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Always Connected?

The Cov-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have been working from home for some time. But this has been a mixed blessing. While there is more time to spend on yourself and family due to not having to commute, the line between working time and leisure time has become blurred. Take email for example. You take a long lunch because it was a nice day and the dog was really enjoying her walk. So you log back into work for an hour after the kids are in bed. There is an email from the boss, do you reply? It’s going to take more than an hour to research the answer and reply to him.

The culture of companies can have an enormous impact on the mental health of employees. Some companies have an “always on” / “always connected” culture. Meaning it is expected that you are available at all hours of the day or night. I personally believe a balanced approach to extra hours is fair and reasonable. So, there are busy times (the end of a project, month end, year end, etc.) and an employee should expect to have to work harder / longer at these times. Correspondingly, when there is less demand employers should redress the balance (added time off, leaving early, etc.). An employer that always wants you to work at 100%+ all the time will only be rewarded with high sickness levels, high staff turnover, stressed employees and burnout.

Recently, some European countries have passed “right to disconnect” laws. These laws mandate that employers must have a policy for email use after working hours. The idea is to reduce the number of employees having to use email after work and over the weekend.

Today, email is an integral part of business and is an incredibly powerful communication tool. So much so, that employees often feel pressured to check email out of work hours. According to one recent study, the average employee spends 28% of their working day on email and 45% of employees check their work email out of hours.  This means you never properly switch off from work to recharge, recover and relax. And this, in turn will impact your relationships with friends and family. As Jacqueline Leo (American magazine Editor and media Producer) said, “One look at an email can rob you of 15 minutes of focus. One call on your cell phone, one tweet, one instant message can destroy your schedule, forcing you to move meetings, or blow off really important things, like love, and friendship”.

And Jacqueline Leo’s point is supported by research. Soviet era Psychologist, Bluma Zeignarik, found that people can recall tasks that are uncomplete or were interrupted 90% better than tasks that were completed without interruption. This Zeignarik effect means that uncompleted tasks stay in our minds much longer than completed tasks. Our minds see emails as mini-tasks and so email can be on your mind 24/7. As the inbox begins to pile up, you can’t stop thinking about all of those incomplete tasks. 

So what can we do? Well here are some suggestions.

  • Learn to switch off, unplug from work and be strict with yourself.
  • Develop a non-digital hobby – physical sport, a craft or gardening.
  • Use the features of email to help you. Set an auto reply when busy or unavailable, block spam, Inbox rules (auto file some emails in folders without reading them immediately).
  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary newsletters, mailing lists, etc.
  • Allocate and block out time for email, for work, for lunch, etc.
  • Use the calendar and set reminders to do things.
  • Follow and encourage other to use good etiquette – Avoid reply all (should this be a meeting?), send emails in normal working hours, think about who you copy in, etc.

As Gretchen Rubin (American Author) said, “Technology is a good servant but a bad master”. Make technology work for you – be its master, not its slave.

Hypnotherapy can be an effective way to help you with stress, anxiety and burnout. If you feel this could be for you, then contact me.

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Uncertain times

It seems we are living in uncertain times. I try to remain positive and not worry too much, but worrying is an aspect of who I am. I have had some moments of pause and reflection on the world as it is now. Winter is on the way, COVID is still with us, the NHS is near breaking point, there are fuel shortages, potential food shortages and a spike in energy prices.

While these problems are real and should not be downplayed, I realised I was experiencing a period of anxiety. And this is understandable, normal and nothing to worry about in itself. But having a great deal of uncertainty about what the future holds is a challenge to our mental health and can lead to anxiety and depression. This is all the more so for those already dealing with issues as the fear of being out of control and unable to deal with uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders. As Rosie Weatherley from MIND (UK mental health charity) said, “A lot of anxiety is rooted in worrying about the unknown and waiting for something to happen”.

So at times like this it’s good to remind ourselves how to protect our mental health and look out for others who may not be coping as well as we are. Firstly, make sure you have access to high quality, truthful information. If you are going to worry about something make sure it’s real.

Consider when you want to consume information. Checking the news first thing in the morning and again in the evening is probably better than being constantly bombarded all day long. Also, try to avoid things that trigger your anxiety. There are some media outlets that seem obsessed with alarming people and are always trying to predict the next big crisis.

