Dr Audrey Tang, chartered psychologist, mental health & wellness expert gives us her tips for getting through the winter months
The “new normal” still seems to be anything but, and the continued sense of uncertainty is not doing anyone’s mental wellbeing any favours. And with Covid rules likely to remain as unpredictable as the British weather, this can cause feelings of minor irritation to much higher levels of stress.
Many people only seek help at the point of crisis, but if you make a commitment to building your resilience – your mental and emotional fortitude every day (as you might make a commitment to building your physical strength), you are in a better position to:
- Buffer low level stress without detrimental effect
- Be able to return to a state to equanimity (calm) following an anxiety inducing event faster than without such a commitment to your wellbeing
- Find more joy in life as you are not using up so much of your available energy on anxiety that you might be able to address and remove.
…so let’s start getting ourselves fit for winter.
- Keep a mental social distance
Maybe there will be some people you want to see, maybe there won’t, but given that Positive Psychology research has found that healthy relationships are key to a happy life, make sure your network is one that brings you joy.
- Identify what YOU really want out of a friendship and actively seek it out (or spend time with those in your life who already give that to you…as a bonus it means you can genuinely say “no” to the more exhausting people without feeling bad…you really ARE already busy!
Look carefully at your current relationships. Ask yourself:
- Which ones are reciprocal?
- Which ones bring me joy?
- Which ones encourage honesty?
- Which ones can I rely on?
and most importantly
- Which ones are with people I respect for their own values and actions? (Which ones does I actively want to choose?)
Then actively choose to spend time with those people (and the others can, quite legitimately be told – “I’m sorry, already booked up!”)
- Improve your stress management by asking yourself “How might I behave if I didn’t have that thought?”
A lot of the time stress can be created (psychologically) by the story we are telling ourselves. For example, we might think a meeting went badly and then “carry the burden” of that thought the whole day, until someone else tells us “That meeting was great” – if you have ever been in that situation you will see how a change in perspective (however it comes about – perhaps you were able to check a recording of the meeting) can lift stress right away.
Try the STOP technique:
- S = Stop. When you catch yourself in a negative spiral stop – mentally choose to press pause
- T = Take a step back. Reflect on what you wanted to get out of the situation (rather than arguing anything simply to win!) Identify your goal.
- O = Observe. Look at other options that are open to you (now you have the goal in mind).
- P = Proceed. When you take action, try something completely different from the other options. While there is no guarantee that will work, you will at least stop going round in circles which you KNOW will not work.
Don’t make rigid resolutions, take a “North Star” approach. Write down your overall goal and identify the steps you need to achieve it, and if you use that as your guide – like a compass, your daily little choices will move you in the right direction. If you get stuck ask yourself – is what I’m about to do going to move me towards my ideal life or away from it!?…and that may be enough to keep you going!
Schedule in “development time”. Timetable yourself in every day – making that commitment to yourself as important as your commitments to others – and stick to it, whether you are working on your goals, undertaking formal learning, or simply having a cup of tea while it’s hot!
What can help is recognising that it is not always the big choices in life (buying a house, changing job and so on) that have the greatest impact…it is the little things we choose to do every day, the little habits we create that really shape who we become…so we need to remember we have agency to choose…and then TO choose in the way that benefits our health and wellbeing.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist, mental health & wellness expert and author of new book The Leader’s Guide to Resilience, Pearson, £14.99