Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: positive feedback

The Musical Chairs Post (or how I’m coping with change at work)

IMG_2966On Tuesday morning I got a lift into work with C, feeling slightly sick at the prospect of the day ahead. It’s been a while since I felt this bad about going into the office. I felt disappointed in myself, irrationally so, and then got cross with myself about that, too.

So why was I worried when I woke up? Well, we had a team meeting scheduled for that morning. Nothing unusual about that, but this particular meeting was to discuss our upcoming office relocation announced last week.

The prospect of imminent change to my “work home”, so to speak, has triggered my anxiety.  After five years’ sitting at the same desk I’m literally moving up in the world. Currently divided over two floors of our building, my colleagues and I are destined to go higher and join the rest of our team. A move has been on the cards for some time – so long, in fact, that I’ve settled into my space over the years.  As such, I presumed talk of reuniting my team was simply another public sector promise; a “nice to have one day” but not likely happening anytime soon.

Anxiety is a funny thing. Admittedly, it’s not so funny when you’re in it. However by “funny” I mean that it’s strange how anxiety appears and disappears so quickly. Sometimes coming on suddenly, and at other times, it seems to sneak up and catch me unawares. Like fire, anxiety rises seemingly out of nowhere. Also like fire, if left unchecked it can cause some real damage. I’ve already spoken about this on a previous post where I talk about my worst Summer ever.

Though this nascent nervousness around moving desks is relatively mild on the anxiety scale, I’m conscious about needing to take care of myself. In writing about my most acute anxiety attacks a few Summers back, I couldn’t help but wonder how things might have turned out had I been better prepared to take positive action earlier on.

As you’ve probably picked up on by now, in creating Project HeatherED I’m looking for ways to become better, which I define as becoming happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier.  Drawing upon my experiences with stress management strategies over the past ten years (well, thirty four, technically, but you catch my drift) I made it through what could have been a really rough day relatively unscathed.

Reflecting back on what I did to achieve this, I’ve devised the following plan of action for anyone looking to become better at managing their anxiety. This is exactly what I did in the space of twelve hours to work through my own anxious feelings around my upcoming office move. I hope this helps whomever else might be reading this and feeling similarly stressed out.

IMG_2892My Seven Strategies to Stick-It to Stress

#1 Tell someone I trust how I’m feeling.

This was the very first thing I did. Only slightly from a place of of panic, I carefully crafted an email to my managers to tell them I felt worried about the pending move. I think I managed to come across professional (I read, re-read, and edited before pressing send). After that terrible, anxiety-filled Summer, I made a resolution to be honest abut my feelings, with myself and others. Basically, I learnt that I must stand up and risk sharing what I feel – and what I want to feel – if I wish to be helped in the precise way I need.  

As expected, my managers have been nothing but supportive and kind. I received a thoughtful reply from the big boss later that day, which straight away helped me feel loads better. Rationally I understand that the Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ is correct in saying “change is the only constant in life“, however this knowledge doesn’t seem to get through to my nervous system. As anyone with anxiety knows, reassurance only does so much to stem the nerves. It’s a temporary fix and it doesn’t take long for the unease to resurface.

#2 Be mindful and stay as present as possible.

My personal experience of mental illness is that it takes me away from the present moment. Depression dwells on past mistakes, whereas anxiety makes negative assumptions about what the future may hold. As yogis and modern-day “mindfulness gurus” like to remind us (frequently condescendingly IMO), the present is the only moment that counts. Reminding myself of this as often as necessary helps me from wandering in the maze of my mind. If I do disappear, then as soon as I’m aware of this, I can choose to returning my attention to the here-and-now. This whole “bringing yourself back to the moment” is the essence of mindfulness. No candles, incense, or mantra required.

#3 Play up the positivity.

