Archive April 2020
Keep your clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how we can help keep our clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times.
During these different times, we are no doubt all finding it is harder to meet our emotional needs. But we are all equipped with the innate resources to help us get our needs well met even in times of adversity. And one of these resources is a rational mind, a higher thinking brain that can help us to plan, analyse and check out our feelings. But in this time, when emotions are likely to be running high, it can be a real challenge to stay thinking clearly. When we are emotionally overwhelmed, our ability to think rationally suffers. Our higher thinking brain get’s ‘hi-jacked’ by our emotional brain and reduces our thinking to ‘black and white’ where there are no shades of grey, In other words, our thinking becomes narrowed, focused inwards and pessimistic instead of being broad, open and exploratory.
This ‘black and white’ thinking that is caused by emotional ‘hi-jacking’ expresses itself in 3 ways: through pervasive thinking, that’s the one that goes ‘everything is wrong’; through permanent thinking i.e. ‘nothing is ever going to change’; and through personalised thinking such as ‘I am useless.’
When looking at these statements you can see how disempowering and essentially unhelpful they are. We need to do what we can to lower strong emotions so that we can access our rational thinking resource and see, for example, that maybe some things are ok, that change will come and that, even if I think I’m useless, that doesn’t make it true because thoughts are not facts – especially thoughts that have been narrowed by high emotions.
So how can we help keep our clear-thinking mind on-line during these potentially emotionally distressing times? The key is to lower our emotional arousal by taking measures to calm ourselves down. Once we are calm our thinking will become clearer and we can utilise the full power of our rational thinking resource to get our needs met.
Top tips to try:
- Use your rational mind to plan ahead which will help give you a sense of security and feel more in control.
- Shift your thinking from the frustration of the things we are not able to do during this time of social distancing to looking forward to the future.
- Challenge worrying thoughts by telling yourself you are doing the best you can in the situation you are in.
- Find ways to lower stress, as this will not only help you think more clearly but will help keep your immune system at its best so it is more efficient at fighting off infection.
- Finally, if you find yourself in the grip of ‘black and white’ thinking – relax, calm down and remind yourself that you have the innate resources to help you meet your needs.
Author: Ellie Winch
Our rapport resource can help us all meet our emotional needs
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how we can use our rapport resource to help us all meet our emotional needs at this time of social distancing and isolation.
I am a huge fan of Tottenham Hotspur Football club. How does that opening statement make you feel….? Distant from me because you have zero interest in football. Connected with me because you also support the mighty Spurs? Or a bit hostile towards me because you support a rival club? Whatever your reaction you have made a pattern match in your mind to my statement and, if your match was positive, then I may have successfully built rapport with you in my first sentence.
The ability to build rapport is an innate resource we all have to help us connect with, and empathise with, others. It works with our pattern matching resource and our emotions to help us to relate to other people and meet our need for attention and emotional connection.
Building rapport with others can be easier if you have something in common (like a football club) and some people naturally find it easier to build rapport than others. But the ability to build rapport is innate in all of us from birth. Babies are expert rapport builders; those cute gurgles and wide-eyed smiles are calculated to build a connection so that baby gets fed and gets its other needs looked after.
Developing the skill of establishing and building rapport is important in helping us to get our needs well met.
So how can we use our rapport resource to help us all meet our emotional needs at this time of social distancing and for some, isolation?
- Relating to others helps us to realise that we are all in this together and sharing challenges can help give us a sense of being connected with others and meet our need for community.
- Connecting with others however we can, can help meet our needs for attention.
- Staying in touch specifically with our loved ones can give us the emotional connection we need to stay well.
- Actively and consciously using rapport to connect meaningfully with those we may be sharing a household with to help promote positive interactions.
- We could also use our empathy to help others – being needed by others helps us meet our need for meaning and purpose in life.
- Putting ourselves in the metaphorical shoes of others can also allow us to help others meet their need for respect and status.
Author: Ellie Winch
Use your imagination to focus away from problems and towards solutions
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how you can use your imagination to focus away from problems and towards solutions.
