Category Archives: work/life balance

The change challenge — how to handle stepping into the unknown

Change is a challenge. Get unstuckUntil very recently, I had a day job. It was writing, but it wasn’t really. It paid the bills but it left my creativity account empty — a little overdrawn even.

The job took more than it gave. It gave me numbers on a screen. It gave my family some financial security. But along with my creativity, it took away my confidence, my time, my head space, and my sense of self-worth.

And I let it. For five years.

Dramatic eh?

But that’s done now. I’m freelancing. No more depressing commutes. No more tears. No more sinking Sunday feeling.

So why do I feel so numb?

I expected to feel immediately elated by the change. To feel different from day one. But although I’m glad I’m not at the day job, I just feel overwhelmed, a bit blue and (inconveniently) a little bit stuck.

A change is as good as a rest, they say. But that’s bollocks — real change is scary, confronting and bloody hard work. Because it’s stepping into the unknown.

Here’s how I’m coping with the challenge of change.

Focus on the positive
In the first week of freelancing I had some less-than-average feedback on my work. It had never really happened before and it was a shock. It made me question my drastic career change. I also received three beautiful ‘no changes required, love your work and thanks’ emails. But I focused on the shit feedback and let that define my beginning. Flip it. Embrace the good stuff. Be grateful for each small success. If you’re struggling, write the positives down. By acknowledging only the positive, it becomes the star of your show. The negative fades into the background.

Change takes time
We’re bombarded with media that tells us we can get the perfect job/man/figure in JUST ONE WEEK! You know that’s unrealistic, but someone’s doing it. Right? Wrong. It’s spin. No one is doing it. No one. When you measure your progress during change against a benchmark that’s pure fantasy, you’re setting yourself up to fail. Real, lasting change takes time. Take it step by step and day by day. Give yourself time to adapt. Breathe. Nurture your change and let it grow.

Stop expecting perfection
For 5 years I built up a fantasy of what it would be like when I finally made the change and left my job. It would be perfect. I would wake at 6am to do yoga, meditate, have a nourishing breakfast, be present with my kids, then glide serenely into 8 hours of creatively fulfilling, well-paid and well-received work, taking breaks to sip green tea and snack on super foods. The reality? A little different. My  expectation of perfection wasn’t realised, so I felt disappointed, resentful, angry, unsatisfied and unseen. In the choppy waters of change, unrealistic expectations weigh you down. Release them.

Pin it to win it
This may come as a shock to you but I was once unemployed for a couple of quite depressing months. I put up a proper old-school cork board. I cut out photos from magazines and pinned them up on my vision board for inspiration. It sounds wanky, but it helped. When you’re struggling with the day-to-day of change, it can be fun to visualise your future success.

Keep going
If you want to make change work badly enough, you will — despite the inevitable stumbles and slip ups. Guilt about failure can be debilitating. Be your own best friend. Be kind to yourself, encourage yourself, celebrate your progress, however small. If you persist, you will succeed.

Change is challenging and scary. But what I’m trying to remember is that not changing is even scarier. Embrace the uncertainty. Life isn’t meant to stay the same. There will be highs and lows. Your job is not to control the ebb and flow — it’s to learn to ride the waves.

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Image courtesy of gratisography.

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Why second-hand stress is contagious and how to avoid cracking it

Second hand stress contagiousEver had gastro? It’s officially my least favourite highly contagious illness. My house has been in the throws of it for the past five days and no one has escaped its gut wrenching grasp, (including my poor in-laws who had travelled interstate to spend time with their darling grandkids…)

I knew we were all going to get sick. You knock about with people with gastro; you get gastro. You hang about with people who have a cold; you’re going to get a cold.

But did you know that stress is just as contagious? And can make you much sicker?

A recent study by St Louis University in the US has found that simply being around another person in a stressful situation can be enough to make you stress out. And the more you genuinely care about the stressed out person, the more likely you are to ‘catch’ their stress.

Apparently three-quarters of us are already stressed. And stress is worse for your health and wellbeing than a tantruming 2-year-old with gastro. It takes over, making your body put off essential processes like wound healing, digestion and immunity. Stay stressed for long enough and we’re talking heart attacks, strokes and depression.

