Outline of Chapter 1 of Connected Living (Your Well Being)

Connected Living

As a lot of you will know,  I have been talking about writing a book about connected living. Yes another book about success. Although I shy away from defining what success is and leave that up to the reader, other than suggesting if you want to have a life that is positive and fulfilling you are less likely to be able to do that alone. Therefore we need to start making meaningful connections with the people around us and beyond. Before we can make these meaningful connections, we have to connect with ourselves and that starts with making sure we are healthy and remain healthy, both physically and mentally. This chapter outline concentrates on our well-being that can often be left by the wayside. If you have read my blogs before, you will know that this is a subject close to my heart.

So below is the overview of that first chapter. Enjoy, and feel free to offer me feedback.

Your Well-Being

Since becoming an adult I have struggled with my mental health and well-being. Over the years this has manifested itself in a number of ways, ranging from general anxiety, self-hatred and physical symptoms. I was going to say I manage to avoid a dependency on this journey, but that would not be strictly correct. From the age of 16 until I was 44 I had an addiction to nicotine and I definitely used that as a crutch. Throughout my adult life my depression manifested itself as a physical ailment, generally I would present with joint and back pain. The pain I was experiencing was very real, however maybe not as severe as I felt it was. All the diagnostics came back negative each time. Eventually I was referred to the community pain team. This team was made up of a nurse, a physio a doctor and a psychologist. Each member of the team would take it in turns to triage new referrals. I was triaged (luckily for me) by the psychologist, who ended up continuing to see me. He started me on my journey of recovery from my back and joint pain and on my journey for managing my mental health and well-being. I recognised that my back pain was a useful framework for my poor mental health to take hold of my life, it also provided a shield for hiding my shame.

I had 4 sessions with the psychologists where we talked about how it all started and eventually how I found the pain useful, actively seeking it out to give me something to hide behind. When the negative thoughts were too much I would concentrate on pain in my back, telling myself and all those around me that is was the pain that was too much to cope with, allowing me to withdraw from the world. In my eyes it gave me a legitimate excuse not to be at work, to be grumpy and sit in front of the TV. Being away from the world does not help your depression however, the pain is still the same, the only relief is that you don’t have to interact with people.

As I said though these sessions changed my relationship with my back pain. For the first time I had permission to talk about the real reasons for my pain. It was just like shining a light on those childhood nighttime demons that lurk in the corner of your bedroom. When you shine that light you realise it is just a dressing gown. I started talking about the triggers for my pain, that made them somehow smaller. This was not an overnight sensation, however it showed me what was triggering my feelings of anxiety and how that manifested itself in me becoming tense and therefore creating that pain. Some of the anxieties were connected to unhelpful habits, others were reactions to what Professor Steve Peters would call my Gremlins. Gremlins are unhelpful negative memories associated with certain situations, places, sounds and smells. These gremlins would trigger those anxious feelings. By recognising these triggers I could start rewriting those memories with benign memories. Most of these gremlins were not based in fact but came from assumptions I was making about my relationship with the place I worked and the people I was working with. This was a long slow process but I did start to rewrite those memories. I now do not experience anxiety when I approach my work place. I still experienced pain for a good 3 months after being discharged from the pain team, but my relationship with the pain had changed and I no longer used it as a shield, I was beginning to manage my feelings by facing them. I stopped catastrophising the pain and accepted that my back was hurting because of the tension I was creating and once I relaxed,  the pain would subside. I was then able to carry on with whatever I was doing and eventually the pain would diminish.

With regards to my anxiety I still have episodes of anxiety and low mood, sometimes on a weekly or even daily basis. The difference now is I do not deny these feelings, I am now willing to accept that this pain is psychological. It is still pain and I feel it as I would any other physical pain. Pain killers are not going to work, I once tried antidepressants when I first acknowledged that my mental health required attention. I am no longer on antidepressants, I came off them under the supervision of my GP. So far in this chapter I have been reluctant to call what I was suffering from depression. Now in my blogs I have called it depression, but then when I here about what people who suffer from depression go through I am more inclined to think I have low mood and anxiety as a result of not paying attention to my mental health, which is very different from having a diagnosed condition. My GP called it mild depression, and prescribed antidepressants for a few months in the first instance with regular check ups . In the end I was on them for a year. In hindsight I was grateful for them, they gave me the time and space to get use to paying attention to my mental health. Once I had come off them I felt able to be open about my feelings, and start looking for ways to look after my well-being. As I said I do not believe I was depressed or mentally ill, I believe I was mentally unhealthy, just as I was physically unhealthy. Essentially I had been neglecting myself and was paying the price for that.