Who would have imagined, as we welcomed in the new decade, that 2020 would bring a global pandemic that would see us confined to our homes and isolated from others? Imagination is a powerful resource but I doubt many people saw this coming. It is probably safe to say, though, that in these challenging times a lot of us are finding our imaginations running riot and conjuring up all kinds of ‘what if…?’ scenarios. I, for one, have a very vivid imagination and have found my ‘what if…?’ imaginings are leading to all kinds of unpleasant outcomes. For we can all too easily, especially when we are feeling uncertain, misuse our imagination to catastrophise and get ourselves stuck on the ‘worry circuit’. This turning of our imagination inwards, towards our emotional difficulties, is not helpful in keeping us mentally well.
Instead we need to try to harness the power of our imaginations to help us focus away from problems and towards solutions, to use this great resource of ours to our advantage. Our imagination can help us solve problems, be creative, and consider possible courses of action. In fact, we all constantly use our imagination to our advantage in everyday life: whenever we plan an activity, describe a situation or recall a memory for example.
So we all have the potential to use our imagination productively rather than using it to get stuck in unhelpful mental loops. What, then, can we do to promote the healthy use of our imaginations?
- Focus attention away from news or media posts that sensationalise and ramp up worry.
- If you find yourself on the worry circuit, do what you can to calm yourself down, e.g. practise a breathing technique such as 7-11, so you can think more clearly and flexibly and consider a different, more positive, point of view.
- Envision a positive outcome by imagining all the things you want to do when this is over.
- Use your imagination to create: write, colour/draw, take photos, get imaginative in the kitchen, make a gift for a loved one.
- Take notice of good things to help spark your imagination.
- Use your imagination to quieten your mind, maybe by creating your own peaceful, soothing place in your mind’s eye that you can visit whenever you need to.
Author: Ellie Winch
How to calm your emotions during this pandemic
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how you can calm your emotions during this current pandemic.
This is a time of high emotions, and probably a lot of conflicting emotions too. High emotional arousal can make it harder to keep ourselves both mentally and physically well. When in the grip of strong emotions it is harder to think clearly and use the rational mind that we have been given. However, our emotions are an innate resource that help us meet our needs.
Emotions are a guide to how we are feeling; if I feel bored, my mind is telling me to seek out something stimulating to do; if I feel lonely, I need to try to meet my need for community; if I am sad, I need to seek out someone or something to make me feel happier. Emotions are also a guide to how others are feeling, so that if I burst into tears I would hope someone around me would seek to give me the comfort I need.
Emotions, then, are a resource that can help gauge our feelings and motivate us to meet our needs in balance. Our emotional brain, however, does not solely influence how we feel but also how we think.
Our emotional brain developed millions of years earlier than our higher thinking brain (the neocortex for those who like to know the scientific term) and our higher thinking brain grew up from the emotional brain. The two are joined by multiple connections that give the emotional brain significant influence on our thoughts. When we become emotionally aroused, our higher thinking brain is forced into the back seat. With the emotional brain in the driving seat, we resort to a more basic form of black and white thinking and we are cut off from more nuanced rational thinking.
So how can we help ourselves to keep a healthy mind, in which the emotional and higher thinking brains are working together to keep us well? The key is to do what we can to lower emotional arousal and calm down the emotional brain.
- Practice breathing techniques, such as 7-11 breathing, that produce a physical response to calm you and relieve feelings of anxiety.
- Find relaxation methods that work for you, whether that is taking a long bath, doing some yoga, practising meditation, mindful colouring.
- Maybe even write a list of things you like to do to improve your mood and pop it on the fridge to refer to when you need it.
- Make sure you meet your need for privacy. Find some time for yourself because selfcare is not selfish but a core emotional need.
- When it comes to accessing news and information, avoid exposure to media sites that may ramp up worry.
- And finally take care of your physical needs for movement, sleep and a balanced approach to food and drink.
Author: Ellie Winch
Are you experiencing vivid dreams at the moment?
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains what dreaming means and how we can use it to our advantage to stay well.