How to avoid catching second-hand stress

1. Identify stress-head warning signs

How do you feel when you start to get stressed? How does your body react? Shortness of breath? A pounding headache? Losing your shit at your nearest and dearest? Figure it out. Then you can start to….

2. Avoid your second-hand stress triggers
Does walking into your workplace make your heart start beating like a nineties house track? Do certain people make you anxious? Do over-tired kids make you want to pull your hair out? Avoid these situations whenever you can. If you can’t, seriously consider changing jobs or swapping kids (joking about the kids). Alternatively, you could…

3. Think carefully about the company you choose
If you’re around stressed people a lot, think about why you are surrounding yourself with people who feel bad about themselves, or who allow others to make them feel bad about themselves. It’s not a flaw to be stressed, but you don’ t need to immerse yourself of the misery of others. If you’re having a hard time disconnecting, shift your attention to those you care about, who care about you, and who have a positive outlook on life.

4. Look after your health
If you’re anything like me, when you’re stressed you tend to stop exercising, reach for the comfort food (and the wine bottle) and stop doing all the stuff you know is good for you, like yoga and meditation. Then you spend countless hours berating yourself for how shit you are. Instead of that try to…

5. Be mindful about your mindset
Talk to yourself with encouragement and love. Stop being your own worst enemy. Practise mediation, breathe, walk. Be grateful for what you have. Think about what makes you happy and do it.

Like most contagious illnesses, stress can cause acute pain and suffering. But you don’t need to let it get the better of you long term. Only you can choose how to react to stressful situations. Only you can choose how you are affected by others’ stress.

Choose happiness instead. It’s as contagious as stress. And it’s much easier on your gut.

Like this post? Oh I do hope so! Show your love by following Wellbeing bites by email. Your loveliness is my happiness. Let’s spread it around…

Cracking under stress photo by Bernard Goldbach

A beginner’s guide to finding the beauty in burnout

I have to confess. I let things get the better of me this week. There have been tears before bedtime. And after bedtime. And in the office loos. And even a little train sob or two (cunningly disguised with sunglasses).

I’m a woman on the edge. I’m not sleeping. My skin is in teenage breakout mode. I’m snapping at my kids. I’m anxious about everything. I can’t get my shit together. I feel completely drained.

Stress? That’s part of it. Anxiety? Nup — doesn’t quite cover it.

Burnout.

Yeah, that fits. Burnout.

Burnout is the exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration.

It’s a state of joylessness. And it feels pretty shitty.

I can’t tell you how to stop the burnout — I wish I could. But maybe, just maybe I can help you transform your thinking about burnout.

Rather than the idea of burnout as a failure or ending, try reframing it as the precursor to transformation and change. Burnout is a new beginning. A beautiful new beginning.

Here are a few steps that might help you uncover the beauty in burnout.

1. Take a break
When you’re in burnout phase, you actually can’t function, so if you don’t give your body, mind and spirit the chance to recuperate, you’re going to get stuck. If you can, take a holiday, a day or two off, or even just set aside some time to relax. Don’t put any pressure on yourself to ‘fix’ things. Take long walks. Take long baths. Meditate. Breathe.

2. Focus on the body first
When your body feels healthy and recharged, so does your mind. So eat well, exercise gently (but only if it’s fun), nap and get enough sleep. Sleep is critical. Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on cognitive function, productivity, lifespan, and causes irreparable damage to our brains. Get some sweet sleep tips here.

3. Be good to yourself
When we’re in burnout we tend to beat ourselves up. I can’t cope. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I be like XYZ? Why can’t I get my shit together? Because you’re burnt out. Your body is trying to tell you something. Practice a little bit of self-love. Stop being a meanie.

4. Now you’ve given yourself some space, create
You’re rested. Now get up and change it up. It’s too easy to simply get back on the treadmill and get burnt out again. Try doing this stuff instead:

Set some boundaries. Whether it’s work or family, say no when you feel you need to. And mean it.