This chapter is not about mental health or ill-health it is essentially to help you pay attention to your well-being. If you believe that you may be depressed or suffering from anxiety, then speak to a health professional. If you think you are suffering from any illness that is having a debilitating effect on your life then you need to be assessed and diagnosed by a Doctor, whether that is appendicitis or depression they are both potentially life threatening illnesses that require assessment and treatment immediately, take it seriously and get yourself checked out.

If you are feeling essentially well or just a bit clunky and under the weather then this chapter may well help you stay mentally healthy and even make you feel significantly better.

When I was looking around for ways to help me,someone suggested I have a look at the work of Martin Selligman. He is one of the founders of positive psychology. Positive psychology looks at the psychology of a healthy mind and the behaviours and conditions that encourage that state. I discovered his book Flourish in which he describes what extensive research in the US suggests are the conditioned required to mentally healthy. The research suggests if you have an abundance of the following then you will flourish and be less likely to access mental health services;
Positive emotion

Engagement

Relationships (that are positive)

Meaning  (in your life)

Accomplishment
Positive Emotion

I remember looking at this measure and thinking that is easy, I have always had an abundance of positive emotion. I love a good laugh, I am always cracking jokes. That was true but when I looked deeper I asked myself how often I smiled, I mean really smiled. How often did I look at the world and see more than just my surroundings, how often did I see my beautiful surroundings. I remembered being on holiday in Thailand and having my breath taken away by the beauty of the country. I asked myself since then, how many times had I felt that. I struggled to be honest. I can tell you now every time I take my dog for a walk, go for a run, or just look up at the sky I feel joyful and grateful for living in a beautiful country. I listen to music and smile, I laugh out loud daily. I feel joy when I see family and friends. I smile when I see or hear that a friend is doing well.

Ask yourself do you smile, feel joy and laugh on a daily basis?
Engagement

Do you find yourself during your day taking part in an activity that requires no effort or thought? An activity that you enjoy for the sake of it, for the pure joy of it. Whilst writing this I was wondering, what I do that is engaging. I suppose once I get out there,  running is engaging, but I have to get out there and I have to get into the rhythm of the running before it becomes mentally effortless. Reading a good book I suppose creates the most engagement for me, and most of all researching for this book, reading about how the mind works, how we behave and what makes us successful and effective. I love reading about this, I love talking about it as well, I love giving masterclasses and lectures on this subject. That creates the most engagement for me. I can spend hours prattling on about how to empty your bucket, understand your stressors and connect with each other. I love it, it energises me and the better the response from my audience the more engaged I become. So there we are that is my engagement. This stuff, my passion provides me with engagement.

Do you look up and realise hours have gone? One commonactivity that creates engagement is catching up with a best friend over a coffee that leads to several coffees and then a race across town to pick the kids from school, because you completely lost track of time, catching up on old times. Some of you might get engrossed in a good book, sometimes that might be a new book or an old favourite. Whenever there is a new Jack Reacher story I will pre-order it and devour it as quickly as possible, I will binge read it in about 2 sittings.  Other people love to curl up with a favourite book, something they have read over and over again, it gives them comfort and transports them to another time, without any effort or too much thought.

Music is another way to create that engagement, either playing or listening. Music like many engaging activities also creates a positive emotion. It is obvious really that for you to be engaged in an activity that you enjoy it.

So do you take part in engaging activities regularly?
Relationships (Positive)

Loneliness is a real problem in modern society. In 2018 The Office for National Statistics  released a report on the characteristics and circumstances that are associated with loneliness. The findings are not unsurprising but stark all the same. 1 in 20 adults reported feelings of loneliness between 2016 and 2017.

You are more likely to experience loneliness if you, are single or bereaved. People with long-term illnesses are also more likely to experience loneliness. If you live in rented accommodation, and feel disconnected with your community you are more likely to be lonely. What was quite striking for me was that people aged between 16 to 24 are more likely to be lonely than any other group.

Being single or bereaved, having a long-term condition and even disconnection with the community are unsurprising causes of loneliness. At first glance though the fact that young people are more likely to be lonely than older age groups is surprising. I don’t know about you, but when I imagine lonely people I think of a little old lady or man sat in a flat, not a young adult. In fact over 75s are 63% less likely to report loneliness. That really surprised me. The ONS provides a couple of explanations; a) older people have developed a resilience to loneliness, as a result of adverse life events; or (and this will make you sit up and notice) b) most of the lonely people are already dead before they get to 75%! According to the ONS loneliness increases mortality by 25%, so being lonely reduces your life expectancy. It is vital not only to your state of mind, but to your life that you seek out positive relationships. You won’t only be having an impact on your life, but the life of the person you are connecting with.