Is anyone else experiencing really vivid dreams at the moment? I have a recurring one where I am halfway up a really precarious staircase and I suddenly freeze and find I can neither carry up on the steps nor take myself back down. I sometimes wake up from this dream feeling really anxious and out of control and this no doubt reflects my emotional state during the current situation.
Because dreams are not simply random; everything the brain does has a purpose and there is a reason nature has given us a dreaming brain. Precisely why we dream is still a hotly debated topic among the scientific community. But what we do know, from decades of research, is that the content of our dreams reflects waking concerns, both positive and negative. And we also know that dreaming serves to discharge emotional arousal from the previous day; hence the phrase ‘sleep on it.’ People report feeling calmer after short periods of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which is the phase in which dreaming occurs.
Dreaming is an inbuilt resource we all have that can help keep us well and help the brain respond afresh to each new day. However, if we find ourselves with too much worry in the day we will do more dreaming as the brain tries its best to calm us down. And this is a problem, because too much dreaming is tiring and it affects the amount of deep, restorative sleep we get. So if we dream too much we will wake up still feeling tired.
The key then is to do our best to get our emotional needs well met so we do not have too much for the dreaming brain to process when we go to sleep. We could also try:
- Resolving stress or worries in the day, for example by talking them through with someone.
- Writing down any concerns that are on our minds before we go to sleep so we can put them aside to deal with later.
- Developing a relaxing bedtime routine to help calm the brain in preparation for sleep.
- Finding some space for reflection and privacy in the day so we are not processing every incident at night when we are trying to get into the land of nod.
- Or even using our dreaming brain as a resource during waking hours to enjoy a pleasant daydream.
And don’t forget to address any unmet needs to lower your stress; if I work on getting my need for control met I may just find I can make it up the staircase in my dreams…
Author: Ellie Winch
How can we harness the power of memory to support us?
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how you can harness the power of your memory to support yourself during the current pandemic.
I wonder what we will recall when we look back on this time. Will we remember the mass hoarding of toilet rolls? Will we remember the worry and concern for the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones? Will we remember applauding the work of front-line staff each week with our neighbours? Or are we a member of front-line staff who will remember the challenges we faced? Of course the truth is that we will all come out of this with a wide range of memories associated with this situation, some happy and some sad; memories that are laden with a whole range of emotions.
Certainly some memories are painful to recall, but the ability to draw upon and develop long term memory patterns is a key resource in supporting us to stay well. For without access to our memories, we cannot develop or learn. Memory allows us to draw upon our experiences to help us get our physical and emotional needs met.
The importance of long-term memory and its role in meeting our emotional needs was bought into focus very clearly to me when my mum was diagnosed with Dementia last year. With the deterioration of her memory, it is incredibly challenging for her to stay emotionally well. With a decline in the memory resource comes a rise in anxiety.
So, when our memory is working well and is used in tandem with our conscious rational mind it can help us to meet our needs well, increase our ability to cope and decrease our worry.
How then can we harness the power of memory to support us in the current situation? Here are some suggestions:
- Spend some time recalling when you have managed to remain positive in the face of adversity in the past – and what you did to help this happen.
- Remember that this will pass.
- Draw on your past memories to help plan, problem solve and mentally try out positive outcomes for the future.
- Recall to mind hobbies and interests you once had that you may now have the time to take up again.
- Keep your brain active by learning a new hobby.
- Write a daily journal to remind yourself of positive things that have come out of this challenging experience.
- Help to create good memories for yourself and others by keeping in touch with people who are important to you.
- And finally, remind yourself that that you are doing the best you can in these unusual and unprecedented times.
Author: Ellie Winch
Using your observing self resource to stay well
Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how you can use your observing self resource to help you stay well.
When it comes to meeting our emotional needs we, as human beings, have a resource that, as far as we are aware, no other creature has. It is the ability to reflect on our thinking self, our emotional self and our physical self as if we were outside these; to step outside ourselves and view ourselves in a more objective way. We have been given the observing self, an ability to be aware of our feelings, thoughts and emotions at one remove.
