What does family mean?

Following some recent conversations about our Company name ‘Family Focus UK’, Åse and I were prompted to pose a new question on our homepage…‘What does family mean?’

When we joined forces, Åse and I were both working predominantly with parenting and we were both extremely passionate about its importance and the family structure. We wanted to focus on this notion of ‘family’ - hence our choice of Company name, Family Focus UK.

However, the tremendous growth in the talk, publicity and awareness of mental health and wellbeing has morphed our work from a purely parenting focus to one that includes a wider scope of topics. So then. Do we change our Company name from ‘Family’ to ‘something else?’

Absolutely not! Because the word ‘family’ is no longer a singular explanation from an olde-worlde version of 2 parents and 2 children. Family has evolved over time to encompass so much more:

In the context of human society, a family is a group of people related either by consanguinity (recognised birth), affinity (marriage or other relationship) or co-existence

Members of the immediate family may include spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Members of the extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and siblings-in-law

Family can relate to places of work or associates by proximity

In most societies, the family is the principal institution for the socialisation of children.

The word "family" can be used metaphorically to create more inclusive categories such as community, nationhood, global village and humanism

We believe that family is a lot more than your birth connections. Family is your community that you build around you. Your work colleagues, football club, your Church, your choir, your neighbours and school friends. Family is the unit you connect with that brings value to your life and gives you purpose. Family can be given to you with birth, or you can create it yourself by forming relationships and connections that matter.

So - who is your family? What are you doing to protect them and nurture them? Do they know that you consider them family? If so - show them!

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The invisible people

There are invisible people all around us. We might see them as we pass but we don’t SEE them.

At school, in the workplace, at the cafe, in a family… They are everywhere!

What makes someone invisible? Is it just in their own heads or is it as real for them as it was for Harry Potter whilst wearing the invisibility cloak?

I think the latter. In my work as a counsellor and coach, I come across people who feel on the outside of society and not seen. They are not noticed, not paid attention to and just ignored. What a horrible feeling that must be!

There is one client in particular that I have never forgotten. He was a man in his mid-20s and living in a bedsit. He said he had never been seen by his family and would just spend the time at home in his room, gaming and smoking weed. No interaction, no ‘How are you?’ or ‘Would you like dinner?’ Nothing. He said that no one cared and he might as well be invisible.

As a parent, that made me so sad for this lost boy. He needed love and attention in his life. That goes a long way to enable growing up.

There are of course lots of more people who feel like this and never seek help. The elderly in our country is a big group where isolation and loneliness is a big problem.

Why is this? What can we do to help?

This is where being a human and noticing others around us can help. Is there a child that rarely gets to play or get spoken to in your child’s class? Can your child engage with him or her?

Are there people in the office who rarely talk and engage with the rest? Why is that? Have you tried to connect?

In the adult world, we easily and often make assumptions and pass judgement on others without actually knowing them. Can this be the case with some of your work colleagues?

Inclusion is vital in the workplace and all around us.

Become aware of the people around us and be inclusive. Maybe there is a new friend nearby!

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People Matter!

I have just returned from a visit back ‘home’ to Cape Town where I’ve been reminded of what really matters.  And it is summed up in one word.  People. People who are family.  People who are friends.  And people who you have never seen before and will never see again.

The positive and vocal African welcome at the airport started a trip that was a humbling reminder of all that truly matters – connecting with people.

I always worry before ‘going home’.  Will I have to apologise for my lack of communication, my bad time management in that I never seem to keep in touch properly? Will I feel guilty that I’ve missed events and occasions and birthdays and I’ll never be able to make it up to my loved ones?  Guilt is a very real emotion for a lot of people – never more so than those living away from home.

And then, you see them and it’s as if time has stood still and you pick up exactly where you left off.  Conversations just seem to continue and the initial need to say ‘sorry for all I haven’t done’ – disappears.  Why is that?   