If you see the same person everyday, on the train or the bus, or in the lift, start with a smile, then progress to a hello. Now not everyone will respond, but there will be people willing to connect that will say hello.I can think of a number of people who I have connected with, and have a positive, friendly relationship with, that started with a smile and a nod of the head. If you think about it all our relationships start with at least 2 people who have never met before (even your mum and dad). Be bold give them a smile, let them know that you believe there is more that connects you with them, than disconnects you.
Meaning

Does you life have meaning? Is there a purpose to what you do everyday? Putting it another way, what gets you out of bed in the morning? What gives my life meaning in the first instance, is being Dad to my boys. Being a father is an integral part of my being. Next is caring for people. For most of my adult life nursing has provided me meaning. Nowadays I do very little hands on nursing and spend my days as a nurse educator and internal coach.

Essentially all of these roles (Parent, Nurse, Educator and Coach) all provide the same meaning for me. That is caring for and supporting my fellow human beings. I hope I have a positive impact on the people I meet. Being an active positive member of the human race is my meaning. It is as simple as that.

When I had poor mental health and spent time away from work, I was disconnected from my meaning. I didn’t feel I made a positive contribution to the people around me. At the time I was a Ward Manager and was deeply unhappy with what I perceived my role to be and started to disengage with the job. There was a clear gap in my view between my values and what was expected of me. My job no longer had meaning as far as I could see. When I was a Staff Nurse I was caring for my patients, using empathy and compassion, something I felt comfortable doing. I assumed that being a Charge Nurse meant that I would extend this care to my staff as well as my patients. However at the time these attributes were not valued for managers. Coming to work and not being valued had a terrible effect on me and I could not see any meaning to what I was doing and who I was. My mental health suffered and eventually I became so unwell I went off sick. I was not ready to be open about my mental health at the time. My poor mental health manifested itself as back pain. Nurses notoriously have bad backs, so the normal aches and pains became unbearable pain. I would find myself in unguarded moments holding myself with so much tension to create more pain in my back. I couldn’t stop it, I needed the pain so I did not have to engage with the world. Being of sick removed nearly all meaning to my life. I only had being a parent to hang on to, but I didn’t always recognise it. It was a vicious circle the more time I spent off work the less meaning my life had. The less meaning my life had the worse my mental health became. At the time I was not aware that any of this was going on in my head, I had convinced myself that my back was the problem.

As you know there was a happy ending for me. The psychologist who saw me and helped me realise that my poor mental health was driving my back pain, gave me a way back into the world and reconnecting with my meaning. This didn’t happen overnight as you know the struggles with my poor mental health continued for a while longer. My journey to good mental health is relatively recent. Since combining both my nurse educator role and coaching role, I have developed a clear sense of meaning in my life. Becoming an internal coach has given me the confidence to start a blog and do some life coaching, which have all added to this sense that my life has meaning because I contribute positively to the human race.
Accomplishment

What have you achieved? It doesn’t have to be a dramatic achievement, like a first class honours degree or running the London Marathon (although there are plenty people I know who have done this). Accomplishment means you have achieved what you set out to do. It does need to have been challenging though. It needs to have required effort on your part. We have all achieved something in our lifetime. Can you remember that feeling you got from that sense of accomplishment, being able to complete something you have never done before?

On many occasions this accomplishment comes along side the other PERMA components. For instance learning to play a musical instrument or singing in a choir creates positive emotion, engagement, possible positive relationships if you are in a choir or a band, even meaning as music entertains others. Then when you can either play a piece of music that is recognisable or you sing with your choir at a concert, you have accomplished something.

The question is do you challenge yourself to accomplish something most days? It does not have to be really hard, but should challenge you. I go for a run at least once a week I don’t run far or very fast but I do it, and every week I accomplish running at least 1 or 2 miles and even 3 miles. I always aim to exercise for 30 minutes and push myself each time to be out for a little longer. Every week I write at least one blog, to me I have accomplished getting my message across, hopefully bringing some light to someone’s darkness. When it is published on my website I look at it and think, I made that. What have you made this week?
Often all we need to do is take stock of PERMA to realise what a full, and rich life we lead when we actually break it down. As Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly, we often live in a world of scarcity, where we never have enough of anything, we could all do with more of something. If you do a quick inventory of your life using PERMA it can often be evident that you have enough and you are enough.

Another little checklist I like to use comes from Brene Brown, and that is her BRAVING checklist. Often when our well-being is low it is because our self-worth and self-esteem has taken a battering. It is however nearly always ourselves that is the main assailant. It is then worth considering how much trust we have in ourselves. This BRAVING checklist helps you address any trust issues you may have with yourself.

