Christmas, Mental Health, productivity

Guest blog: How to find motivation for goals set before Christmas

As Christmas creeps closer, Jo Robinson, life coach and writing for wellbeing facilitator talks about finding motivation as part of the lead up to my Coping with Christmas workshops:

“It was good timing that Anita asked me to guest blog about motivation, as I could feel my motivation flagging halfway through November as we approached the Christmas season.

Blocks to Motivation

As soon as talk of Christmas starts and the festive adverts come on the television, a voice inside me says, ‘Oh, maybe I can leave that until the New Year?’ whenever an unresolved goal or life admin task rears its ugly head. However, the trouble with putting things off until the New Year is that those annoying tasks I’m dodging tend to mount up and spoil Christmas. They’re looming over me so I can’t relax and then January turns into an anxiety-inducing ball of avoidance.

Thankfully, I’ve finally become more aware of my self-sabotaging habits, and this year I’ve promised myself that I’ll avoid these by getting going on my ‘to-do list’ before my Christmas break starts.

‘How do I get the motivation to do this?’ I hear you ask.

How to find motivation

1. Do a brain dump. Write a list and get everything that’s bothering you down on paper – that can be a longer free-write/brain dump to start with, which can then be used to create a numbered list of things that you want to start work on.

My list:

a. Write and post two blog posts on my website

b. Prep for a workshop for late January

c. Do research into funding opportunities

d. Get more decluttering done in my flat.

2. Find your why. In order to get motivated to do a goal it’s always best to start with why you want to do it. For me, I want to slow down in December to spend more time with friends and family, then be totally work-free over the Christmas week rather than thinking about those things that I need to start in the New Year.

How to make your list achievable step-by-step

The ideal way of deciding if it’s achievable is to look at your diary and decide a deadline. My deadline is Friday 17th December, so I have just over 3 weeks left. Can I realistically do all the things on my list in that period and if I can’t, can I do parts of them, or cross them off my list?

My Blog: I’ve already drafted two posts, so it would take two days max to get them finished and posted.

My Workshop: I’ve got a meeting set up next week to discuss a potential new workshop

Funding plan: I’ve discussed a funding grant with a friend and discovered that the deadline is Friday 5th December

Decluttering: When am I next going near the charity shops?

The reason I work out my deadline is so that I can ‘reverse engineer’ my tasks – I look at where I have slots of time available and put them in my diary in advance. This enables me to break my goals down into manageable steps, prioritising them in order of importance, which also helps to prepare the different projects.

Just going through this process has increased my motivation; I mentally feel more ready, and it seems to have boosted the proactive part of my brain. It’s conquered the procrastination which was hindering my motivation, which is a reason to celebrate!

I also find talking my plans through with a fellow entrepreneur friend like Anita, or having an ‘action partner’ to check in with helps to keep me accountable and on target. If I’m feel stuck or overwhelmed, it’s good to have a supportive ear to give me a new way of seeing things, or to just listen to me.

Now that I have a plan in place, I have put the items in my diary around my current plans. It’s easy to get distracted, or say yes to last minute invitations in December, so having the tasks in my phone and paper diary, will help to keep them at the forefront of my mind.

If I’m tight for time, or not in the mood, I use the Pomodoro Technique. I set a timer for 30 minutes and get to work on a task. Then I have a five-minute break, and, if I have time after that do another 30 minutes. I use this technique for dealing with emails as it focuses my mind and enables me to use my time more effectively.

Rewards

In my experience, setting myself rewards a long way ahead isn’t a good motivational tool. I have found that daily bite-sized rewards work more effectively than weekly or monthly rewards as they keep my motivation going. I use simple things like ‘If you get this post finished today, you can watch Netflix for an hour,’ or ‘If you tidy up after dinner, you can have an extra half an hour in bed tomorrow.’ The sort of things a parent might say to a child to make them do their homework!

Another effective technique is to write down what the consequences will be if I don’t get my list done:

  • How will I feel if I don’t get my tasks done by 17th December?
  • How will it affect my time over Christmas?
  • Who else will it affect?

Answering these questions is usually all the motivation I need to keep me going!

I hope these tips have helped you as writing this post has already boosted my motivation!

What is your procrastination list for December?    Write this down and choose at least one goal to work on, breaking it down into smaller steps if needed?  Feel free to share yours below…and banish those January Blues.”