Admittedly, it sounds cheesy (because it is cheesy), but I have repeatedly make a conscious choice to adopt an “attitude of gratitude”. Contrary to appearances, I’m not a naturally “glass-half-full” kinda gal. Of course, if you’ve known me for some time, you’ll be guffawing as you read this blog, or watch my vlogs over on Facebook, and wonder what’s happened to me. I get it – it still surprises me at times – but I’m learning that underneath the veil of mental illness, I’m much sunnier than I ever really knew. I’m discovering new elements to my personality; things like my inherent hopefulness, positivity, and gratitude for the small things in life.

IMG_2900Getting back to the whole office move scenario that prompted this post in the first place, one of my best strategies for neutralising my nervousness is to intentionally focusing on what’s good about the move. I came up with the following within a few moments of seeking out the positives:

  • sitting near my best work buddy again,
  • a fresh start at keeping my workstation clean,
  • a reason to clear out my clutter (which inevitably helps me get into a better headspace),
  • I’ll get to know the girls upstairs better by proximity,
  • an opportunity to redecorate – to go for a more grown-up look and update my cork board with pictures of the people I love, and symbols of my hopes and dreams,
  • and, being higher up, we’ll have better views of the park.

There’s always more than one perspective we can take on any situation and we can choose to take the most positive. Consciously focusing on the positive assures me that there’s plenty of good to be gained from my move, too.

#4 Take my medication. That’s what it’s for, after all.

Prior to our Tuesday team meeting, I took an anti-anxiety pill which I carry in my purse for such occasions. Again later in the day I took another. It sounds overly dramatic – to medicate for meetings. I feel silly even talking about it, envisioning eye-rolls from those who might reasonably wonder why I’m medicating to manage general life situations. My partner, C, would have been with them, too, before he took one of my meds (without asking me or his doctor – not to be recommended, folks) seeing the effects for himself.

Medication helps me. Accepting this has helped me learn to ignore the voice of the inner critic so I can do what works for me. I still clearly worry about what others might think of me, but it doesn’t prevent me from acting in my own best interests. These days it’s a rare occasion when I need to take one, but knowing there’s medicine I can take which will “lowers the volume” on my physical symptoms is a real life-saver in emotional emergencies.

 #5 Write my heart out.

When I feel anxious one of the things I regularly rely on to help is to write things down. Writing is an excellent tool that works well for most people as a way of untangling thoughts and feelings, likely because there are so many ways of making it work. For me, I journal by hand, type thoughts online at 750 Words, or list gratitudes. It’s another tool which helps me stay mindful, taking copious notes in work meetings (that I’ll never need) to focus my mind on the here-and-now. Bonkers maybe, but it works.

#6 Get moving. Literally

Quite frankly, I’ve been pants at sticking to my regular workout routine of late. Not so unusual – pretty normal, in fact – for most people whose commitment to their monthly membership peaks and troughs with the seasons (i.e. upping their game before Christmas party season and Summer swimwear). However for me, I’m usually at the gym to where it borders on obsession and so I’m feeling a bit out of sorts.

Having habitually attended class on a Tuesday after work for four years, I try to turn off my brain and follow my feet. This way, I’m getting into the gym at least once and it’s helping me to remember why I go in the first place: for fun, friendship, and freedom from my racing mind. Logically I know that once I’m there I feel fine. Chatting with classmates beforehand puts me at ease and helps me get into a happy headspace.

Unlike so many other experiences in life, I’ve never regretted a workout and this week was no different. Coming back to what I know works, exercise genuinely calms both my mind and body.  It’s a healthy way of channeling nervous energy into something productive, releasing muscle tension along with any frustrations. Back home I’m tired – but no longer wired – and I feel grateful for having trusted in what I know at heart is in my best interests.

IMG_2914#7: Let go of perfection. I’m perfectly imperfect.

