Tag: Wellbeing

Self care at year end

The final month of 2021 has arrived and the rush to year’s end is gathering pace. It is a time of heightened demands on our time this month as we attempt to finalise projects and tasks to ensure we start the new year with a clean slate, as we make arrangements for the festive season or attend festivities to mark having made it through a tough year. And this is before we get to Christmas day (if you celebrate this event) or New Year’s Eve!!

For some, this festive holiday season can generate a range of emotions or trigger levels of mental distress arising from shared family histories or non-existent celebrations or gatherings. It can be an unsafe occasion, a time of amplified anxiety, depression, sadness, or loneliness.

Here’s a few tips to keep you safe and help you navigate the demands and challenges of this busy month.

Pace yourself
As we move towards the holiday season, friends and colleagues are keen to catch up before year’s end, employees are pushing to have projects finalised, family members are eager to confirm plans for events, and parties abound. The list goes on. The pace in December can be relentless – if you let it.

Remember you have a choice in how much you take on this month. Conserving your energy is important and you don’t have to cram everything in as there is another year awaiting beyond December 30. Pace yourself and decide which activities truly need your immediate attention, and those that can be moved forward into 2022.

Celebrate with care
The festive season can be a time of overindulgence – too much food, excess alcohol, late nights and little sleep, work Christmas parties, family get togethers, new year’s revelries, and many social gatherings. For some of us who have not long emerged from lockdown, the temptation to go overboard and frenetically socialise is great.

However, all this socialising can have an impact on your physical and mental health if taken too far.  The human body has a great capacity to rejuvenate and bounce back. Yet sometime we can ignore the signs of overload at our own peril. Celebrate with care and consider that your body can be overburdened by too much of a good time.

Practice kindness and be patience
Given the increased demands placed on us it is easy to become impatient and irritable, causing us to act in ways that are less than ideal towards others. We’ve all snapped at family gathering as our buttons have been pushed, often by the very people who installed them. Or at sales assistants who are doing their best to help us select festive gifts. It’s not a great look and usually leaves you feeling like a bit of a fool.

Keep in mind that you are not the only one feeling overwhelmed. We are all juggling opposing stresses. Contemplate the power of patience as it provides an opportunity to slow down a little. Count to ten if that helps – over and over if necessary. Bear in mind that kindness trumps irritability every time.

And don’t forget to check in on your friends and those who find this a particularly vulnerable season.

Bring joy
A question to ask yourself is how you can bring joy to the festive season. The COVID pandemic, and the restrictions implemented to keep us safe, have wearied us all. The connecting thread that has provided the most comfort in amongst all this has been our social networks. Reduced time with our friends, family, work colleagues, and partners has brought a heightened appreciation for their role in our lives. We have much to be grateful for and many people, including our health and essential workers, to thank.

Being around a grump or those who are downbeat is no fun at the best of times. And this year it is particularly  undesirable. Think about how you can be joyful and show your love to those around you, how you can enhance their lives as we celebrate having made it to the end of 2021.

Take time for yourself
Amongst all this activity it is important to make time for yourself. We’ve all been called upon to exercise atypical flexibility as we’ve navigated our rapidly changing world. Use the festive season as an opportunity to slow down once the major festive celebrations and family commitments are over. Set aside moments to kick back and relax, to draw breath and reflect on what you have learnt over the year that was, and to dream a little about the year to come.

Me – I’ve got my reading pile in place and plan to settle in for stints with my head buried in a book, because as many of you know I’m a big reader and books are my thing (some would say my addiction, but I beg to differ!!).  So let me share some of my favourite novels for 2021:

Still Life by Sarah Winman
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout
Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Enjoy and let me know your top reads for 2021. Always happy to hear a good book recommendation. And finally, thanks to my wonderful colleagues Reed and Polly, and to those of you I’ve had the privilege to work with in 2021.

To you all – have a safe and wonderful festive season and a very happy new year.

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This article first appeared on the Mannaz Therapy site.