So much depends on the connections you have with people.  The relationships that you have established over time and the memories you have created.  If they are strong and intact then you will find that this solid foundation has not moved.  

So, this led me to consider the relationships around me now.  How much of a priority am I making the people in my life now?  I have had the privilege of moving over 9 times but with this comes a trail of people and friends left behind in different places that I want to prioritise, but find it very, very hard to find the time to do.  Am I forfeiting possibilities with people in the here and now by trying to maintain and hold onto connections from the past?  Is it physically possible to find the time, energy and resources to do both? 

Working parents also vocalise living with guilt that they are not spending enough time with their children and families. But working is a part of life and sets good examples for children on work ethic and responsibilities.

So what is the solution?

I believe the answer is being present in each and every situation and encounter with people as it happens.  Of connecting, focusing and being active in the moment so that the person (people) you are with both feels and knows that they are a priority for you.  If they matter, make sure they know it.  Make sure that the connection between you is one that builds layers each time you are together and that the moments have meaning for you both.

Every human being needs a purpose in life and no matter who you speak to, you will get a similar response.  A crucial sense of purpose that we all need is feeling connected to others and knowing that you matter to someone else.

So if someone matters to you - tell them.  Show them!  Make moments count and value your time and connections.  Don’t leave things unsaid and undone.  Live each day and be present in your life.   Build emotional blocks to give you (and them) a sense of purpose - which is a basic human need for us all.

People are a pivotal part of life and a privilege – make them a priority.

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Having it all?

I love podcasts and try to listen to different ones, recommendations from family and friends.

This morning whilst out walking, I listen to Pandora Sykes and Dolly Alderton’s High Low episode from 3 October where lots of interesting topics were discussed like Brett Kavanaugh and Having it all or not.

They talked about different views from women and the expectations that come with the various life choices we all have to make at times in our lives.

As a woman, it seems the choices are at times harder to make as the impact is still, generally, greater for a woman compared to a man. In particular the choice whether to have children or not.

What no woman can ever plan, is how life does change after having a child. We can plan certain things as much as we like; when and where to give birth, when to go back to work, childcare, sharing and being equal with our partners etc.

What we can’t plan is the emotional impact this massive change in our lives has. Not only have we got this little baby in our home, all of a sudden needing care and attention, but it also has it’s own mind and shows it early on. It might not be what I thought it was going to be like! Can I change my mind?! How on earth do I cope with this on my own? There is no manual to follow, only learning by doing.

Also, our partners might have different ideas about how to look after our child and that can become another problem to deal with. Not to mention mothers and mothers-in-law that might get involved and give advise whether we want it or not.

I think it’s important to talk and be open about fears, hopes and voice any concerns you might have. No matter how ‘silly’ they might sound, just say it! These are the things that brings us closer as couples and cements the relationship. Assumptions are the opposite and too many times, these are the things that break couples up! “I assumed she knew how I felt”, "He should know I want him to do this” etc.

The having it all is a myth as far as I am concerned. There is no such thing. You might have it all, but that does not mean “all” is good at all times. Life goes up and down and that is normal. Happiness is not a constant, it’s an emotion that comes and goes.

We all struggle at times and it’s not always what it seems…

Our children will grow up understanding that this is life and that’s OK. As long as there is love, understanding and empathy, we will survive and eventually thrive.

Talk to your partner, family and friends. Ask for help when you need it. Know that you are not alone! Even the HR department at work has humans working who also suffer at times!

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What is Wellbeing at home?

To follow up from the blog ‘What is wellbeing in the workplace?’ I thought I’d write about wellbeing at home and what it means.

The days of separating home and work life are gone as far as the wellbeing goes. What goes on at home affects us at work and the other way around. The impact on not only ourselves but our partners, children and others close to us can be immense.

The trick is to learn how to switch off. We have to make an effort to put our phones, tablets and/or laptops away for at least a few hours every evening and be present.