Giving myself permission not to be perfect is one of the most important acts of self-care and compassion I can imagine. It seems so simple – and it is – but it’s certainly not easy and, for me at least and recovering perfectionists like me, is a perpetual practice. It’s an on-going challenge to scale down my expectations and be happy with “good enough”. This makes ever-more sense in reading “The Four Tendencies” by Gretchen Rubin. I’ve learnt that I’m an Upholder personality type, meaning I live up to the expectations of myself and others pretty easily. It’s great for when I have to get stuff done, but not so much for engendering a sense of personal happiness and fulfilment. I’ve always got that nagging feeling that I could do or be more. Choosing to consciously release myself of this perpetual pressure – particularly when already anxious –  is another way I can practise being kind to myself.  

Still shaken by the prospect of changing desks, I decided I’d allow myself to eat whatever I wanted for my post-gym dinner. Rather than eating a pre-planned, balanced meal of an evening when I’m anxious, I instead find it soothing to turn to childhood comfort foods. Namely, eggs, soup, buttery toast, rice pudding, kids’ cereal, chocolate, and  – of course – cake. Admittedly this doesn’t sound particularly grown-up and healthy-minded of me, and it’s probably not.

There’s a part of me which still feels guilty for not making a “proper” evening meal. I’m hesitant to admit to having these 1950s mental mantras of “I’m a poor excuse for a housewife”, “I’m neglecting to care for my man”, and “what kind of woman are you?!” amongst others playing on repeat.. Despite C being a way more capable cook than I, on days when I’d rather eat cereal these kinds of thoughts inevitably race round my mind.

Still, I went with my gut – literally – and had eggs on toast for Tuesday tea. Fighting the feeling that I’m somehow letting C down, I knew it felt like the right thing to do for me in that moment. Over time I’ve learnt that sometimes when I have a mini-mental health wobble – which will happen, no matter how hard I try to prevent it –  being a little bit selfish is okay. Indulging in a self-centred whim once in a while releases feel-good hormones, providing a much-needed quick-fix to feeling happy.

So there you have it: My seven strategies to stick-it to stress. When used together this helped me better handle my anxiety around our upcoming office move. I’m sure I’ll need to refer back to several steps of this self-care strategy to staying sane. Hence having it here – in writing – will undoubtedly act as a reminder for me, as much as I intend it to share what works with you.

Perhaps sensing that something was up (I’m terrible at keeping my feelings to myself), C offered to pick me up from the gym; an offer which I gratefully accepted. Throwing my bags into the boot, I sat beside him and began to tell him about my day.

When we pulled up the drive, I could see D running from the far end of the back garden to greet us. Shouting in his loudest kitty voice (don’t ever underestimate the power of a 4.2 kilo ball of fur with teeth), he shared his kitty news, pleased to see us home. As much as he’s a pain in the furry butt, that cat brings me so much joy I couldn’t help but feel better.

IMG_2890I came home feeling pretty pleased with how I’d handled my nerves around the whole change of scene at work. Yet still, something felt off; I didn’t quite feel myself. Hair sticking to my neck, my overheated, lycra-clad limbs just desperate to get out of my gym gear and jump in the shower, I understandably felt icky. So much for self-care strategies, eh?

As I walked in the door, bags sliding off my sweaty shoulder, there C stood, his arms wide open and welcoming. “Come here,” he said in a tone I recognised as being genuinely sympathetic, pulling me in for a bear hug.

It was perfect; turns out a hug from the person I love most was exactly what I needed.

Suddenly everything feels alright again.

 

 

 

 

The Seventeenth TWIG Post (or how I’m happily handling feedback*)

Someone I admire reached out to me online this week. Seeing their name flash up on my screen made me jump. Why would they want to talk to me? I had no idea, but feeling both excited and nervous, I clicked on their message, hoping for something good.

IMG_3203Unfortunately, this wasn’t to be.

Much to my embarrassment, they wanted to ask me not to do something. I’m not great at receiving feedback. I automatically take it as criticism, and being what some might call sensitive, I can’t hide my emotions and take things to heart.