Boundaries: Do I respect my own boundaries? I am clear about what is okay, and what is not okay?

Reliability: Am I reliable? Do I do what I say I am going to do?

Accountability: Do I hold myself to account?

Vault: Do I respect the vault and share appropriately? I am sharing too much? Am I sharing something that is not mine to share?

Integrity: Do I act from integrity? Do I do what is right over what is expedient?

Non-Judgement: Do I ask for what I need? Am I non-judgemental about needing help?

Generosity: Am I generous towards myself?
Before we can even think about connecting successfully with others, we must pay attention to our well-being. When we strive for success it can be very easy not to pay attention to ourselves. If we do this we will pay the price. Paying attention to your well-being is not just vital to success, it can be the difference between a long and happy life or an early death.

Our well-being is heavily dependant on our relationship with shame and vulnerability.

A Monk, Ruby, a Neuroscientist, Gaz, Midfulness and a Lot of Human Factors

 

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I am a little bit done in this weekend. This week has been pretty full on.

I have been trying to think what I did during the day on Monday, and I am really struggling to remember exactly what I did do, it is a bit of a blur. I remember meeting up with Janis and Ann-Marie to discuss what we were going to discuss during our work shop at the Chief Nurse’s Conference on Friday (I forgot to put that in the title). No then nothing I have no clue without look at my diary what I did in the afternoon. I know I was busy but, it’s not coming. If it comes to me later I will tell you. It’s beginning to bother me now.  It will come to me.

Anyway on the evening we went to see Gaz Coombes in concert at The Welly Nightclub (the same venue my son Ben played at the week before with his band). For those of you who don’t know who Gaz is (other than the subject of my wife’s desires) he is a singer songwriter and ex-front man of Supergrass (A popular indie rock band from the 90s and 00s). He was thoroughly entertaining despite the fact that his guitarist who we presumed was a stand-in got a little over excited and needed to be helped off the stage during the encore. The only problem is that I am normally tucked up in bed in my PJs by 9 pm on a school night, and we didn’t get in until 11 pm. I just knew that this was going to put me out for the rest of the week.

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On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I was delivering a Human Factors training day to new registrants. Just over a hundred new registrants (Nurses) have just started with us at the beginning of October. For the past 4 weeks they have been taking part in an extensive induction programme. As there are some many of them they are split into smaller groups of about 20. Therefore I have to repeat my day on Human Factors day 5 times. So I did 3 days this week and 2 days next week. I love doing this training, it covers a lot of the subjects I am passionate about. Patient safety, stress management, leadership and teamwork. I throw myself in to every day. At the end of every day I am spent, so by Thursday I had nothing left to give. I could feel myself running out of steam in the last hour of the session.

Thursday night myself, Lisa and my colleague Debbie were going to see Ruby Wax on her How to Be A Human Tour. She was quite brilliant. I love that she is so raw when she delivers, so she stumbles over her words occasionally and shows us all that she is just as vulnerable as the rest of us. The second half of the show has Ruby come out with a Monk and a Neuroscientist. Now the Monk (sorry I forget his name) at one point was talking about meditation and mindfulness, and what he said really grabbed me. I have used mindfulness from time to time and try to do it when I run. I will often beat myself up as I don’t seem to be getting better at it. And this is what grabbed me, it is not about getting better at it, it is just about doing it often. Now the premise of mindfulness is concentrating on the here and now rather than worries and thoughts that are going around your head. One technique is to count your breathes to concentrate just on your breathing, your mind will wander, and when you notice that it has wandered you bring yourself back to counting your breathes. Now the monk said that each time you bring your attention back to your breathing you set yourself free from that thought. The more you bring your attention back to the here and now the more you set yourself free. I love that idea. No doubt like may of you I am a world-class worrier, now I know that I can set myself free of these worries is a game changer for me. Then the neuroscientist chipped in a said that if you do this often enough you will change your brain, as the neurons and their connections will shift as you practice mindfulness. I can tell you this was a revelation. With enough practice and making mindfulness a habit you can change the way you think.

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So another late night on Thursday, but it was worth it. On Friday I tried to cram responding to my emails into an hour unsuccessfully before I went off to the Chief Nurses conference, we me and my good friend Janis were doing a workshop on Clinical Supervision. Rosie one the Matrons was opening and closing the workshop, then myself and Janis gave a brief presentation with some simple activities, then I interviewed the lovely Ann-Marie a ward Sister who has had Clinical Supervision for the past 10 years. We all repeated this 3 times. I can tell you by the 3rd time we were all the verge of losing the plot. We had a great day and it appeared we got our message across about the importance of clinical supervision and the impact it has on professional practice. From the conference I went across the city to do some coaching, with an inspiring young man. Even though I was done in, he managed to re-energise me. By 8 pm I was sat in front of the TV beer in hand. What a week, one of those weeks where you achieve so much, I feel tired but fulfilled and wholehearted. Roll on next week and more adventures.