Not only to be present to our families but also ourselves. We tend to forget that we are the most important people in our lives because if we don’t look after ourselves, we can’t be totally there for others either. Think aircrafts and what we are told in case of an emergency: Always put your own mask on before helping anyone else!

Being present means talking to others without looking at a screen, eating together without any other distractions, going for walks and looking at nature, having an evening with friends and laughing together! Laughter is a great medicin!

One of the top health issues now is sleep deprivation. Far too many people don’t sleep the hours needed to function properly.

The increased risks range from the common cold to depression, dementia and a possible stroke or heart attack as well as obesity, cancer and diabetes.

If you get less then seven hours rest a night, the risk of damage to our physical or mental health is even more raised.

Are you looking after yourself? What is missing? What can you do differently?

Have a chat with your partner and/or friends to see what they do that might be of help.

There is a lot of help to get online and some great apps as well. Inform yourself and take action. Only you can make the change.

To quote a well known phone ad: It’s good to talk!!

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World Mental Health Day - 10th October 2018

We’d like to highlight the amazing work being done around the world to both prioritise and de-stigmatise mental health. World Mental Health Day tomorrow is about supporting each other and having conversations to enable and encourage open and honest dialogue around wellbeing and mental health.

The focus this year is particularly on young people, so Åse and I decided that we would go out and ask some young people (aged 14 - 26) their views on 2 questions. The first was:-

“what is the hardest thing about being a young person today?”

Answers included:

“… social media; social media; pressure of internet; social media; stress with school; stress with exams; social media; social media…”

It was interesting how little hesitation there was when they answered this question. It was absolutely, without doubt, social media that was seen as the hardest thing to cope with as a young person today. Next was stress. Our young people are feeling a lot of stress around school work and exams!

Our next question was:-

“What does Mental Health mean to you?”

Answers included:

“ …living behind a facade; anxiety and depression; not feeling good about yourself; not too sure exactly; something to do with how you’re feeling; not coping; not to be taken as a joke…”

With this question, there was less of a theme. Some responses showed they knew a bit, but not necessarily enough or didn’t feel confident to reply. There were a variety of answers.

What was encouraging was how open and honest the young people were in their responses and how they did not shy away from the questions. They certainly seemed to be aware of mental health although not necessarily as confident or unanimous in their replies..

So our job then would be to keep the mental health momentum that seems to be with young people today going. To keep the conversations flowing so that when they enter the workplace this type of conversation and relatability is standard practise.

And something else we can do. We can add our voice in support of World Mental Health Day by wearing a green ribbon or something green tomorrow, 10th October 2018.

If you feel it or think it….SAY IT!

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 A Poll taken by the WorldMentalHealthDay showed how important awareness and education is!

A Poll taken by the WorldMentalHealthDay showed how important awareness and education is!

What is Wellbeing in the Workplace?

If you work in any organisation, chances are you have come across someone who is battling with mental health or stress.  The latest statistics* show that 3 times more people are susceptible to losing their jobs because of poor mental health than physical health.  It also found that over 300 000 people leave employment each year due to long term mental health conditions.

In addition, the Government’s green paper on mental health (released May 2018) shows that 1 in 4 people in the UK will present with a mental health problem at some point.  Most common will be anxiety and depression, often triggered by a change in circumstances or a life changing event (death or divorce) but often stems from work situations.

So, what does it all mean?

In a nutshell, wellbeing or mental health refers to how we feel, how we behave and our thinking processes.  The most common trigger in a workplace is stress which often presents in physical reactions (higher blood pressure, pain, headaches etc).  Stress is how you react to a stimuli (either real or perceived) as well as the intensity of that experience (once-off or prolonged).  The important factor is what is causing the stress and how the two are related. 

The Stevenson/Farmer report reviewed the role that employers can have in supporting the individuals in their employ around wellbeing and mental health.  They set out a framework of actions known as ‘Core Standards’.  These are a set of recommendations to help employers improve the conditions in their workplaces to enable employees to both communicate about their mental health concerns, cope better and ultimately thrive.