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Preparing for the summer break

The festive break and summer holidays are looming large as we move into mid-December and January.  It is a very social time with lots of parties, end of year celebrations, family gatherings at Christmas or Hanukah or New Year.  It’s great to celebrate the end of the year with your friends and family and it can be as busy as you allow.  And whilst it can be exhilarating it can also impact on your regular creative routine, processes and productivity.

Summer breaks are a great opportunity to have that well-earned rest and put your feet up.  Resting is important as it lets you clear your brain, break with regular routines, do different things and engage with the world to find new inspiration for your creative endeavours.  Often it can be a chance to catch up on sleep or to do something physical.

So why not prepare and give yourself permission to stop and enjoy all you get up to.  Eradicate the guilt before it begins and when the break is over you can get back on track with your work.

Here are some tips to help you make the most your summer break.

  Set some creative goals and tasks for your first couple of weeks back at your desk, or in your studio, and outline what you want to achieve during this time.  It could be things like setting up your calendar and scheduling your creative milestones, or setting your goals for the entire year.  Make it fun so you enter the year looking forward to creating.

  Have your creative journal with you so when ideas arise you can record them.  That way you will have some new ideas to work on and put into play when you get back to you studio or desk.

  Remember to have things to hand that will relax, stimulate and inspire you – such as books, podcasts, DVD’s and TV series, your friends.  Things that will take you totally away from your work and enable you to unwind and return refreshed in the New Year.

  Set aside some time out for reflection.  Review your creative process – what is working well, what isn’t, where are the opportunities for improvement or change, what would you like to do differently in the coming year.  Look back and acknowledge all you have learnt and achieved over the last 12 months.

  Make time to get physical – swim, hike, run, dance, walk, play tennis, rock climb – whatever takes your fancy.  Just move and rejoice in your body.  It has supported you to get this far.

  Celebrate your success and uniqueness.  Pause, congratulate yourself and express gratitude for all you have created.  It takes courage to express your creativity and share it with the world.

  Spend the festive season with people who have supported you over the year – either in person or virtually.  They will enjoy seeing you away from your work, relaxing and having fun.  But do remove yourself from any family or friendship tensions if they arise – and they may at this busy time.  If you need some guidance on how to handle these tensions please see my counsellor colleague Reed Everingham’s blog.

Whatever you do – ENJOY IT ALL.  And don’t forget the sun block.  Best wishes for the festive season and the New Year.

Coaching can assist you to manage your creative life.  Please get in touch if you would like to explore the ideas above in more detail.

Try a little tenderness

Creating of any kind takes you on many wonderful adventures and fills you with such excitement that you want to immediately jump into a new or existing project and just keep going, powering on.  Days when ideas flow easily and you know that this is the right path for you.

Equally there can be times when you are filled with self-doubt, paralysed with feelings of inadequacy, unable to come up with the right words or ideas for your project.  Times of confusion, frustration, self-loathing, periods when you question why you are dedicating your time to being a creative in whatever forms that takes.

One thing that helps get me through such times and subsequent challenges is practicing self-compassion – the art of being kind to me, of treating myself as I would a valued and close friend when they are having a hard time.

Self-compassion is extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general suffering.

Dr Kristin Neff [1] at the University of Texas at Austin, a world-renowned expert is this area, breaks self-compassion into three main components:
1.  Self-kindness – looking after yourself and refraining from self criticism when experiencing challenges and personal shortcomings.

2.  Common humanity – understanding that you are not the only one experiencing such feelings or undergoing a challenging time, that suffering and personal failure is part of being human; and

3.  Mindfulness – getting in touch with your thoughts and emotions, learning to understand yourself, and then not “over-identifying” or suppressing these states.

Dr Neff has developed both a scale by which to measure self-compassion, and a series of exercises and meditations [2] to bring more of it into our lives.  Tara Brach’s short meditation is also helpful. [3]

The things I find most helpful when being kind to myself whilst creating are to:

Change my language – words have an impact so I take notice of my language and stop using harsh words when I speak about myself to others, when I speak to myself.

  Challenge my inner critic – notice when I am being self-critical – the words, the tone, the key phrases – and reframe the observations to be supportive rather than critical of my endeavours.

  Meditate – and calm myself down, get in touch with my thoughts and feelings, and get myself back on track.