Dream again. Spend some time daydreaming and pose some “what ifs”. Burnout makes you feel stuck. Now’s the time to imagine life without limits.

Be inspired and create. If your burnout’s work-related, start taking baby steps towards doing work you’d love. Start a blog. Do some internet research. Sign up for a course. Contact someone you admire professionally.

Take responsibility. Your burnout is no one else’s fault. Sure your boss is an arsehole and maybe your kids drive you crazy but stop expecting them to change. No one else is going to fix it for you. Assume responsibility and take back your power.

Burnout can be beautiful. It can be the best thing that ever happens to you. Because it can be the first sign of a new beginning.

Take small steps. Brick by brick, you can create something incredible and rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of your beautiful burnout.

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Don’t panic part 2: revisting anxiety and kicking panic’s butt

I’ve blogged about anxiety on Wellbeing bites once before — and about my own experiences brought on by panic.

My panic attacks are much less frequent now but I still get the occasional heart flutter or bout breathlessness that’s a reminder of the anxiety that used to be so familiar it felt like an extra limb. One that was determined to put me off balance.

Anxiety isn’t that healthy level of fear or panic you experience in a high-stress situation. In pressurised environments, being slightly fearful can actually keep you safe — even make you more productive.

This is about frequently feeling excessively high levels of anxiety when faced with the everyday.

Recently, a few amazing, strong people I know have confessed to being overwhelmed by anxiety, including a ‘super mum’ and an exec manager.

No one is immune, so stop feeling rubbish (and stop feeling alone) and let’s kick anxiety’s arse.

Begin with a panic-beating daily practice
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier. As soon as you wake, spend 5 minutes running through what you know you’re doing today and visualise all going well. Now do a quick ten-minute meditation, some deep breathing or a few yoga stretches. Next, enjoy the little things – savour your morning cuppa, sing in the shower, dance in the kitchen, hug your family. The start of the day sets the tone for the rest.

Be mindful of your thought patterns
When you catch yourself having a negative thought, reframe it into a positive but realistic one. For instance, rather than “I’m never on time and the train is always packed this time of day” try “I’ll leave a little early today. If I don’t get a seat, that’s ok – it’s better for me to stand anyway”.

… and be aware of your reactions to your negative thoughts
Are you a fighter or flighter? When anxiety hits, do you get angry, scream and shout, self-destruct, take harmful action (fight) or freeze up, ignore, procrastinate, avoid (flight)?Being conscious of your reactions helps you to calmly moderate them so you can make a more rational decision about your action (or inaction).

Stop multi-tasking. Master the art of single tasking
Multi-tasking is a myth. Research has shown that your brain can only process one activity at a time, so if you try and do it all, your brain will become scattered and you’ll feel overwhelmed. Instead, ask do I really need to do this? If yes, get organised. Break your day down into chunks, schedule your task time out, delegate, ask for help. Do one thing at a time.

Reduce ‘noise’ and digitally disengage
To reduce anxiety, we also need to reduce the noise. But instant technology means we’re ‘switched on’ all the time. So switch off. Don’t check your email/Facebook/Twitter. Step away from the computer. Turn off your phone. If you’re working and switching off is impossible, check your email once every two hours. If it’s important, they can call or walk over to see you. Amazing eh?

Drink your way to calm
When you’re having a stressful day, do you push through by having an strong coffee? When you get home, do you have a glass of wine to ‘relax’? Me too. But caffeine increases adrenaline so you feel more panicky, and alcohol is a stimulant — resulting in amped up anxiety levels. Try green or chamomile tea instead (yeah, they taste like lawn but they do have a soothing, calming effect).

Take back control of your body
Anxiety often results in physical meltdown. Palpitations, sweats, jitters, breathlessness: panic attacks can make you feel out of control. So take it back. Try breathing exercisesmeditation, yoga or massage. Or just get out of the house and run or walk it off. If you’re in control of your body, it’s easier to take control of your thoughts.

Stop worrying about the ‘shoulds’
My friend the ‘super mum’ thinks she should be able to cope. That she should be able to function on a few hours sleep. That she should be able to juggle work, uni, exercise, socialising, family commitments and romance as well as a toddler who tears the house up – all while being a domestic goddess and looking like she stepped off the catwalk. On the surface, she does really well at it. Except that she’s freaking out. She’s not coping.