They call on Companies to ‘take action’ and be responsible for helping to manage and prevent stress at work.  This starts with awareness and knowledge.  Not only of yourself and your stress but also of your team and colleagues.  What are the red flags?  What must you be aware of?  If you experience this yourself, or spot something, what do you do?

Family Focus UK was set up in direct response to these questions – focusing on emotional wellbeing and providing knowledge and support to adults and adolescents, working or not.  We believe that information is key and even a small step in an altered direction can have a big impact on how you and others feel.

So, if you are not sure what to do – why not start with giving us a call to do a wellbeing needs analysis of your workplace..   Or read the report below and start a conversation around this topic in your office.

 * 2017 Government commissioned review by Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer (Chief Executive of Mind) called ‘Thriving at Work’. Read the report at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/658145/thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

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Children and work? What choices are there?

Becoming a parent is a big decision. Many factors come into consideration and a lot of couples might find that they have very different views on this.

With todays workplace politics and opportunities, the choices are not always clear. More and more women are just as ambitious and driven as men. Unfortunately, a lot of them feel the pressure to perform more than their male counterparts. What will happen to their careers if they go on maternity leave? Are they supported by their employers? Will their clients accept their absence?

There are lots of questions raised by women who are considering having a family and many of the feel alone in these decisions as their partners don’t have the same ‘risks’ to consider. There is also social pressure to consider like what other friends and family are doing and expecting of them.

The UK is a hard place to raise children if you have finances to consider. The child care costs are immense and not everyone can afford to use a nursery or nanny. So what do you do?

  • Firstly communicate with your employer, find out exactly what your rights are and what the expectations are from their side.

  • Discuss with your partner, well ahead, what is important to the both of you. As a mother to be, you have to be the one at home to start with but for how long? Can your partner take over?

  • What is your support network like? Can you child care share? What do others do in your area? At your workplace?

  • Be aware of the emotional impact having a child can have on you. Read up and be prepared. Not that you can be fully prepared, children do have a tendency to take you on a rollercoaster ride you’ve never been on before!

Most importantly though, enjoy your children! The years of having a young family passes quickly, believe it or not. Be present, do things together, talk and listen. Look after each other and yourself, remember this is a new life for both parents!

Here are a few links to help along the way:

https://fullfact.org/education/childcare-costs-england/

https://www.childcarechoices.gov.uk/

https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk

https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/work-and-childcare

Photo by Filip Mroz on Unsplash

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Perfectionism and Mental Health

Most of us will relate to the word ‘perfectionist’ and will probably have images of someone who can’t leave things undone; who sets extremely high standards for themselves and others; often appears stressed and under pressure and seems to be intolerant of those who don’t behave or perform to their high standards.

Perfectionism is one of those character traits that can be a real positive (if channeled correctly) but can also be a big contributor to stress and burnout.

So what are the characteristics of perfectionism? 

Fear of failure:  You see failure as a reflection on your abilities or your value.

All or nothing thinking: You are very black or white – right or wrong.  You have a tendency to extremes.

Defensiveness. You hate criticism and often get very defensive if you think someone is pointing out your weaknesses or (perceived) failures.

Finding faults with yourself and other:. You are often on the lookout for imperfections in yourself and others. You tend to be largely overcritical of any mistakes and feel it’s important to correct people when they make a mistake.

Inflexibility:  You have a very high standard for both yourself and other people that is a rigid line that needs to be met.  You often say words like ‘must’ ‘should’ have to’ when you speak.

Excessive need for control. You like to control other’s behaviour and thoughts as you see it as helping them from making mistakes (whether they’ve asked for help or not).

Difficulty delegating:  You will often say to yourself ‘if you want this done right – do it yourself’.  You have a tendency to micromanage others around you.