Taken aback, I re-read their message.

Something clicked.

I realised in that moment how my actions came across badly. I could feel my face heat up in shame. What they said made sense; I’d misinterpreted advice and applied it inappropriately. I felt terrible. Despite them being lovely and understanding I never meant to cause offence, I felt really sorry and apologised for my behaviour.

Being able to admit to making a mistake without jumping to the conclusion that I am a mistake is a new experience for me. It was somehow easier to accept feedback from someone I don’t personally know, but whose work I respect. Being open-minded and willing to listen, I was able to objectively analyse their comments.

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Mentally separating what I do from who I am empowered me to own up to my errors and make amends without apologising for being me.

Surprisingly, a potentially awkward interaction turned out to be a truly constructive conversation. It’s already had a positive impact. I learnt first-hand that this person has integrity; what they say is reflected in their actions. This creates trust, even in a very short space of time. Moreover, I made a decision to sign up for a service from a company that this person works with because of our brief chat. It gave me confidence that it would deliver on its promises, which thus far seems likely to be the case.

Most importantly this week, I learnt that feedback doesn’t have to be negative. Indeed it can be quite the opposite, which was a real revelation. It’s an opportunity to do something differently; something better aligned with my personal values. I’m genuinely grateful to receive this kind of feedback because it’s helping me to become better in unexpected, yet positive, ways.

 

This week I’m grateful for:

*Having a home that lets us host friends and family. Particularly when I think back to living in C’s tiny terrace, I’m grateful to have the physical space to welcome people into our home. I’d previously avoided inviting visitors, anxious not to be thought of badly for the clutter and chaos that comes from combining C, me, two raggedly black cats, and all of our collective possessions.

Since moving to our new house, one of our greatest joys is having family and friends stay with us.  Not only do we now have the literal capacity to cope with even last-minute lodgers, my mental attitude to having people in my personal space has also opened up.

Becoming better at accepting myself as perfectly imperfect has rubbed off on my feelings about my home. I genuinely adore our house, which gives me confidence to care less if others don’t feel the same way. Of course I want the people I love to love it too – but I no longer need their approval – which has freed me to simply be. And allow others to simply be in my space, too.

*Soon to be living in walking distance of our nieces, whose parents will be renting a house just twenty-five minutes’ walk away. It’ll be a new experience to have family close by for both C and I as adults. There are bound to be tears and tantrums at times – and that’s just C! Still, it’s exciting to think we’ll be a more regular part of the girls’ lives as they grow up. Also, as Aunty Heather comes high on the list of the girls’ top reasons to move to Sheffield, I’m hoping I’ll get an invite to hang out in their new tree house.

*Reading my book’s draft introductory chapter and feeling relieved to find some good stuff I can work with. An aspiring author, it’s rather embarrassing to admit how reluctant I am to re-read my own writing. Without sufficient distance, I cringe upon “hearing” my own voice and can end up over-editing.

Secretly, I started writing my book back in March. It didn’t take long for me to realise I was taking on too much at once. Putting my book project on pause, I chose to focus my energies on first building my blog. My logic being that as both book and blog work in synergy, I can reasonably invest time in one for the benefit of the other. For instance, some of the self-help strategies I experiment with in my life, and write about on my blog, might eventually make their way into my book. It’s all part of my same passion project – sharing how I’m becoming better, in the hopes of helping others do the same. IMG_3186

I felt reassured after hearing my heroine, Geneen Roth, say that her latest book – “This Messy Magnificent Life” – took her over six years to write. Upon reflection, it makes sense that creating something truly beautiful takes time. Having one of my favourite authors talk about the time and effort it takes to complete her writing project, I don’t feel the need to be in such a rush with my own. As someone who enjoys the editing process, having lots of lovely words to work with has to be worthy of giving thanks.