Wrestling with Foggy

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I haven’t been for a run for 2 weeks. I had used a variety of excuses including rain, tiredness, and not enough time. I tell you this has definitely had a detrimental effect on my well-being. If you had asked me last week how I was doing, I would have said, I am fine, in fact I am doing great, and on the whole I was, but what I didn’t notice was that my stress bucket was getting dangerously full. I wasn’t emptying my bucket, effectively. I wasn’t paying attention to my daily hour of happiness, part of that is giving myself head space going for a run. Not going for a run is a double-edged sword, I don’t get my headspace and on top of that I feel guilty for not going for a run.

This past week was quite an important week for me, with a couple of things that were happening that required me to be vulnerable, and in the words of Brene Brown, dare greatly. So not being mentally on form was problematic. Firstly I was meeting our Chief Nurse to discuss Clinical Supervision with Janis, then on Wednesday I was booked to give a talk to the local Rotary Club, I was also delivering a Discovery Insights (a system we use to help individuals and team understand how themselves and others prefer to behave, to help them better connect with each other and improve team productivity) session for a team of Specialist Nurses. I was also worried about another work stream that was not going completely to plan (which ones do?).

I woke up on Monday morning at about 4 am with my old friend Foggy having a field day, beating the crap out of my self-esteem. It felt like every muscle in my body was in spasm. All morning, all I could hear was a continuous loop of negative self-talk. I had butterflies in my stomach and had no idea how I was going to survive the week.

Well I got through Monday, I dug deep and when I met the Chief Nurse, and when I went to deliver the Insights session, I showed up I dared, said what I needed to say, the sky didn’t fall in, what I had to say appeared to land how it was intended. Gladly I had Janis alongside me with the Chief Nurse, and she gave me that boost of confidence. The Insights session was just me, and to be honest at the beginning of the session I did feel like running out of the room screaming. I didn’t (obviously), I took a deep breath jumped in and trusted my knowledge and experience, it worked I did it, the nurses laughed when they were supposed asked questions looked interested and had a plan for what they were going to do with this information. In fact I got an email the next day from one of the nurses thanking me. That didn’t stop Foggy telling me they were just being polite and in fact you were just useless.

Fast forward to Wednesday, they day of my talk with the Rotary Club. To be honest the day was a complete blur. I remember having a sore throat and wondered if I was coming down with a cold. Just adding to my anxiety, I now had an image of me sneezing over everybody and having a coughing fit during my talk. On the way to the talk after work I decided to change my plan and not give the talk I was going to, as after talking to the lady who had invited me, it became evident that they were after some solutions for the future of the club. So on the bus on the way there (I always use public transport, I tell myself it is because I am eco-friendly, in fact I am just scared of driving) I formulated a new plan of a mini-coaching session. By the time I got there Foggy was stomping on self-confidence, I was barely holding it together. So after I had met all the members present we sat down and had a meal. What a delightful group of people they are. The meal and normal routines took about 40 minutes. That was possibly one of the longest 40 minutes in my life. No no matter how lovely they were, I was barely present in the room, I was desperately trying to push Foggy back into his cupboard, whilst trying not to listen to his negativity. Then it was my turn to speak, I did what I did on Monday I just jumped right in and hoped for the best. It was either going to be a car crash with no one wanting to respond to me or they would embrace it and start talking about what they needed to do. I declared at the beginning of the talk that I had no intention of doing all the talking. I think in total I spoke for about 10 minutes of the 35 minutes I was up there. They were fantastic they fully embraced it. I asked a few questions, and then they were off, by the end they had a plan of what they were going to do next and a commitment to action. I was amazed by how much they got done in such a short space of time.

Despite spending so much time in the arena and not having stuff thrown at me, and people shouting obscenities at me, I have still managed to feel completely useless all week. The only reason I am able to write this today is (I believe) because I have been for a run. Yesterday I had resolved that I would not write anything today, as I had nothing worth saying in my head. Yesterday I got written feedback from an old coachee, telling me how much she had benefited from my coaching, both personally and professionally. I so wish I hadn’t opened it until next week. All that positivity was wasted on me yesterday. I just didn’t register it as anything worth celebrating. Now today I feel so happy that I helped someone realise how vital they are.