The biggest concern with perfectionism is the link between these ‘workaholic’ behaviours and the drain on your mental and physical energy.  The relentless drive to work to perfection leads to a very rigid thought process and an increase in your body’s (negative) stress response.  Perfectionists often experience anxiety over their performance as they feel unable to live up to (often) unrealistic standards.

Often, a perfectionist creates a cycle of behaviour where exacting standards (which cannot be met) leads to more effort in a strive to achieve and then perceived failure which starts the cycle again. This will affect your energy, your emotions and ultimately your relationships, home life, relaxation and your ability to work. The result is often burnout, depression or the inability to cope with your levels of stress. 

So, before your perfectionism traits start to manifest in excess stress or failed relationships.  Ask yourself some questions and do some reading about how to combat the negative effects of perfectionism and channel the positive traits.

Some websites that might be of interest:-

 https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Perfectionism.pdf

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/depression-management-techniques/201203/handling-perfectionism

https://www.maggiedent.com/blog/perfectionism-children/

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Are we present? The impact our phones have on our lives.

I have been noticing more and more how many people sit, whilst with others, on their phones while half listening to what the others are saying. 

The impact this has on a person is not to be underestimated. How does it feel not to be listened to? How does it feel to not be important enough to get the attention from the other person?

On top of that, it can be seen as rude and dismissive to use your phone when you are with others. Think before reaching for it! Can it wait?

This might sound melodramatic but it does have an effect on more people than we might think. Children in particular feel this in a subconscious way and their reaction can often be to play up and be 'naughty'. At least they get some attention even if it's for a bad reason...

What is it about phones and how they have infiltrated our lives in such a massive way? How did we manage before?? To think we managed to meet friends out somewhere and travel without a phone is hard to understand in today’s instant and 24/7 society. The expectation to be reachable alI the time is both positive and negative. It is very convenient to be able to reach someone and check mails etc whilst out and about. But, what choices do we really have? Do we really need to have it with us at all times? To spend an evening with friends and family without phones is more unusual than usual. It makes me sad to think the youngsters of today will most likely never know what it is to be properly present with friends. I have yet to see a group of young people hang without someone busy on their phone. I know I sound like an old biddy and that we need to move with the times but there is no way that communication via apps will ever be as good as face to face. To read someone’s body language, tone of voice and use of words are skills that are important in life. I do hope we can help our youngsters to understand and learn this.

I am as guilty as most of us to feel dependent and when I left my phone in a shop by mistake recently, the panic I felt was immediate. However, having realised this I am now starting to make small changes. I'll have my phone on silent without any buzzing several times a day and at night. I leave home without it if we go out for an evening. (not all the time but small steps...) 

It is an addiction and like other addictions, we can be weaned off it and get more in control of it than the other way around. Have a think about your own phone needs. How does it impact your life? Your family's? Friends? What can you do differently? 

To be present with another person is to be there, listening, noticing and converse because we want to or need to do so. Having a device next to you tends to get in the way. 

Enjoy your next phone free conversation! It's amazing what we can learn.

 

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Presenteeism...what's the cost?

Have you come across this word 'presenteeism' and not been entirely sure what it means?  We all know about absenteeism, but today presenteeism is a real problem and cost to Companies.

Absenteeism –   The practice of regularly staying away from work (or school) without good reason (high levels of absenteeism caused by low job motivation).

Presenteeism – The practice of coming to work despite illness, injury, anxiety etc, often resulting in reduced productivity.  The practice of working longer hours at a job than needed, often as a result of insecurity about that job.

An article in the Sunday Times by Karen Higginbottom (Nov 2017) referred to a CIPD survey done in 2017 where 72% of organisations observed presenteeism.  They found an alarming increase in both the prevalence of presenteeism and the related cost to organisations.  Statistics are now stating that the costs of health-related presenteeism far outweighs absenteeism.