Jo Robinson is a Writing for Wellbeing Practitioner and Life Coach. She leads therapeutic writing workshops for people who want to increase their social engagement and use writing as a tool for creativity, stress management, and self-expression. A member of the Lapidus Therapeutic Writing Community, Jo has run workshops for several major organisations, including Mind, Hestia, and homeless charity St. Mungos. From her own lived experience of mental health issues, she is passionate about the transformative way that therapeutic writing can help people change the way people think, feel, and act, in order to live happier and more engaged lives.

Find out more about her business on her website or check her out on Instagram @thisisjotoo .

 

Mental Health, productivity, Wellbeing

How to Take Life at Your Own Pace in a Post-lockdown World

The past 18 months or so have seen us constantly adapting to the changing rhythms and expectations that life has thrown at us. There have been some real positives to taking life at a slower pace and being able to reassess what are the most important things to us. However there have also been some huge challenges to our mental health, family relationships and adjusting to a restricted daily routine whilst locked down.

What have been the things that you’ve most appreciated from lockdown? And what are the lessons you’ve learned that you want to keep applying now that life has become crazy busy again? It may be helpful to think about the current pace of life and whether this is suiting you?

My Own Recent Experience

For me, I know that the pace of life has become too fast at times and I’ve had to choose to step back and reflect on what I want to do differently. What is a manageable level of busyness and what is too much? My warning signs have been letting go of my usual self-care as I’ve been too busy and the odd moment of overwhelm where the level of activity feels like too much for my brain to manage.

The wake up call for me particularly was my catching the freshers flu a few weeks back and suddenly being forced to stop and rest for a week. I’d been attending several large scale in person events over 2 weeks and hadn’t been planning too far ahead. Before I knew it, my energy levels dropped as I fought off tiredness, achiness and a stuffy nose. I couldn’t concentrate for long and knew I had to stop.

There was a relief in acknowledging this and giving myself permission to rest. It was only then that I realised I’d been pushing myself too hard and that I wanted to slow down my pace.

Another warning sign was feeling I didn’t have time to do some things and was rushing – a sign anxiety was setting in. As I took some well-earned rest, I enjoyed watching The Good Wife on catch up TV whilst munching on some favourite snacks. I felt my mind unwind and I was able to breathe easy again; just be without having to think much about what to do next.

As I started to prioritise ‘me time’ and planned to catch up with a few friends, I started to get my energy levels back. Also I began to realise that a rest day per month would be beneficial to my wellbeing. More than that, I began to reflect on my recent business projects and saw that I’d been spreading myself too thinly. I was able to step back and reassess what my priorities were and where attempts at certain work streams were unproductive, an inefficient use of my time. Having discovered some free printables, I used the brain dump sheet to write down all of the work tasks that had been swirling around my head. I began reprioritising , focusing on what was urgent/ important now, whilst letting go of the other tasks for a later date.

I found the courage to action some tasks that I’d been afraid to confront, that had made me feel fear of being a failure before. As I addressed these , a new sense of purpose arose and I let go of unhelpful mindsets that had kept me stuck. I started to recognise the hard work I’d been putting in and praised myself for taking that much needed break.

As I recovered, I gradually started to focus more on work tasks again, doing only what I had the energy for. Slowly I started to feel better and had more energy to focus on the priorities. A sense of enjoyment surged inside of me and I felt ready to move forward.

Now when I start to notice I’m putting myself under pressure, I ask myself if I really need to. Using positive self-talk, I recognise what I’m doing well and think about what self-care I need instead. As I do this , my energy levels improve and my mind starts to relax somewhat, ready to face the new challenges ahead.

Dr. Kate Middleton, in her book, Refuel, talks about the importance of self-care, especially when we are looking after others around us. It’s easy to forget our own needs in all of that. Having recognised what activities tend to deplete our energy levels, finding other activities that re-energise us helps to compensate. Diarising rest times in also means we’re more likely to apply these if we’ve committed them to paper!

Finding Your Own Pace

Take some time to reflect and ask yourself:

  • What level of busyness works for you?
  • What are the warning signs to look out for when you’re starting to do too much?
  • What helps you relax and switch off from being busy?
Mental Health, Wellbeing

How to Manage Anxiety Better Post-Lockdown

Have you noticed that the pace of life seems to have sped up since the lifting of lockdown restrictions? Does it feel anxiety-provoking, adjusting to meeting up in person again after such a long break? Or have you chosen to ditch social distancing and mask wearing in public?