‘Should-ing’ is bullshit. Stop it now. 

I think that’s appropriate place to finish up. Let me know how you go with shaking off that extra limb – life’s a lot more balanced without it. And don’t forget to check out the original Don’t panic post.

If you have any tips/tricks/magic spells to deal with anxiety or panic, please leave a comment. Also, if you haven’t already, take a moment to sign up to receive Wellbeing bites posts by email. I promise I won’t spam you — I’m good like that. C’mon, you know you wanna…

Anxiety girl illustration by Natalie Dee

Declutter for a less stressful life

The old clothes were piled high. The paperwork hadn’t been filed since 2011. Desk drawers were overflowing with photos, tickets and receipts that I would never need, or probably even look at, again. 


I was overwhelmed with stuff. And it was starting to stress me out. 


So I took a few hours off and decluttered. It took me a while to get going and didn’t get everything done, but the local Salvos is happy and so am I. 

Cluttered home = cluttered mind

Organisation guru Peter Walsh says that disorganised people who surround themselves with clutter often feel frustrated, out of control and anxious. 

Sound familiar?

Decluttering is reclaiming ‘you’ time

Decluttering isn’t simply about reorganising your home/work area, it’s about creating mental space and making room for fresh energy. It also allows you more time to do the things you actually want to do, like spending time with friends and family, cooking, exercising and meditating. 

Six top tips to get you decluttered and back in control

1. Start small. Feeling overwhelmed can be debilitating. Start small with one drawer or cupboard. Set a timer for five or ten minutes, turn off the phone and computer, and just do this one task. 

2. Stick to the old one-in-one-out method. Bought a new item of clothing? eBay, give away or donate an old item, or even two. It’s a simple but effective way to keep on top of clutter. For larger stuff that opp shops won’t take, offer it for free on Freecycle and do your bit to reduce landfill. 

3. Make sure your old stuff actually gets to its new home. There’s no point having bags of stuff to donate lying around the house. It’s still clutter. If you can’t take it to the opp shop immediately, put it in the car so you can drop it off next time you’re driving past. 

4. Still struggling? Get a trusted mate round to help. Let them make some decluttering decisions for you. They’re not emotionally attached to your stuff – they don’t know that its the scarf your wore when you had your first kiss or the blanket you wrapped your newborn son in. They’ll just ask whether you need it now.

5. Find a ‘home’ for the things you do want or need. Everything must have its place and space. Make labels and storage boxes your new best friends.

6. On the fence? Try a ‘maybe box’. Set a calendar alert for six months’ time. If you haven’t used what’s in the maybe box by then, get rid of it. The maybe box idea is from Leo Babauta from Zen Habits who has six kids and 200,000 blog subscribers, so it must work. 

After I decluttered, I made time to get to two yoga classes in one week. That’s two more than I’ve managed any other week this year. I’ve also been able to enjoy playing with the kids, knowing that the chaos we’re creating only needs to last until tidy up time, because every toy has a home. 

Give it a try – all you have to do is begin it. Declutter and reclaim your space. 

Top tips for a sweet night’s sleep

I don’t mean to be a drama queen but I feel like I’ve been sleep deprived for years. My youngest child is a bit of night owl. Except for last night, when he slept through the WHOLE NIGHT.

So why do I feel so unbelievably eye-poppingly, body-achingly tired today? More tired than the mornings when I’ve had barely a few hours of sleep?

Temperamental toddler or not, most of you will have experienced waking up from a ‘good’ night’s sleep still exhausted. And what about the nights when you go to bed absolutely exhausted only to find yourself still tossing and turning hours later, unable to find your off switch?

Being sleep deprived has simply become part of life. A massive 96% of us report regularly feeling tired upon waking and almost 30% of us have taken a sickie due to lack of sleep. We’ve become experts at ignoring our body’s signals and pushing through our sleep-deprived state. We’ve got too much to do and sleep is the first thing that takes a hit.