One of the reasons that we are talking about presenteeism is its link to employee wellbeing.  It is often associated with companies who have a culture of working long hours or very demanding industries.  Added to this is job insecurity; worrying about letting a team down; concerns about work records and HR performance reports.  One of the biggest concerns is that very often senior leadership or management are demonstrating these work habits making it seem to be the expected norm for all employees.  This leadership attitude of ‘I can cope with anything and work best under stress and extremely long hours’ filters down and creates unrealistic expectations in the organisation.

But there is hope.  Many organisations are now working hard to create a wellbeing strategy to develop a culture of acceptance and realism in order to combat presenteeism.  This includes allowing individuals in an organisation to feel in control and autonomous in their roles.  Giving them a chance to voice issues and concerns to their team leader and creating a more flexible and open working environment.

The goal?  To create a positive culture where hopefully presenteeism will be the unpopular choice and will be the exception rather than the norm.

So.  If any of this has resonated with you.  Time to take a look at how you work, when you work and what you are achieving.  Or maybe simply – time to talk to someone about how you are feeling at work.

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Adversity and karma?

I too have faced adversity quite a few times in life and I know that having support, being able to talk and being heard are fundamental to getting through difficult and challenging times. No matter have tough these have been, my husband and I have somehow gotten through them by facing it all together. We have learnt that being transparent and honest has paid off. Friends and family have supported us and for this we are immensely grateful. Look after your relationships, be there for others and have empathy. 'What goes around comes around' is something we live by.

Here is an interesting article, a bit of a read but a good one;

5 Steps to Adapt to, Embrace and Transform Significant Adversity

What if the greatest thing you could do was love the experiences that stop you in your tracks?

written by Jocelyn Duffy, Communication & Contribution Strategist - I Help World-Class Leaders Develop Their Ideas and Master Their Messages

As entrepreneurs or those who live with an entrepreneurial spirit, it is easy to sometimes feel somewhat invincible. We’re in the zone, on a role, thinking outside the box, seeing things from a powerful perspective...and then, from seemingly out of nowhere life shows us something new, something exponentially more challenging than our everyday feats hits.

Being abundantly happy, successful, fulfilled or honoring our life’s purpose obviously won’t grant us immunity from sudden or inexplicable turns. Sometimes adversity or great challenges brushes in as a gentle whisper or a light tap on the shoulder; other times it’s a more pronounced nudge or a giant, unexpected wallop over the head (metaphorically speaking, of course). The later can feel like we’ve been gobsmacked – our life’s course halted, blurred or fully redirected.

Gobsmack: Completely dumbfounded, shocked. From the Irish word "gob" meaning "mouth" (Urban Dictionary)

When we get “gobsmacked,” we are left feeling naïve and unprepared, in spite of all the knowledge and wisdom we’ve gathered along the journey of life. The initial shock can feel like life has forced you off the proverbial cliff, and in the words of the late Tom Petty, there you are “learning to fly, but you ain’t got wings.” Coming down really is the hardest thing.

How do you mentally, emotionally and spiritually process what has happened? How do you reset and get your feet back on the ground, moving forward with life? 

What if the greatest thing you could do was love the experiences that stop you in your tracks?

Loving our experiences doesn’t mean bypassing the need to feel anger, frustration and sadness; it means that we keep moving through those emotions to reach a place of transformation, where love, instead of fear, leads the way.

Not convinced? Here’s a story of life forcing a friend of mine off a literal cliff:

C.J. Wilkins found enjoyment in jumping off of cliffs. He is a paraglider...was a paraglider – an exhilarating and dangerous sport that requires great knowledge of the weather and air conditions. As a veteran paraglider, he knew when it was safe to jump and he also knew the risks.

On a sunny summer’s day, C.J. jumped off a mountain in western British Columbia and got caught in the convergence of two air masses that spun him around and slammed him into the side of a nearby cliff. After great struggle, first-response crews reached him, air-lifting him to hospital an hour away. He underwent three surgeries to reconstruct his spine. It was questioned whether he would ever walk again.