This resource helps us to develop ourselves and become something more than we are at the present moment.
If we find ourselves in the grip of strong emotions, we tend to focus attention inwards, towards what we are feeling and, in doing this, we lose the broader context and perspective. By bringing the observing self on-line, we can broaden the perspective of our experiences. The observing self can bring calmness and clarity by allowing us to step out of our problems and recognise that we are more than, and separate from, them.
So how can we access this resource and use it to help us get our emotional needs well met?
- Firstly, in order to access the observing self, you need to feel reasonably relaxed and allow yourself some privacy and head-space for reflection.
- Take the time to listen to your emotions; they are a guide to how you are feeling and give you the motivation to make positive changes to get your needs met.
- Listen to the needs of your body too. Ensure you are meeting your physical needs for sleep, movement, food and drink.
- Pause to reflect on your achievements and take time to recognise things that are going well.
- Do things intentionally – rather than letting one day of day-time TV or box sets merge into the next, deliberately plan activities to meet your needs and keep you well.
- Maybe try keeping a journal. This will enable you to reflect, get a little distance from any problems and help you observe the positive things that may be happening.
- Use the observations you have about your own thoughts and feelings to tune into how others may be feeling and use that empathy to support other people. Helping others is good for our own wellbeing too.
- And finally, practise some self-empathy. Try talking to yourself with kindness and acceptance as you would talk to a friend or loved one.
Author: Ellie Winch
Using your pattern matching resource to stay well
Our Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Jo Flack explains how you can use your resource to pattern match to stay well.
We all have physical and emotional needs that we must try to meet to stay healthy and well. And, happily, along with these innate needs we have been given a set of innate resources that can both guide us and enable us to get our needs well met.
One of these is the ability to develop long term memory patterns to help us understand the world around us – our ‘pattern matching’ resource. The more things we experience the more patterns our brain has to draw upon.
As with all our innate resources, we are born with this ability but we need to build on it and develop it. For example, babies are born with the suckling reflex; they have the in-built pattern that sucking equals food. However, when babies are born they will suckle on anything and everything and the pattern is only complete when a baby suckles on a nipple or bottle teat and learns that this is the way that can meet their need for nutrition.
Some pattern matches are generic, like the example above, while others are unique to each individual; dependent on each person’s learning and experience. For example when I hear a certain song I have a pattern match that takes me back into my memory to that first ever romantic dance at the school disco, but other people will not make that same match. Some pattern matches are so familiar and deeply ingrained, such as going into ‘autopilot’ when driving home from work, that the pattern match is fairly exact. Other, less familiar situations will leave our brains finding an approximate pattern to help us make sense of a situation, when we think “oh that’s a bit like…”
Pattern matching is a resource that is crucial to wellbeing. It is key to learning and to expanding our understanding. However, sometimes we can develop harmful patterns that narrow our perspective and these can give rise to mental health difficulties.
For example… time for some honesty here… I sometimes have a glass of wine if I’m feeling a bit stressed. Now, this in itself isn’t necessarily a problem. However, if every time I feel a need to calm down, my only go-to is a glass of wine, then before I know it my brain will begin to pattern match calming down with a glass of wine and this could lead to a dependency on alcohol to relax and prevent me from developing more effective measures to manage my stress.
So how, in the current climate of the pandemic, can we help ourselves to use our pattern matching resource to promote, rather than potentially harm, our emotional wellbeing?
- Avoid developing unhealthy patterns, such as going to bed worrying each night, or reaching for that glass of wine when we need to de-stress. Instead, find patterns that work for us; whether that’s making a soothing playlist to listen to or creating a daily routine that becomes a positive pattern to help us manage these challenging days.
- Seek out patterns that can expand our perspective and help us think more clearly. For example, learning how to meet our emotional needs at this challenging time.
- Use the patterns we have all individually developed to understand and support other people by being empathetic and tolerant to those around us.
- Help our brains to pattern match well by using healthy relaxation techniques to keep us calm and clear-thinking. Seek out the patterns that work for us – for example, make a soothing playlist to listen to instead of watching the news endlessly; or create a good daily routine that becomes a positive pattern.