Lets end on a happy note. I stole myself to go for a run this morning. Even though Foggy told me that I was slow and fat and that I would be laughed at by everyone down our street. I jumped in accepting that there might be some people who may be amused by fat arse bouncing down the street and by the sound of my wheezing as I struggle to control my breathing. I also know that most people will not even notice me, as they are too busy worrying about their own lives. Most people have got too much shit going on in their lives to notice some fat middle-aged bloke pounding the streets.

So I ran for 30 minutes (I walked a bit too), and it felt amazing even the pain and breathlessness was great. Foggy has gone back in his cupboard and I feel strong enough to share my feelings in this blog.

Actually writing this blog helps me put it all into perspective. I love writing this blog, so it does form part of my hour of happiness.

Even you find things getting on top of you, have a look at your day and starting adding in activities that make you happy, if they add up to an hour everyday you will start to feel better. (If you struggle to find anything positive, then please don’t keep it to yourself, share those feelings with someone who is close, also make an appointment to see your Doctor, there is help out there, don’t suffer in silence)

Loneliness

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After all the lovely inspirational comments from my friends yesterday, threw myself into writing and researching my book with a new fervor yesterday.

So I have an outline of the structure of the book, with the titles of the sections and chapters all planned out. Last week I started work on the first chapter. The first chapter will invite the reader to examine their own well-being and explore what they may want to do to maintain good mental health. As mentioned in last weeks blog I outline Martin Seligman’s suggestion of using PERMA to measure your well-being. For those of you who are unfamiliar and cannot be bothered to look at my previous blog, here is a quick reminder of what PERMA is;

Positive Emotion

Engagement

Relationships

Meaning

Accomplishment

So yesterday I was writing about what PERMA was and what it means to me, and I got to relationships. I decided to look up some statistics on loneliness, I knew there had been some kind of study recently. I found a report by the Office for National Statistics published in April this year. The results in some part were quite surprising and stark. Loneliness is a big problem in this country, and not just a threat to your well-being but to your life. Here are some of the headline figures. 1 in 20 adults experience loneliness. You are more likely to be lonely if you are between the ages of 16 to 24. You are more likely to experience loneliness if you are a women, if you live in rented accommodation and if you suffer from a long-term condition.

Over 75s experience less loneliness than any other age group. The explanation for this last statistic is what made me sit up and take notice. Most people who experience loneliness on a regular basis are likely to die before they reach 75!  Loneliness increases mortality by 25%.

The fact that young people are more susceptible to loneliness is really worrying. I wonder if the rise in the use of technology and social media is driving disconnection. Are we all spending more time on our phones looking at social media, communicating electronically rather than communicating with the people around us. When I walk into any of the staff rooms at work, I will often see 3 or 4 people all sat on their phones connecting with a digital world and not the people in the room. Is this why young adults feel increasingly lonely?

Do you recognise yourself in this description I certainly recognise some of my behaviours even if I am 47. Connecting with those around you, and forming reciprocal relationships is vital not only for you well-being, but your life as well.

PERMA and That Hour of Happiness

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The past week has been a little turbulent. It has been a week of feeling vulnerable, after sharing my feelings on here and sharing a little of myself in the support of others. In fact sharing in support of others Is suppose has triggered this blog.

I had no plans to write a blog today. I thought I was spent after sharing my parenting pains yesterday. However when I was out on a run this morning I started thinking about what I had said to a group of new registrants and the end of their first year as Registered Nurses. I was talking to them about the daily stress they encounter in their everyday job as part of a talk I do to Nurses about compassionate reflective practice. The premise of the talk is that to be truly compassionate to others, you have to show compassion to yourself. Part of that compassion is looking after and maintaining your capacity for stress.  Our lives are stressful, that is normal, life has always been stressful and always will be. If didn’t have stress and discomfort we would not have great innovation and creativity. Learning and development come from a place of discomfort. However if not checked and managed that discomfort can turn into distress. Innovation and creativity die in a place of distress. So at this point in the talk (if you ever attend this talk or the day I do on human factors and error management, look interested and intrigued as if you have never heard it before) I drew a bucket and invited them to imagine that the bucket was their capacity for stress. Now every time you experience stress it sits in your bucket. If you don’t pay attention to your bucket it can overflow and that is when you become distressed. I suggested to them that the way to manage their bucket is to attach a tap to the bottom of it, and they can do this by setting aside an hour everyday that is dedicated to their happiness, something that is just for them, or something that just makes them smile or feel good inside. I suggested to them that they may already be taking part in some of these activities but do not label them as part of their hour of happiness. This is quite a powerful proposition and is a way of appreciated, yourself, people around you and your environment.