Stay connected to people you care about and people who care about you. Limit your time with those who are very pessimistic or negative. Also, having a routine can be good to remind you that life, day to day, goes on.

Anxiety UK (UK charity for those with anxiety) suggests practising the “APPLE” technique to deal with anxiety and worries.

• Acknowledge. Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty when it comes to mind.
• Pause: Try not to react as you normally. Pause and breathe.
• Pull back. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts, they are just thoughts or feelings. Remind yourself this is just the worry talking. The seeming need for certainty is not necessary.
• Let go. Let go of the thought or feeling. You don’t have to respond to them. They will pass. You can perhaps imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
• Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Practise mindfulness – notice your breathing, the sensations of your breathing, notice the ground beneath you. Look around and talk in what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Once you have centred yourself, shift your focus of attention to something else. Focus on what you need to do now, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry.

Hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to help with anxiety and other disorders. If you feel that hypnotherapy can help you then contact me.

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Youth Mental Health Day

7 September is Youth Mental Health Day (YMHD). It’s an awareness day founded by the leading young person’s mental health charity stem4. stem4 is a UK charity that promotes positive mental health in teenagers. They work with individuals, their families and carers, education professionals, as well as school nurses and GPs through the provision of mental health education, resilience strategies and early intervention. This is primarily done digitally through their education programme, pioneering mental health apps, clinically-informed website and mental health conferences.

YMHD encourages understanding and awareness of mental health in young people with a view to enabling them to live happy and healthy lives. Each year, the day aims to get young people, and those who care for and support them, talking about how to improve mental health.

This is all the more important with the covid-19 pandemic disrupting the lives of young people more than you might realise. YMHD 2021 focuses on how young people can #StrideForward with their mental health.

Missed classes, lack of social interaction, missing friends, cancelled exams and university lockdowns – the last 18 months have been rough. This time has seen many decisions made on behalf of young people and without their input. But as Vikram Patel (Indian psychiatrist and researcher) said, “There is no health without mental health; mental health is too important to be left to the professionals alone, and mental health is everyone’s business”.

Looking to place young people’s voices at the forefront of the conversation once more, YMHD 2021 invites young people across the country to reflect on how the last year has impacted their lives and share how they will #StrideForward and move towards positive mental health.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, one in six young people aged 5-16-year olds had a mental health disorder. The crisis will no doubt have worsened the situation. These disorders include anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders and addictions. Mental health can often be overlooked at the symptoms are not as visual as other health concerns. As Kate Middleton (member of the British Royal Family) said, “A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support”.

Youth Mental Health Day seeks to help by engaging young people in discussions and activities about how to improve their mental health. YMHD looks to go beyond awareness and breaking the stigma surrounding mental health into tackling the heart of the issue.

As a Hypnotherapist, I do not work with people under the age of 18. But if you are worried about someone who is, stem4 is a good place to start to look for the help and support you need.

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Nature, is in your nature

Time spent in nature is the most cost-effective and powerful way to counteract the burnout and sort of depression that we feel when we sit in front of a computer all day. Richard Louv (American Author). 

The Mental Health Foundation is holding a Mental Health Awareness Week from 10-16 May 2021. Their mission is to help people to better understand, protect and sustain their mental health. This preventative approach is the basis of what they do, as the best way to deal with a crisis is to prevent it in the first place. Their vision is good mental health for all. 

This year the theme of the week is Nature and its importance for good mental health. It’s easy to under estimate the importance of nature to our psychological and emotional health. For me it’s almost impossible to imagine good mental health without a connection to the natural world. Spending time in nature helps to calm, rejuvenate and energise me. For most of human history we have lived very close to, and as part of, nature. It is only in the last few generations that so many of us have lived and worked in cities and towns often with little or no assess to nature and the countryside.

As early as Victorian times, sanatoriums were set well away from towns and cities often in vast landscaped estates with private gardens for each ward. More recently, 1960s studies in the US found that patients who were treated in hospitals with a view of nature recovered faster.

Despite this sadly, many of us do not value or have access to the benefits of nature. It is thought that around 13% of UK households have no access to a garden. With greater pressure on land to build houses, green belt, gardens and park lands are being eroded.

If you are struggling with mental health issues, don’t suffer in silence. There is help available. With Hypnotherapy, for example, you are able to examine your thought processes and beliefs. These can be the cause of emotional, physical, mental or even spiritual problems. Once identified, changes can be made to address these issues and improve your quality of life. To find out more, click here.