- And finally, keep our minds healthy by staying curious about new or unfamiliar things so we are continually learning and making new patterns to draw on for the future.
Author: Ellie Winch
Suffolk Work Well during the COVID-19 pandemic
Suffolk Work Well Manager, Tony Wooderson explains how the service has adapted in the current pandemic
Suffolk Mind’s project, Suffolk Work Well (SWW) supports people with their mental health in the workplace.
We provide practical and emotional support to people wishing to gain, regain or retain their employment where their emotional wellbeing was impacting adversely on them, by whatever factors. We aim to use our Emotional Needs and Resources model to uncover what emotional needs aren’t being met, and work on strategies to meet them.
Before the COVID-10 pandemic, we offered face-to-face, 1-2-1 support initially in Ipswich and Felixstowe. We soon expanded to the Saxmundham area, working with not only clients but medical professionals, organisations, businesses and the social prescribing teams.
The current situation has however meant changes. SWW cannot presently provide that physical 1-2-1 support but our team of experienced, friendly and knowledgeable staff, adapted extremely quickly and are now delivering the service via phone, email, texts and of course – and what we are all getting used to – video chats. This support not only continues but is growing and we are now offering the service county-wide.
Support is available to those newly unemployed or furloughed through the pandemic, and those obliged to work from home and therefore are work-isolated.
The support provided is free, and not time-bound. We will work with you to try to determine and address both your physical and emotional needs for your improved mental wellbeing.
Author: Ellie Winch
Be a great line manager to your home working team members
Written by Workplace Wellbeing Trainer, Sue Gray.
For many people, working at home during COVID-19 is a new thing and so of course that means it’s new for the people who line-manage too. Your team needs you more than ever and as managers you may be feeling it’s hard to keep on top of what and how your people are doing. It’s still your job to do this though. You may feel you are not meeting your own need for ‘control’ when it comes to the people who report to you. How you do this during COVID-19 will need to be slightly altered and new ways of managing your team introduced.
And beware …to meet that need for control you may have become a bit of a ‘micro manager’ or ‘control freak’! A very normal response and not that helpful to the healthy and effective functioning of your team members.
Top tips for remote line-management during COVID-19
- Check that each of your team members have created a space & routine to work at home; they have a dedicated place to work in, a start and finish time to follow and they have had a conversation with the people they live with to communicate that when they are working they need not to be interrupted. This isn’t driven by concern as an employer that they won’t ‘give you the hours’ but it is the most effective way to reduce stress and get needs met and so keep people enjoying their work and feel motivated. AND – make sure you have done this for yourself too. Taking care of yourself and your needs will enable you to have the clear thinking and resources to support your team well.
- Check your team members have all the equipment and internet connection they need to do their job. Connect them to technical support they can access when required; check they can use the online conference platform your organisation is using and build their confidence with them.
Communication – keep it consistent and clear.
a. Perhaps start every morning with a quick ‘huddle’ – how are people doing? What are they planning for the day?
b. Have weekly / regular 121 checkins with each of your team members – again they can be quite short. Fix a time and stick to it. Follow an agreed work plan.
c. Create ‘watercooler’ conversation opportunities – create online lunch together, or tea and coffee gatherings for informal chats and conversations among the team.
Check-in / remind your team members about their personal self-care systems – what have they found works for them? Maybe a daily walk, drinking plenty of water, eating well, fun activities and getting their needs for meaning and purpose, community, privacy, achievement and sleep met. Check on childcare and others responsibilities too.
Trust them – don’t micro-manage! Have clear discussions about tasks and projects, discuss priorities and agree a plan. Have a clear system for them alerting if their work schedule is falling behind or if there are blocks they can’t sort out. Be clear about how you want feedback on their work – and stick to that. Empower them to be self-directed and liaise well with the other people they need to. This will greatly increase their ability to feel in control, meet their needs for achievement and meaning and purpose and enable them to stay focused.
Author: Ellie Winch