Credit: @katies.self.care.diaries from Instagram

What are anxiety and stress?

Anxiety is a stress response to a situation that can bring on flight/ fight or freeze reactions when our bodies sense a possible threat.  Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released to help us respond quickly and put our nervous systems into a state of high alert.

Stress can be defined in numerous ways but the Mind UK website describes it as “being pushed beyond our usual emotional / physical capacity.” Small amounts of stress can be beneficial but if experienced over a longer period, known as chronic stress, can become difficult, such as we’ve experienced during Covid. It can lead to burnout if not addressed in the long term.

Socialising

After nearly a year and a half of lockdowns on and off here in the UK, restrictions have all but completely lifted here in England. For me, the start of lockdown easing initially filled me with dread. We’d become so used to staying at home in relative safety, wearing masks in public places and being restricted in the numbers of people we could legally mix with. Suddenly the public was back out in force on the streets and I couldn’t quite get my head around being out there again. I tend to process situations a bit slower so my brain takes a tad longer to adjust to changes. My flight response started to kick in when finding myself amongst crowds, and the beginnings of a panic attack, shallower breathing and high anxiety, would cause me to remove myself from the situation, hopefully before overwhelm reared it’s ugly head. I’d only go into the town centre when at its quietest, usually first thing in the morning as the shops opened & limit myself to buying priority things only.

Being out again socially has been more tiring, exhausting even, at times. The first bigger gathering I went to was an outside prayer event at church. I’d underestimated how much it would impact me! It’s important to give our minds time to accommodate being more social again and do so at a level that feels comfortable and achievable to us.

Risks from Covid

Perhaps for some of us the fear of catching Covid is still very real, especially if we’re clinically vulnerable and feel more at risk. Some friends have shared how uncomfortable they were to go to church when singing was allowed again which meant they were more likely to stay home and watch online, missing out on the face-to-face fellowship. Mindset plays a big part in how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us and it may be helpful to reassess our current circumstances as to the current risks.

I had to do this a few months back as Freedom Day, when everything fully opened up, crept closer and closer. My friend really helped me address what my fears were around going out and to reframe them to be more realistic, particularly:

  • Most of the population that’s been offered the vaccine have had at least 1 dose, increasing herd immunity for now.
  • The risk of being hospitalised with Covid decreases with having had the vaccine.
  • Covid is a disease that is here to stay. The risks are lower than when the virus was first recognised and continuing to apply good hand washing hygiene rules and mask wearing inside and in crowded places continue to be good preventative measures to catching the virus. See this BBC news article that discusses living with Covid after lockdown eases for further advice. I have heard some scientists say that it is the number of deaths that we should be more concerned about rather than the current number of cases as an indicator of COVID-19’s current status. This doesn’t deflect from those who are currently ill with Covid though.
  • accepting that there’s only so much of our environment that we can control. We can’t control whether people around us will still choose to be cautious and wear masks in public areas, especially indoors or on public transport. We can only be responsible for our own actions.
  • Not judging others for having different standards to our own particularly now that restrictions have almost ended. Some people have embraced all that freedom day has brought in England. However others of us are more cautious and are still limiting our behaviours, e.g. how far we may travel and avoid public transport as much as possible.

For some people, agoraphobia, the fear of people or going outside, has settled in, leaving them housebound or very anxious to go out. If you’re struggling to adjust to being around people again, a constructive way to do this is to gradually expose yourself to new situations over time. 

If it’s about getting out socially again you might want to start by:

  1. Just going to your front door and breathing in some fresh air.
  2. Try walking around the block near your house.
  3. Go to a busier place in terms of numbers of people, e.g. your local park at a quiet time.
  4. Try somewhere a bit busier like a shop. (Have an escape plan in place in case of overwhelm or the start of a panic attack).
  5. Then keep building up your exposure to larger groups of people until you feel confident again in crowds or socialising with a group of friends.

For me, I’ve used this technique to handle busier places, e.g. my local town centre.  After getting used to quiet times at the shops, I’m slowly building up my tolerance of crowds.  Spending time doing my work in a local café has helped, starting in a quiet period e.g. early morning but gradually getting used to busier times and making decisions as to what I can and can’t tolerate at the time. 

