A guest blog by Andy Fisher, the happy learning company, UK.
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, you just need to find the light switch to turn the light back on.”
Firstly, I hope everyone is doing ok. It’s been a very challenging 12-18 months for many (to put it lightly). So many things have changed and now that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it feels like a good time for me to reflect on what has been ‘a funny old year!’
I am sure we all have a story to tell about how our lives are a bit different now. For some it will be one of the positive life changes, for others, it will be one of adjustment to new ways of working, for some … business as usual! For me, it’s been a real rollercoaster. Business doing well – tick! New creative ways of working – tick! ‘Connecting’ more with friends and family – tick! So far so good! But as things on the surface seemed to be going well, things underneath were a bit more of a struggle. So I wanted to share my story, as part of World Wellbeing Week, because if it helps even just one person that is feeling lost like I was, then it’s worth it.
I want to start my story with now, the end of the story and starting with the positives. I am feeling fit, healthy (still trying to lose those lockdown kilo’s but working on it!) and importantly, engaged with life, energised in my work, and generally feeling bloody fabulous! That’s as a result of the tips and strategies I will share with you in a bit.
That’s a bit different to about this time last year when I wrote and posted a poem called ‘Digital Fatigue’ – a personal reflection of how I was feeling at the time. All zoomed out! Missing my friends and family! A bit discombobulated! A little bit lonely even! A similar story for so many people, I’m sure.
Here’s the link to my poem if you didn’t watch it the first-time round…
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of some very difficult, challenging times for me personally and professionally in the coming months. My mental health was declining and I felt very much like I was losing control of ‘me’ – my confidence, my zest for life, my sanity! It feels so normal for me to talk about mental health now, but even a year ago, the embarrassment of ‘not coping’ was something I found very difficult to share (and I am a very open person!)
Back then, I felt that if I talked about how difficult I was finding lockdown, working from home every day, no social contact, not seeing my friends and family, I wasn’t showing the right qualities and strengths that is expected of me! I’ve always been the ‘strong, calm, level headed one’ for others, I couldn’t possibly show the world I’m not that person. So I stayed quiet, I soldiered on. I thought it was just a phase that would pass as quickly as it arrived.
The months passed. The feelings didn’t.
I couldn’t focus on anything. I was tired all the time. I was secretly crying into my pillow at night. I was becoming more and more detached from everyday life – husband, work, clients, family and friends. I wasn’t leaving the house. I just stared at the screen, day in, day out!
I felt guilty, I felt hopeless, I felt alone… (even with the most amazing husband, business partner, friends and family around me!)
It finally came to a head after a team call and something snapped within me and came to the realisation that I couldn’t go on like this any longer. With amazing support from those around me, I took some time off and worked on a plan to get me back to a place of strength, confidence and of course, happiness.
I started by calling Men’s Minds Matter who were totally brilliant and supportive. They listened to me for hours. Most importantly, they made me feel ‘normal’ and praised me for taking the first step… talking to someone about it! I spoke to my local GP, who was also very understanding and offered further support. They asked me had I considered ‘seeing’ someone, which was the catalyst for visiting friends and inspiration for The Happy Learning Company Kathryn Temple, Success and Happiness Psychologist who uses her work to help people suffering from all types of mental health issues and emotional trauma. I knew I needed a big daily DOSE (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Endorphins) of happiness to get me back on track and if anyone was going to be able to help, it was Kathryn.
And things got better. Much better. I started new routines and habits. I tried new strategies for making each day better than the last, which I would like to share with you now. Many you will know already. Many you will already do. Others might be new and worth exploring. I just hope that at least one of these strategies is useful for someone reading this, and help you as much as they helped me get through those challenging months…
Let’s start with an easy one. It’s a big love and part of my life. Research and science has shown that making and playing a ‘mood’ playlist creates frequencies and energies that impact on our mood. So I was encouraged to create a playlist for every occasion – big energy playlist, chillout playlist, love playlist and of course, a happy playlist. My happy playlist is full of the songs that create happy thoughts for me, connect me to happy memories, or just make me want to sing and dance at the top of my voice. In fact, only the other day I took an extended lunch break and danced round my lounge to a live broadcast of the House Gospel Choir. That literally was enough to put a spring in my step all week. If you love House and Gospel, check it out. I guarantee it’s enough to put a smile on the saddest face!
2. Be present
A gift from Men’s Minds Matter. We talked a lot about how people worry about things from the past and get anxious about what might be in the future. But if we spent more time each day, being really present on the now, being really conscious to the sights, sounds, smells in the moment and being thankful for the little things are happening around us, it has the amazing ability to push away all the other noise and helps you feel calm, in control and confident! Combine it as part of an ‘hour of power’ – time just for you, to revitalise your mind, body and soul. I do this regularly and it is a game-changer.
