/Flight areas are. This means that not only will our emotions be heightened by anxiety but our brain and body will also be on high alert. We will become psychologically and physiologically anxious, and will keep running scenarios around and around in our minds – trying to get certainty.” A bit like a hamster on a wheel, no matter how fast, or how hard it goes, it won’t get you anywhere.

So what is the solution? Mara says it’s very important to differentiate between worry and concern. Worry, she says, creates endless scenarios which are not normally grounded in facts, whilst concern allows us to be a little more objective. Concern, she explains, lets us discern facts and as a result, some good judgement to make decisions. Mara says that being concerned, can lead to a balanced assessment, whilst worry just leads to a messy vortex of anxiety. The more we can operate on facts instead of assumptions, the calmer we will be.

Mara and her husband Stephen’s book is based on many years of clinical research and their human behaviour indicator Heartstyles

Problem: You are feeling anxious

Unless we can somehow manage our worries or fears then it can escalate into anxiety where you can feel a perpetual state of fear. Mara explains that anxiety is often not about what is happening to us in the present moment but more about things that may happen in the future. Fixating too much on these fears can send us into an anxiety spiral, which she says actually has a physical effect on our brains. She explains that it’s important to stay present, remember to breathe properly to re-oxygenate our brain blood flow back to those important parts right in the front of the brain, and to use mindfulness to help anchor us both physically and psychologically.’

Strategy 1 – Take low, slow breaths

A simple breathing technique can slow the heart rate and mitigate your body’s anxiety response. Mara says, ‘Sometimes the way we take deep breaths isn’t actually very helpful. If we take a really big breath in and then blow it out very fast, it can de-regulate our respiratory physiology. So instead take low and slow breaths, slowing down your breathing.”

Step 1 – Taking a normal size, comfortable breath in – as if you’re smelling a flower.

Step 2 – Then a long, slow complete exhale – as if you’re blowing out a candle.

If you’re feeling anxious or having a panic attack, Mara also has a helpful grounding technique to get out of your head and into your body using the five senses. Keep taking those breaths and:

Strategy 2 – Disengage from your emotions

The problem with unwanted emotions such as anger, anxiety or feeling depressed is that they can often feel so powerful that we feel helpless in their wake. But don’t be fooled says Mara, “Be aware that you can infect yourself, or others, with negative emotions” she says. “You have the ability to control how you behave and what you think. That means disciplining ourselves to recognise when our emotions are negative and we’re getting into that fear, the negative spiral.”

“If your emotions are starting to go crazy,” she says, “The best thing we can do is give ourselves permission to disengage. You just interrupt the emotion/s immediately by moving from experiencing to observing it. Saying “Oh, that’s that uncomfortable feeling of…(name it if you know what it is)”. If you can’t name it, just say “My body is feeling uncomfortable”. Ask yourself: “What’s happening for me right now?” Allow yourself to get an answer. If you get “I don’t know”, then ask yourself “What if I did know? What would it be?”

The aim is to get yourself out of feeling the emotion, to observing the emotion. Then the brain will calm down physically and psychologically.

If you are feeling lonely

For many people, their newfound working from home life may not be the idyllic set-up that they had imagined, especially for those that are naturally quiet. Mara explains that whilst these people not may not be gregarious in character, it may be important for them to feel part of a friendly environment, whether that be through their work or their friends.  Some people quietly thrive in an office environment so it may be particularly difficult at this time as they may descend into loneliness. “You may not know what you want or need until you don’t have it any more,” says Mara, “This could descend into helplessness, anger, anxiety and loneliness .”  If this is you, you tend to be a ‘glass half emply’ person, then Mara has the following advice:

Strategy 1: Connect with others  – getting support and giving support

“Don’t underestimate the need for human contact,” says Mara, “I think the most important thing is to reach out to people,” she says. “Connecting with others – either people you’re already with or virtually – can help, even if it’s just for ten minutes. Talking to other people can you help you to focus attention away from yourself and the social connection will make you feel re-energised.”

It is also worth remembering that we are all in this together she explains, “Even though there are a lot of very different circumstances for people, we are a community – “common unity” – all trying our best to navigate these untravelled waters. Doing it together will bring us all to a better place in our lives for the future. Start that process now, and you’ll start to feel that sense of purpose.”

If you are feeling negative

With the unknown and devastating effects of the Coronavirus globally and its implications on our health, wealth and work life, it can be very hard for some people to see the positives. Its important, says Mara, to recognise your thoughts and behaviour because negativity is about as infectious and the Coronavirus.

Strategy 1: Reach out

Mara suggests acknowledging how you feel and reaching out to people that you trust because two heads are better than one. However she states that it’s important that you are careful who you reach out to. “If you are prone to being negative, you may need to find someone who is not going to get into any negative talk. You should look for someone who can bring a bit of joy and gratitude.”

Strategy 2: Practice gratitude or journaling

Mara explains that it’s important to practise gratitude for all the things in your life that allow you to be who you are, no matter how small they are. “Make yourself a gratitude jar or get a journal if you prefer. For the jar, get some lovely paper and make a note for each thing you’re grateful for every day. At the end of each week (or on those less than good days in the evenings), take out a handful of notes and read through them. Allow yourself to recall the information on that note. Feel those good emotions flow through you. Life is made up of so many moments, that may seem less-than-extraordinary, but which, when you appreciate them, are magical.”

Note: You can also do this for someone else who may be feeling low. Mara suggests putting down on some pieces of paper the things you love/appreciate about that person. Give them the folded little pieces of paper, so they can put them into a jar/bowl and take them out when they want to. Sometimes when you don’t feel so good about yourself, it can be lovely to see what someone else sees in you.

And finally…

Hold on to your values – live your top three daily

When the world feels overwhelming and all you can see are immediate worries, thinking about your core values will help you to see the bigger picture. Mara suggests that you come up with your list of your core values, then pick your top three, “No matter how bad things around you seem,” she says, “Find the values that you can hold on to, and remind yourself every day that you’re going to behave in accordance with those three values, not in accordance with your level of anxiety/anger/frustration/fear today.”

Like a sunbeam through dark clouds it can serve as a brilliant reminder that there are blue skies beyond the storm. Always remember, ’This too shall pass.”

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