*Receiving emails of thanks from people who’d gone out of their way to tell me that my words matter; that by sharing my stories, I’ve let them know they’re not alone. Positively impacting another person’s life – in whatever small way – is a true privilege for which I’m grateful.

Selfishly, I started this blog for as an outlet for myself. I didn’t have any particular agenda, other than to put my thoughts “out there” rather than keeping them “in here”, running circles in my mind. Rationally I know that my experiences aren’t unique to me – we all face challenges throughout our lives, and many more than we know also have mental health issues. However I hadn’t realised that writing about my vulnerabilities would bring me closer to others. I’m creating new connections all the time, as well as deepening existing relationships with acquaintances who are fast becoming friends.

 

*Geeking out over my Fizzle membership. I’ve already talked a lot about what led to my decision to sign up to this service, but what I’ve not yet shared is how grateful I am  to really embrace the learning process once more. I can’t believe it’s ten years since I last formally studied for my Master of Arts in Politics!

I’ve loved learning all my life, so its unsurprising that I’d thrive as a member of a vibrant community of fellow thinkers and creators. I’m never happier than when I’ve got a project (or ten) on the go – and I can’t think of any more ambitious than developing my own business! Choosing to join this group of indie entrepreneurs made sense, and so far, it feels like an awesome decision. My racing mind is permanently generating ideas, and the Roadmap program provides the structure I need to move forward in a (relatively) linear fashion.

What’s more, I took part in the group’s Fizzle Friday live on-line coaching session for the first time, which far exceeded my expectations. Other “Fizzlers” (the name used to describe Fizzle tribe members) asked such high-quality questions, and I was blown away by Steph Crowder’s intelligent, considered, and constructive coaching. I can’t wait to take part again, and maybe I’ll feel confident enough to ask my own questions on camera.

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*A mid-week Chinese takeaway. On Wednesday it was coming up to eight pm and C was still at work. I knew this having checked out his location on my iPhone (I know; slightly stalker-ish but it doesn’t count when you’ve been together nearly a decade). Something must have gone wrong at work, which meant C was likely feeling stressed and exhausted. Attempting to make the remainder of our evening as pleasant as possible, I asked him to choose a carry-out on his way back. He picked Chinese, over which we chatted about our days.

I’m grateful to be able to change our dinner plans last-minute like this. Less than a year earlier, I don’t think I could have allowed myself to be flexible around food. Take-outs were restricted to weekends only, and as an Upholder, I don’t break rules; my own or anyone else’s. It’s do-able, but this degree of self-control is emotionally exhausting long-term. As such, it’s refreshing and a relief to be able to choose love over fear, and put C’s feelings before my own anxieties.

*An excuse to spend my afternoon in my favourite cafe.

When questioned earlier this week, C insisted he “had plans” on Sunday. After asking as to the nature of said plans, it turned out to involve repairing the toilet. Don’t ask what exactly he was up to – he’s told me a million times and I’m still no wiser. In any case, when faced with the prospect of several hours sans toilet, I decided to make other plans.

Luckily for me, an air-conditioned afternoon drinking tea and eating cheesecake is barely a hardship. I took myself off to set up office in the Vietnamese cafe, a short, sunny walk away. Fast-forward a few productive hours, and I’d written a couple of #MicroBlogPosts on my Facebook page, worked on my Fizzle Roadmap, and watched Simon Sinek’s “Why” TEDtalk.

Feeling just a little guilty about how lovely my afternoon had been – particularly compared with C, who was home, elbows up to the U-bend – I phoned on my walk home to invite him to meet me half-way at the pub for a post-plumbing pint.

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*Standing up against casual misogyny; namely, cringe-inducing comments on my vlog. Whilst I became accustomed to this being a regular feature of the nascent net (anyone else remember ASLing in AOL teen chat back in the nineties?), it’s my first experience of this as an adult. It brought back the uncomfortable feelings I recall from being a teenager; a confusing mix of shame, self-consciousness, and self-hatred at having put myself “out there” to be criticised.