At the core of who he was, C.J. was a serial entrepreneur. He knew what it was to hold a vision at heart, defy the odds, reach beyond the status quo and take calculated risks. Amazingly, crashing into a mountain hadn’t deterred his entrepreneurial spirit. He used that spirit to push through months of intensive rehabilitation, sharing photos and videos on social media and gathering a squad of cheerleaders.

Pushing the bounds of what was possible, one step at a time, C.J. began walking again. He found strength from his unshakable spirit and from great supporters in hospital and in his life – those who walked by his side, as slow as required, to help him regain his strength. The experienced had humbled him, though by no means did he allow it to stop him.

Over the months that followed, his mind pushed him beyond the matter of a frail spine, bolted together with 13 of pieces of metal. Not only did he walk again, he began to hike and bike with vigor, breaking all notions of what his physical capacity should be. C.J. was authentic about the odds, the struggle and the need for sheer determination, using them all as fuel for his quest to return to living a full life.

Within a year, he was hiking up mountains, keeping pace with friends who were in impeccable shape. When a follow-up surgery freed him to use some of his own natural body function (and liberated him of 5 of the metal plates), he sought higher mountains and tested the limitlessness of not only his recovery and resilience, but also his ability to reach heights not previously known.

C.J. achieved what he did because he believed it was possible, for himself and for anyone. He knew that he had what it takes to fly, even without wings. Embracing his second chance at life, he found another way to leap off of mountains by adapting and adjusting his passion and vision. Instead of paragliding off the mountain peaks, he shifted to biking up them. He found a love and thrill for taking on the mountains of the Canadian Rockies. He biked through France. It was clear that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.

By biking all the way up the mountain and getting the high of swiftly spinning his wheels through the trails on the way down, he had found a new way to embrace the mountains...the same mountains that had crippled him.

He chose to not hate the mountains – he chose to love them.

These experiences that push us off the proverbial cliff or employ the unexpected wallop come in many forms:

  • The loss of a loved one
  • Job Loss
  • Major illness
  • The end of a relationship or partnership
  • Financial hardship

When they hit, the feeling is one of being swept away from (or swiftly off) our comfort zone, like a giant gust of wind redirecting our path. After giving ourselves the necessary time to feel and heal from the adversity, we have the choice whether or not to see the awareness and opportunity that has been created by the painful shift.

Regardless of how hard our experiences are – those mountains that move us – we can choose to love them. Our experiences are the hand that feeds our soul by showing us the potential we hold when we are pushed to the proverbial edge. If we open ourselves us to being students and learning from life, these events can also become the ties that bind us – proving opportunity to learn and teach something of immeasurable value. They can help us grow stronger as a collective society that supports one another in navigating life’s journey with greater ease.

Love your experiences – they are your teachers.

These forced leaps of life, steering up into the depths of the unknown, allow us the opportunity to be introspective, to reassess our current path and gain clarity of what really matters, to us and to those we support.

Here are 5 steps you can take to adapt to, embrace and transform significant challenge or adversity:

3 Choices to Navigate Significant Challenge and Become Boundless

1. Get to Know Yourself – While adversity often forces us to be introspective, it is also crucial to have self-awareness prior to facing tumultuous times. When we know who we are – our beliefs, values, attributes, abilities and attitude – we have a rock to stand on, so to speak. The more you know about what you are able to do, the more you can do all that you can, even when seated amid great adversity. Secondarily, self-awareness is key because when something happens that leaves us feeling like everything has been shaken or swept away, having the knowledge that we haven’t lost who we are is extremely powerful. No matter what you lose, you can never lose yourself or your ability to be resilient. This awareness can become the center-point and fuel for regaining your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength. C.J. knew that he could achieve the impossible, and he did. Choose to defy (“I am,” “I can,” “I will.”) rather than justify (“I can’t because...”).