  Accept – that I am not perfect, not always “on” with my ideas generation, my concentration, and my commitment to the task at hand.

  Stop pushing – for the creative process to move faster and to accept that it has it’s own timeframe; it cannot be rushed.

Developing and practising self-compassion has been helpful because it has allowed me to increase my self-belief, to become my own “backing band”.  I have stopped worrying about getting things right immediately, learnt to trust that I have the resources and that eventually everything will be OK once I re-align myself.  Importantly I know a lot more about myself, always a good thing, and how and why I create – or not!!!

Employing self-compassion is one nice way to support yourself when you are creating.  Give it a try.

Coaching can assist you to explore ways to bring self-compassion into your creative life.  Please get in touch if you would like to explore these ideas in more detail.


[1] Neff, K. D. (2003a). “The development and validation of a scale to measure self-compassion”. Self and Identity. 2 (3): 223–250

[2] Kristin Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas Austin and author – www.self-compassion.org 

{3] Tara Brach – meditation teacher, author and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington, DC – www.tarabrach.com/meditation-the-rain-of-self-compassion/

Pace yourself

Watching the Olympic games in Brazil I was again reminded of what elite athletes can teach us as artists and creatives, about life in general.

As we go about our life, practice and business there are many important things that we, like athletes, need to consider in order to live and create – building and maintaining our fitness, developing our practical skills and mental toughness, preparing for the big “race”, celebrating our successes, reflecting on and learning from our wins and losses, and importantly refreshing ourselves after our achievements.

Great athletes understand the importance of recharging and recuperating, of learning all they can from their performance whether they win or lose, and of refocusing on the next event, the next gold medal, trophy or premiership.  They understand how to manage their energy.

 

the challenge of great performance is to manage energy more effectively in all dimensions to achieve your goalsengagement is not simply one-dimensional.  The energy that pulses through us is physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.  All four dynamics are critical, none is sufficient by itself and each profoundly influences the others.  To perform at our best, we must skilfully manage each of these interconnected dimensions of energy.” 1.

 

We need to manage our energy to ensure that we have the stamina to go the distance to fulfill our goals of becoming successful people, artists and creators, however we define such success.

How do you manage your energy across all your four energy dynamics – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual?  Do you give yourself time to rest, review and learn, recuperate and recharge on a daily, weekly, monthly or yearly basis?  If the answer is no, or sometimes, then it may be time to rethink what you are doing.  Here are some suggestions to help keep your energy levels firing.

  Take regular breaks – Creating is a marathon and a good way to tackle the distance is with regular “sprints”.  Set interval targets for your creative endeavours, whatever they may be, over a day and then have a break to refresh. Write, compose, paint, draw etc. with no interruptions for an hour and then have a ten minute break.  It works and stops procrastination.

  Recharge – Identify things that bring joy to your life and make a commitment to do at least one of those things a day.  And make them achievable.

  Play – Feed the creative part of your life and make time to play2,  to do things that aren’t about projects and outcomes.  Go out and have some fun, and get caught up in living in the moment.

  Move – Move your body and exercise as it is a natural stimulant with both proven physical and psychological benefits.  Physically it increases your aerobic and anaerobic fitness; muscle tone and strength; energy levels; flexibility; sleep quality; plus more.  Psychologically it improves your confidence and self-esteem; reduces your stress levels; and increases your feeling of well-being.

  Reflect – Allocate time in your day to reflect on your successes, how you feel about your work and its progress, on your life, those people who are important to you.  Do something that allows you to listen to what’s going on ‘inside’ you and to be grateful for all of it.

  Sleep and eat well – Develop and maintain healthy dietary and sleep routines.  Choose nutritious fuel for your body and eat at regular intervals to maintain optimum energy levels.  Too little or too much food at the wrong times can impact on your performance.  Schedule your work to ensure you get between seven and eight hours sleep a night to rejuvenate.

Give yourself the best chance to do your best and have a break.  You don’t just deserve it – you need it!

Coaching can assist you to pace your creative life.  Please get in touch if you would like to explore these ideas in more detail.