If you do find yourself getting panicky or needing to escape, be kind to yourself.  So maybe it didn’t work out as planned this time but you can try again.  Being self-compassionate and recognising your limits is also important and you’ll get there at your own pace.  As restrictions started to lift several months ago, I attempted to do several tasks whilst out at the shops.  I’d underestimated how long long the queues would be in one shop that had only opened the previous week, and then realised I wouldn’t have time to do all I’d planned.  Being kind to myself, I had to choose to miss an online activity after and leave some of the shops out to take the pressure off myself as I was feeling overwhelmed and on the verge of tears.  By deciding on this more realistic schedule, I was able to just get the most important tasks done and escape the busy shopping centre, taking time to give myself some positive self-talk and let go even of the online Pilates which had been really important to me. Some deep breathing also calmed me down in the moment & talking to someone about what had happened when I returned home.

What is causing you anxiety post-lockdown? Can you need to break it down into smaller steps to gradually overcome that fear? The examples above may help guide you.

Needing further help and support? Get in touch with me to set up a 30 minute discovery call to discuss how I can help you put together your own anxiety toolkit to better manage your anxiety better long term.

Mental Health, Wellbeing, writing

How Writing helped me to survive lockdown and better manage my mental health

With World Mental Health Day just around the corner, I want to reflect on how all things writing that have helped me get through the past 6 months. Part of that has been practising what I preach on writing for wellbeing and recovery.

Credit: pixabay.com

Now, don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t always been easy. There was a point in lockdown where I was struggling with depression, in part due to running away from how I was feeling. It was at that point that someone challenged me to start writing down how I felt again and face my fears. It took a while and initially took the form of single sentences acknowledging the negative thought, eg. “I’m not good enough at this.” Then it evolved more into journalling, a mixture of feelings and reflections on why I felt like that. Over time it has become a daily practice, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a page or two, depending on my mood. In my more creative moments it has been a poem or blog. The result has been a lifting of my mood, fresh perspective on my situation, and a greater ability to problem solve. And so I’m coming to terms with being a poet and often this is how I express my deepest thoughts or process a situation I’m going through.

Tomorrow (9 October) to celebrate World Mental Health Day, I will be running a session using poetry to express how we feel, alongside Amanda Epe and Jo Robinson. I’m excited and looking forward to sharing some of my own poetry. If you’d like to find out more or book your space, click here.

Writing can take many forms, and it’s about finding out what works for you. Self-expression is important. It can help us better understand ourselves and take those thoughts buzzing round our heads and get them out into the open or onto the page.

What can you do today to acknowledge your thoughts and get them down on paper?

Mental Health

How journalling helps you to recognise and manage your emotions

I know it’s been a bit quiet from me recently on the blog front. The beginning of lockdown was quite easy to manage but the past two months or so my mood dipped. I’ve been trying to focus on improving my wellbeing, including facing how I’m really feeling by journalling. For a while I found myself not really wanting to address how I felt and so stopped writing my ‘morning pages.’ These are the equivalent of writing a journal, although somewhat longer (prescribed as 3 pages per day.) See Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, for more details.

Instead, I’m now writing a few lines (sometimes more) when I wake up to summarise how I’m feeling. I might add in what’s really helped ( a high point) or emotions I’ve really been wrestling with. It helps me to make sense of where I am emotionally but also may help me to gain some fresh perspective or problem solve about how to move forward. James Pennebaker is a social psychologist who’s done extensive research into the power of expressing emotions, either verbally or in writing and how this can enable emotional, as well as, physical recovery from illness. More about his research and its health benefits are discussed further in the Writing for Recovery training workshops I lead. Click here to contact me to find out more about the workshop or to make a booking.

Gratitude is another kind of journalling that focuses on what you are thankful for each day. When I first heard about this, the advice was to think of 3 things that you’re thankful for just before going to bed. That way you go to sleep in a contented frame of mind. Current advice during lockdown is to write 5 or 10 things to say thank you for, and as a Christian I tend to frame it as “Thank you God for….” but you can also put it as “I am thankful for…”. To be honest, appreciating 5 things from my day is usually enough for me. A friend of mine had said that keeping a gratitude journal has really helped her to keep her mood on an even keel throughout lockdown.

How about having a go at journalling for yourself? All you need is a notepad/ Pc/ mobile and pen to get started: try writing one word to describe how you currently feel. What’s contributed to you feeling that way?

As you start to write, the words may just start to flow and you find yourself getting a few paragraphs down without thinking too much about it. Even if you recognise the emotion you’re currently feeling, that’s encouraging self-awareness and can lead to further reflection about why later on.

I’d love to hear how you get on, so please add a comment below or email me.