3. 7/11 breathing
When you are in a state of worry, anxiety or even depression, you are producing the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is the body’s natural alarm system and plays an important role in a number of things your body does, like regulating your blood pressure and manages how your body uses fats and carbohydrates. However, when you are in a regular state of anxiety or stress, and therefore don’t turn the cortisol tap off, (which I found out can be caused by staring at a zoom screen all day!) it can have serious consequences. There are some simple things you can do to alleviate this – this one is simple and brilliant. 7/11 breathing is a technique that can quickly slow the production of cortisol levels and increase your levels of serotonin. Serotonin has lots of benefits. Commonly known as the feel-good chemical, it helps regulate your mood and is integral to your overall sense of well-being. Breathe in for 7 counts. Out for 11 counts. Repeat three times and instantly feel the difference.
4. Exercise regularly
Some people love it, some people don’t. I’m kind of in both camps, so the thing for me that is important is to do exercise that I enjoy doing. If it feels like a chore, I won’t do it! The pandemic stripped away the opportunities to do the exercise I love and so slowly I stopped exercising (as my belly will tell you!) But now, with the world opening up again, I’ve started my swim, spin and gym* routine again and I feel more energised than ever!
*This is actually working out with my business partner again in her home gym, and a Saturday HIT class run by my husband for his friends. I’m not a good gym go-er unless I have people to enjoy it with.
Find the thing that you will commit to, even if it is a daily walk and start feeling alive again
5. Affirmation cards
Maybe a strange thing to put on the list but bloody hell, they are good! Kathryn gave me ‘The Rites of Man’ by Ian Lynch, a book that explores appreciative inquiry, guidance and self-leadership for men (but I’m guessing the principal works for anyone!) Pick one of the 70 cards that help ‘explore your life’, read the short section in the book and reflect on the positively aligned questions related to that card. It’s a great way to focus on all the positive aspects of your life, be it love, work, career, success etc. Highly recommended!
6. Social contact
That thing we’ve all missed so much. Visiting family and having a big hug with your mum, going out with friends, working with my wonderful team together in the same room. You know the deal! There’s nothing like it… so now that we can, go out there and socialise as much as you can!
7. Life journal
I’ve got to admit, I don’t do this every day, but the principle of writing down your thoughts and feelings is a great one and something I do often. I love poetry so I often write poems to express how I feel. It could be as simple as writing down ‘I feel shit today!’ but research shows that when you get it written down on paper, there is a sense of acknowledgment of that emotion and you can then choose to do something about And this blog is a great example – just sharing my story in this way in the hope that it will ‘touch’ somebody in a positive way is feeling so good!
8. Be thankful!
Spend a few minutes every day being thankful for all the great things in your life. For me, I’m so grateful and thankful to George, my husband, who is my energy booster and Rockstar. Helen, my business partner, for her understanding, care and kindness. My friends and family, for the laughter, love and support. And don’t forget to thank yourself for being the awesome human being you are!
9. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
Similar to acupuncture, EFT focuses on the meridian points — or energy hot spots — to restore balance to your body’s energy. It’s believed that restoring this energy balance can relieve symptoms a negative experience or emotion may have caused. I’m not a therapist and so I will not attempt to give advice on how to do this, but if you feel you have any type of emotional distress, often triggered from past events, this is absolutely amazing and changed my life. To learn more, this article explains it clearly and simply.
10. Just talk
Not until I found myself in these dark times did I realise the importance of talking about it. There is so much support, be it a charity/not for profit organisation, your friends, family, colleagues. Never be too embarrassed to talk. Never feel you are a failure if you talk. Opening up about your mental health and sharing your mental health journey only helps the discussion – and you’ll never know who you’ll touch!
And that’s my list! Oh yes! In addition, I also eat more oily fish and diffuse Frankincense oil. One’s good for the brain and one makes you feel less anxious, so both worthy of a mention! And I use the amazing new happiness and mental health/wellbeing app, Lifted, created by the talented Mitch Robinson. Check it out on the links below.
So, I hope you can see that I learnt a lot in the last year. I learnt how fragile and vulnerable we all are. I learnt that there is a stigma attached to talking about our mental health, especially for men. I also learnt that you can use your story to inspire others and help them find the light switch to a better tomorrow.
Keep talking. Always.
Keep doing the things that make you shine brightly. That light switch is always there, sometimes you just need help finding it again.
Most importantly, keep well and happy, beautiful people.
Love, Andy x
PS. I’m doing an Adele type comeback and writing my follow up poem to digital fatigue… watch this space!
Don’t look for happiness, create it!