Like most women and girls, my initial reaction to inappropriate male behaviour is of the “fight or flight” variety: ignore, block, and/or run away from the situation (i.e. close the browser). Speaking to other women online, this seems the standard response, protecting  personal boundaries and cutting communications cold.

Yet this somehow didn’t sit right with me. Since coming into my thirties, I’m more aware of how much young women still have to put up with. Working with some amazing twenty-somethings, this simultaneously provoked anger and sadness in me. Becoming an Aunty, I feel a sense of responsibility to do something more, determined to set a positive example.

Nervous, I contacted said person and in a polite, positive, and professional manner, asked them not to behave this way in future. I explained how it came across to me, and how it could potentially offend other women, too. Admittedly, it wasn’t received particularly graciously, but I felt empowered by having taken action. As someone who believes in the inherent goodness of people, I lived my values by giving someone the opportunity to change. I’m grateful to be able to make my own small contribution to standing up for women and girls’ rights to be respected online.

 

Until next time!

H x

The (First) This Week I’m Grateful For… Post (or why I’m introducing my weekly TWIG posts to the blog)

K enjoying her Sunday lie-in

In the spirit of this new series of posts, I’d like to start by expressing my gratitude for my partner C, whose genius idea it is to mix up my longer blog posts with something short and snappy. Like a twig. Hence my new TWIG post – my weekly gratitude list. Essentially, it’s my positive review of the week, which I hope will inspire readers to get grateful about all the good things in their lives, as well as get to know me a little better.

While I admire bloggers who can publish their posts with minimal self-editing, as you have likely picked up by now, that’s not my style. Even in trying to write this short-form article, I’m editing as I go. As a bit of a wordsmith, I enjoy the process of consciously choosing my words, shaping sentences and perfecting paragraphs until I’m satisfied with the picture they create in my mind.

So here I am, writing my first (supposedly) short-form blog post. Rambling already, let’s get back to the point.

This week I’m grateful for:

*Seeing a badger in my garden. I’ve never seen a badger before – they’re basically a moving rug topped with a Mexican wrestling mask. Awesome!

*Great feedback in my work appraisal meeting. I came away glowing with pride and confidence! Look out for a future post, deep diving into this soon.

*Changing up the work routine. Thanks to a student sit-in at my office, I’ve had the opportunity to work from home and had furry colleagues for company. They are however rather more disruptive than my human ones, who also don’t defalcate in the corner of my office. :-S My working from home colleague D has zero respect for my authority.

*An awesome American diner experience at Twisted Burger with C. Who knew there was such a thing as a potato bun?! Weird, but delish.

*Making gym gains. Going hard, and then going home (via the pub), post-gym sesh this Friday. I love my end-of-week solo workouts, and I’m really proud of myself for pushing myself to lift heavier. I hate the social media phrase “strong not skinny”, but I can reluctantly admit that there is some truth in there.

*An unexpected financial gift, that’s got me questioning whether there’s really is something in the idea of fate. Attending an Unleash the Power Within Preview event, I still want to go see Tony Robbins live. Surely this is the Universe directing my destiny?! However having recently moved house, my infinitely more rational other half C, is less keen on my blowing a grand or more on five days of self-development. Hmpfh.

*Better-than-expected valuations for our old house, which we’ve been working on renovating before we sell. It’s fantastic to know that our hard work and patience will likely pay off. Having a bigger renovation fund for our new house, I’m excited to work with C to create our dream home.

*Snowed in Sundays. With six inches of the white stuff outside the door this morning, there’s no way we’re going anywhere further than the kitchen and back today. After many weekends spent on heavy-duty DIY, I’m extremely appreciative of a enforced day of rest.

Not everyone is thrilled to be snowed in today.

And with that, I better get going. There’s a whole lot of nothing I’ve got to do today.

Happy Sunday!

Heather

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