1.  Loehr, Jim and Schwartz, Tony (2005) The Power of Full Engagement – The Free Press, New York, page 9

2.  National Institute for Play at http://www.nifplay.org

Creativity rules!!!

As we move into a new age, a new way of thinking, creativity and innovation have become the ‘buzz’ words of the decade.  We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.1

Creativity means many things to different people and in different contexts.  It involves bringing ideas to life, making the imagined real.  It permeates our lives and affects how we live them.  Definitions of creativity and creators vary.  And creativity is not just for artist.  It is for business people looking for a new way to close a sale; it is for engineers trying to solve a problem; it is for parents who want their children to see the world in more than one way.Creativity is an essential part of being human and something that we all have the capacity to learn, or re-learn.  As children creativity is something that comes naturally – just watch any child at play and observe how they engage their imagination.  Often  we have this creativity “knocked out” of us as we move through life’s aging stages where greater emphasis is placed upon logic and reason.

In his research during the 1950 and 60s Professor Roger W. Sperry discovered that the brain divides tasks into two main categories within the hemispheres of the cerebral cortex.  The left hemispheres deals with tasks logically and analytically, with language and numbers, reasons sequentially.  The right hemispheres reasons holistically, interprets nonverbal expression and emotions, deals with spatial awareness, recognises pattern or whole picture awareness, and imagines and daydreams.Creativity stems from the right cerebral cortex, the “right brain” activity and in the Conceptual Age the tasks handled by this area of the brain will be valued as never before.

During his research Sperry observed that people trained in skills relying on one side of the brain as opposed to the other, formed dominant habits that favoured activities controlled by the favoured brain side, strengthening these activities and habits over time.  However, “When people who are weak in one area were trained in that area by experts, they invariably increased their skills and strength in that given area, and, what’s more, simultaneously strengthened their performance in other areas.”

In short, thinking from one part of your brain or another is really a function of habit.  Like all habits thinking can be expanded to incorporate new experiences and elements, and to increase access to and use of the “other” non-dominant side of your brain. It’s best to be using your whole brain

Try the following activities to stimulate your brain, your thinking, to change some habits and expand your creativity:

  Give yourself permission – first off give yourself permission to “play”, to create, to tap into avenues for self-expression different from what you usually do; and permission to enjoy whatever happens as a result of this “play” time.  Not everything has to be about an outcome.

  Sharpen your curiosity – take yourself on The Artist Date,  “a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist.”Go off and do what brings you fun, joy and stimulates your curiosity.  Take a notebook and pen to record your imaginative thoughts along the way.

  Take a week off – from distractions that stop you from being creative.  Turn off the television, stop reading the newspaper, leave the computer or phone off when you are at home. See what happens as your imagination flourishes.

  Create a Mind map rather than a list – when faced with tasks/challenges/finding solutions consider doing a mind-map rather than a written list.  Draw up a map of all the ingredients and have fun accessing your right brain for ideas.

  Daydream or do nothing – both of these activities allow the unconscious to become conscious and the imagination to surface and flourish.  To get you started sit back and think about the first time you created something and what that felt like.  Let your mind drift from there.  If asked to explain what you are up to just quote Steven Spielberg and say ”I dream for a living”.

  Visualise – a very powerful tool to enable you to open up your thinking.  “In creative visualisation you use your imagination to create a clear image, idea, or feeling of something you wish to manifest.”   So take a stack of magazines, choose a central image to represent your goal or theme and then cut out and paste images to support that image onto card. It is fun to do, very relaxing and can yield surprising results.

Whatever you choose to do – enjoy.

Coaching can assist you to change your thinking habits and stimulate your creativity.  Please get in touch if would like to explore these ideas in more detail.


[1] Pink, Daniel H., 2006, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainer Will Rule the Future, Riverhead Books, New York, p. 2
[2] Tharp, Twyla, 2006, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life, Simon & Schuster Paperback, New York, p.7
[3] For an amazing story about on the difference between right and left brained thinking check out the following site: http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html
[4] Buzan, Tony, 2005, The Ultimate Book of Mind Maps, Thorsons, London, p. 53
[5] Cameron, Julia, 1994, The Artist’s Way, Pan Books, London, p.19