Add to that our digitalised lives, which keep us ‘switched on’ all the time. How many of you sleep with your phone by your bed? What’s the last thing you do before you turn in for the night? Check your email? Twitter? Facebook?

Now, in addition to sleep deprivation’s negative impact on cognitive function, productivity and lifespan, a new study has revealed that lack of sleep causes irreparable damage to our brains

It’s time to take action.

Six solutions to sleep deprivation

1. Pre-sleep meditation
OK, so this is still using your phone just before bed. But using free meditation and mindfulness apps like Omvana and Headspace (my current favourite) to take ten minutes to relax each night will help you drift off to sleep more easily.

2. Get some exercise (in the day)
I know, I know. It’s that last thing you want to do. But in 2013, The Huffington Post reported on the National Sleep Foundation’s poll, which found that people who exercise regularly experience better quality and more consistent sleep than those who don’t. Try some yoga or Pilates, or even better, some outdoor or ‘green exercise‘, which delivers a host of other health benefits including improved mood and self-esteem, and lower blood pressure.

3. Go to bed and get up earlier
According to the chi cycle, your body functions better when you wake up between 5 and 7am and go to bed between 9 and 11pm. Your body will be more in tune with the earth’s circadian rhythms, which offers more restorative sleep. An early wake up also gives you that precious time to exercise before the rest of the house gets up.

4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol
Your choice of beverage is crucial to good sleep habits. Avoid both alcohol and caffeine 4 hours before you turn in. Caffeine is a stimulant – it makes it harder to go to sleep, makes you sleep more lightly and makes you get up to go to the loo more often. Booze may help you fall asleep initially, but it causes more frequent night wakings, nightmares and headaches.

5. Keep your room for sleeping (and maybe one other thing)
Your room is sacred – only use it for sleeping and sex. Don’t eat or watch TV or have a lively debate. And make sure it’s dark – don’t give your body any excuse to stay awake.

6. Take a nap
Cats and Spaniards are on to something. Having a siesta isn’t lazy – our bodies are hardwired to nap, so there’s no need to feel guilty. No good at napping? Neither was I until I had my babies. Napping is a skill. Learn it.

Start today. Go take a nap and get an early night tonight. Give the coffee and wine a miss and have a cup of chamomile and a quick meditate instead. Let someone else get up for the kids. Your sleep affects every aspect of your waking life – it’s time to take it seriously.

In the beginning…

My last post was all about being epic. This one is about momentum. It’s all well and good saying “yeah, I’ll be epic. Easy!” But actually doing something? Now that’s a bit of a challenge. But why? Why is it so hard to actually start something? Not just something – the thing you really, really, really want to do?

Whatever the dream is – starting your own business, publishing a novel, losing weight, becoming a yogi, climbing Everest… writing about natural health and wellbeing (just as an example) – we can be our own worst enemies. I for one spend countless hours thinking up scenarios where things go wrong. How spectacular are the ways in which I fail in my imagination…
You know what? You don’t do, you can’t fail. But you also can’t succeed. And isn’t that worse?
A wise man once said: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” My husband has since fessed up that he nicked it from Goethe. Details. It’s an awesome quote and one I now have over my computer to give me an eloquent kick up the bum. 
So apart from pinning Goethe quotes to my wall, here are my four top tips to help you begin:
  1. Five is the magic number. Whether it’s running for five minutes, writing five sentences, doing five yoga poses, or talking to five new people a day, just do it for five. If you still don’t fancy it after that, give up and try another day. But 90% of the time you’re going to want to carry on.
  2. Breathe. There’s always time to breathe. Try this simple breathing exercise to bring you back into your body.
  3. Schedule it in. Nope it’s not very spontaneous or ‘in the moment’, but it works. Block out the time. Set calendar reminders. Turn off your phone and shut the door. 
  4. Be gentle with yourself. This is crucial. Would you talk to others the way you talk to yourself? Of course you wouldn’t, so stop being so damn mean. If your mind wanders into procrastination or worse, criticism, notice and gently guide it back to the present and the positive.

Right. That’s enough reading blog posts. Get out of here – go forth and begin it.