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Could it be true?

Is Lockdown really coming to an end? What do we do now?

After more than a year of lockdown, fear of catching Covid19 and the rising death toll it does seem we have turned a corner. My partner  recently had his first vaccination and I feel things do seem brighter. The end does now seem to be in sight, but there is still some way to go. Perhaps, we can all start to think about how we will celebrate “getting back to normal”. It does occur to me as I write this in early April 2021 that this blog post may not age well if things go wrong from here, but this how things look to me now.

So, what is getting back to normal? We have all led different lives in the last year and have new routines. After lockdown I, for one, will have less free time and I will have to organise myself much better. I will have to think seriously about what activities I will continue with and which ones to discards. A year is more than enough time to develop new habits and even addictions. Perhaps you are not very active anymore or are drinking more alcohol than before. Now, addiction is an overused word.  An addiction is a condition where you do something and cannot stop, or have strong cravings if you stop, even though it’s harmful to you. So, being addicted to EastEnders is not really an addiction unless you cannot stop watching it and it’s somehow harming you. I know it can be depressing sometimes, but harmful? Similarly, if you have developed an “addiction” to regularly exercising during lock down, firstly well done and secondly it’s not really an addiction.

I have seen in the media that the feelings associated with coming out of lockdown have been given a name. The most common one seems to be re-entry syndrome. Going back to doing something you may not have done for a year or more will feel odd, be it traveling on a bus or train, being in the office or hanging out with friends and family again. This is normal and nothing to worry about – you will quickly adjust. But, it you are struggling to shed now unwanted habits or returning to how things were before, then help is at hand.

Some long ingrained habits that worked for you during lockdown, may not work well when you are not locked down. And these can be difficult to change. Lack of time or feeling outside your comfort zone can be stressful. Any major change in your life, not least society as a whole, can make you anxious and worry about the future. Hypnotherapy can help with addictions, unwanted habits, stress and anxiety. From mindfulness, to relaxation to hypnotherapy there are a range of techniques that can help. If you need assistant then ask. There is no need to struggle alone. Click here to find out how I can help. 

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I get locked down, but I get up again

Lockdown has been hard for many of us, but how can we make the most of it?

Like many of us, 2020 didn’t really play out the way I thought it would. Before it really got started the world changed and many of us were confined to our homes. Everyone’s experience of lockdown is different. Some lost their jobs while for some their jobs changed or became a lot busier. But for whatever reason, many of us found that we had more time on our hands. If you did, what did you do with that extra time?

Now, there is no right or wrong answer to this question. One friend of mine started reading again, having stopped in her early twenties, and is still working through the list of novels she has been wanting to read for years. Some of my friends put on weight and started binge watching TV series. So, between episodes, I took some  time to reflect. I decided I wanted to do something constructive with my time and I found, for me, the perfect solution. I trained to become a Hypnotherapist.

I had been interested in hypnotherapy and other talking therapies for many years and this situation gave me the time to do something about it. Now, on reflection, I was perhaps a little optimistic about how soon life would return to normal. So, I did an online, condensed, course over several months to gain a Practitioner Diploma in Hypnotherapy with Hypnosis World. Doing this has kept me sane and busy. But not everyone is so fortunate.

Many people have found themselves isolated both physically, emotionally and psychologically.  Not being able to see your mates at work, down the pub or at the school gates can have a massive impact of your wellbeing. When we have negative emotions you would be forgiven for wanting to get rid of them as soon as possible. The quickest way is often to self-medicate with a vice of your choice, be it food, sugar, alcohol or even something more damaging.

A more helpful and productive approach is to examine why you are having negative thoughts or emotions. Doing this is the first step to resolving the underlying challenge that is causing your distress. Negative emotions left unaddressed can be destructive and disruptive. We are all an accumulation of our experiences, thoughts and emotions. In extreme cases unaddressed, repressed, emotions can cause unwanted habits to form or be expressed through psychosomatic symptoms such as pain, anxiety and disease. Hypnotherapy can be used to explore the causes of these problems and help you to resolve them.

So, regardless of your lockdown experience, be mindful of your own needs, be kind to yourself and if you need help then reach out to your friends, family, support network or professionals for support. To find out more about my services click here