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This got me thinking about Martin Seligman’s PERMA. In his book Flourish (if you are a Psychologist or a student of Psychology please forgive my clumsiness) and no doubt in earlier publications he suggests that people who mentally healthy have the following characteristics.

Positive Emotion

Engagement

Relationships (supportive/positive)

Meaning

Accomplishment

I suppose that hour of happiness in many ways is doing an inventory and just checking in with your PERMA on a daily basis.

So I invite you to pay attention to your stress bucket, by allocating an hour of happiness in your life. It can be anything that pays attention to your PERMA.

So far today I have gone for a run for 30 minutes, that has given me sense of accomplishment, which in turn has given me a positive emotion at the end of it. I have been writing this blog for about 40 minutes now which has been engaging and will give me a sense of accomplishment, it will also create connections with some of you readers, some of whom I know, so therefore builds our relationship further. Already I am over my hour, however I am not finished with my happiness today (it is Sunday I suppose). I have had 2 short 5 minute conversations with my sons one on the state of modern drama and it’s over reliance on the crime drama, with him stating that nothing useful or original has been said in that genre for the past decade. That made me smile and made me love him that little bit more. I then had a conversation with my youngest and his girlfriend about the programme they were watching, which was a comedy by all accounts, although there appeared to be no laughter in the room. The usual banter occurred as always does ending me gently making fun of his stubble and him telling me I need to grow up. This again made me smile and even laugh out loud and I loved him that little bit more. Thinking about those conversations also makes me feel proud of the young men they have become, so I suppose to 3 minute conversations have shown to me that my PERMA is safely intact and it is not even lunch time.

Even just taking stock of what makes you happy during the day can turn that tap on at the bottom of your bucket. We cannot escape from the stress of our lives, and nor should we. Stress and discomfort are vital for a successful life if managed, and only become a problem if we neglect ourselves and don’t pay attention to how we feel.

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My invitation to you is find and embrace your hour of happiness everyday, you well-being and resilience depends on it.

This forms the first part of my connected living program, if you would like to know more about managing your stress how you can better connect with yourself and others get in touch.

matt@mattycoach71.com

 

Being vulnerable and connected with yourself is hard, but worth it!

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On Sunday I wrote about my mental health after a while. I thought it was time to share again. Time to face a few demons that have been lingering and to acknowledge to positive effect reading Brene Brown’s work has had on me and my mental health.

I should have known though, I should have remembered how it makes me feel when I share a piece of me. Making yourself vulnerable is bloody painful. I was apprehensive on Sunday. My finger did hover over the publish button. But I said to myself, it will be fine this time round, this time you are daring greatly, you have super powers.

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Well I don’t have super powers and no it is not different now. I am a lot better than I was 2 years ago and the pain isn’t as deep and widespread, but still it’s not bloody fair I said to myself yesterday morning.

I woke up yesterday with Foggy nudging me smirking, reminding me what I had done, reminding me that I had shown my weakness to the world. Oh the shame, oh the embarrassment he told me. I reminded him that all the comments I had were positive, thanking me and letting me know how much they enjoyed reading it. That’s only because not many read it he retorted. At this point can I just point out that this is a silent discourse in my head and I am not doing a Gollum/Sméagol routine on the bus.

When I got to the office I re-read some comments and looked at the likes on Facebook, and via the reader. I did make a difference, it did help me. In fact I would say it helped me greatly yesterday, in fact I had a wonderful day yesterday having some really useful discussions about a research article I am writing with colleagues from the university, then planning a training/support day for nurses who have been qualified for a year to help them explore professionalism and compassion, followed by a lively tutorial with a coaching trainee. The energy that I felt yesterday was purely down to making myself vulnerable. I felt able to share snippets of myself thorough every aspect of the discussions I had, creating stronger connections.

Today Foggy was back, this time I gave him some space, let him air his concerns I spent some time exploring that and again feel better. Sometimes I notice Foggy can be useful, he can stop me from getting over excited and rushing into to actions that may not be wise. Today was one of those times.

He hasn’t stopped me being vulnerable though, although he did provoke me to re-share and retweet the weekends blogs. I even tweeted Brene Brown! She hasn’t replied, but then again I am sure she gets millions of tweets and no doubt she doesn’t manage her twitter anyway, but I thought what the heck, at worst I get ignored.

Then I thought I would write a blog about the vulnerability of being vulnerable, whilst being vulnerable. Mainly to piss Foggy off.

If you are suffering in silence with shame and anxiety, reach out to someone you care about, who cares about you and share your shame, or anxiety, turn a light on the dark recesses of you mind. If you care about someone sit alongside them listen to them give them some space and understanding. We all have felt shame so we understand how we all feel. We can all show each other empathy if we embrace our own shame and vulnerability.

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When somebody spares you a few minutes to listen to you and try to understand you, it has an amazing effect on you. Give it a try sit and listen to a friend, tell them what makes you feel vulnerable. Yes it hurts but not as deeply as holding on to that shame. Give them a hug (it doesn’t have to be a real hug sitting alongside and sharing is a virtual hug).

Lets change the world one hug at a time.

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Me and Foggy

My old friends will remember Foggy. For the uninitiated Foggy is my negative self speak, my dark cloud, my black dog.  He is my depression to put it simply, the dark part of my brain that likes to suck away my hope, my joy, and my enthusiasm.

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Maybe I am being a little bit unkind to Foggy. To be fair to Foggy it is not completely his fault. Foggy is just my self speak with no boundaries. If I do battle with Foggy or don’t pay attention to my self-worth, then Foggy lets rip and stomps all over my aspirations and dreams. He doesn’t just create self-doubt he takes a sledgehammer to my self-esteem and creates a feeling of self hate.

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Well he used to. I don’t let him do that to me anymore. I smother him with love and appreciation. I practice shining a light on the dark corners of my mind where he does his worst. These practices have become most successful in the past couple of months. I was starting to feel better after being open about how I feel, and sharing my feelings with you lot. However since reading the work of Brene Brown and Stephen Covey and can now make sense of what I was doing and refine it. I realise Foggy was formed way back in my childhood. Can I say now I had a lovely childhood I was kept safe, and most of all loved by loving Mum and Dad, and Brother and Sister. My mum largely brought me up alone as my Dad was away at sea in the Navy when I was young and then when I was a teenager they got divorced. Again this is not unusual, so I do not consider this a problem. Foggy did however form at this time and got stronger and stronger through my late teens and early adulthood, where he was finally strong enough to run amok. Now after reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly (this book has changed my life completely) I realise Foggy was fed by shame. Even writing that word makes me feel emotional.

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As I am writing this BBC Breakfast is doing a peace on suicide amongst men. Depression and suicide amongst men is the a terrible legacy of modern society. I am convinced that this comes from shame. None of us what to feel judged. Being vulnerable, emotional and caring are considered weaknesses. Just as I said yesterday in my blog about compassionate leadership.

I remember being a teenager and feeling ashamed for being kind and caring, for feeling emotional. Feeling ashamed that I didn’t understand or interested in playing football. I felt like I didn’t belong, I didn’t fit into the male stereotype. I now realise that most of my friends felt this to a greater or lesser extent, but were too afraid to say anything because we felt ashamed. I remember telling a female friend that I thought I must be gay, because I wanted to be a nurse, because I enjoyed talking to people about their feelings. As I did not feel masculine enough I must have been gay and being gay was a negative thing and another source of shame. Society puts us in a box and provides a set of values and behaviours we have to live up to (women and men). Most of these behaviours are impossible for us to live up to.  This shame got bigger and bigger as I got older. I have to be good at everything, I have to be successful, I have to provide for my family. I couldn’t in my mind live up to the ideals I felt society had enforced on me. Eventually to cut a long story short I disengaged with life. I did this a number of times through my adult life.

Now we don’t have to live in shame. Shame is a lie. If you do something wrong or make a mistake or you live your life differently to everyone else, you are not a bad person. There is a difference between guilt and shame. It is fine to feel guilty for your actions when they effect others. Guilt does not define you, you can make amends and redeem yourself. Shame assumes that you are flawed and unable to change. Shame implies you are less worthy. Not fitting into the male or female paradigm set by our society does not make you or me flawed. Talking about what makes you feel shame actually diminishes your shame. For me it was a bit like turning my bedroom light on when I was a child and realising the monster by the door was just my dressing gown on the back of my bedroom door. Talking about your shame turns your bedroom light on, and turns your demons into what they really are, just the furniture of your life.

So now in my post Brene life I talk about my shame openly, including crying when wonderful things happen, or when someone tells me a sad story. Foggy is now just my self talk, and that is all. I can now have a debate with myself about whether or not I should do something. He will still try to make me feel ashamed, sometimes he will succeed. But I know where that light switch is.

I find sharing some of my shame through a blog useful. Other times I will be selective who I share with. Be mindful when sharing that the person you are about to share with is ready to receive this. Sharing your darkest secrets on a first date may be ill advised.

Sharing shame and vulnerability makes you more empathetic and compassionate, therefore making you better equipped to connect meaningfully with the people around you.

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If you want to know more about connecting with yourself and others email me

matt@mattycoach71.com