2. Compassion and Small Action – Think of how you’d treat a child who has had a big fall. You aren’t going to force them to immediately get up. Chance are, you’ll comfort them and see what they need. From there, you take gradual steps and do what you can to ease the pain and help them restore their smile and their ability to run freely. The same should apply for how you treat yourself in the wake of great adversity. Take small steps, be supportive of yourself and find others to support you. C.J. was only able to walk again because of those who helped hold him up during his most difficult weeks of rehabilitation.

3. Befriend Change – Love your metaphorical mountains, big and small. Love the valleys too. Change, good or bad, foreseen or unexpected, opens the door to development and growth. If you’ve never so much as changed the location of your toothbrush, the contents of your kitchen or office drawers or taken a new route to the office, then any unexpected change will leave you lost for direction. Make small changes a regular part of your life. They will exponentially increase your adaptability to significant or unexpected change.

4. Maximize Your Momentum – Here’s where most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit: It takes an enormous amount of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength to keep moving forward after great challenge or adversity. Simply reaching the point of reinstating our previous “status quo” can feel like a momentous feat. Have you considered how much momentum you’ve build when you’ve worked so hard to rebuild or re-establish your life? What if you could continue to use that momentum to take you to place that you didn’t even know you could go? C.J. used the momentum of defying the odds to walk again and set it in motion to making his way to the mountain peaks, not only on foot, but also on bike, all over the world! Take stock of your strength, value it and make it your fuel. Do more than overcome. When you open yourself up to the possibility of what you can create in your life, for yourself and for others, you see how boundless you can really be. Let your momentum take you to where you are capable of going. Don’t stop at what you know, because getting gobsmacked has provided you with the opportunity to take your life to new heights. Be willing to venture into the unknown. Make the choice to use your momentum to grow from, transcend and transform your experiences...and perhaps to give meaning to the experiences themselves by using them to help, teach or support others).

No one ever said the journey of life was going to be easy. Destruction can be a powerful prerequisite and fuel for reconstruction – for building something more deeply purposeful than we previously knew possible. This is not to negligently say that “everything happens for a reason,” but rather that within every circumstance, we have the opportunity to use our experiences as the foundation to create something meaningful – something that fills our heart and helps ease the way for others.

Love your mountains. Let them take you into the unknown, for there you might just discover your boundless potential.

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Leadership and Response

We recently listened to an interview with Geoff McDonald on CNBC  (can be viewed here: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/08/17/musk-should-take-time-out-to-focus-on-mental-health-campaigner-says.html ) talking about whether Companies should employ people who have disclosed mental health concerns.

This reminds us about the perceptions of people regarding mental health and those who have had mental health issues.  Last week our blog focused on 'leadership and resilience' and the importance of leadership modelling resilience in the workplace.  The need to prioritise mental health and wellbeing in employees sits at the feet of the leadership team, but awareness is key for every employee.

Most Companies have health and safety policies in place, but how many of these include mental health and wellbeing policies?  The interview by Geoff has reminded us that in order for employees to be productive and for workplaces to thrive, there needs to be mindful practice of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Given the amount of time people spend at work, it is impossible to delegate 'wellbeing' care to home life. The onus has to fall on the workplace to provide input into these areas in order to create the energy and sense of purpose that each employee needs.

So how is this done? 

More and more organisations are starting to understand the real value in taking care of the 'whole' employee which includes physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.  Mental Health First Aiders are being trained, leadership teams are being brought on board and networking is taking place to prioritise these issues (eg http://www.mindsatworkmovement.com/).  

It is up to each person who has a position of leadership to role model openness and acceptance of questions and concerns around mental health or emotional wellness.  To be frank and transparent when it comes to their own personal stress and wellbeing.  To not hide behind facades and stigmas but to join the world of reality that so many of us live in - that life is hard at times, stressful and unkind.  If leaders are able to voice their own challenges this shows strength as much as their ability to cope with adverse situations.

For each employee the responsibility then rests on you to say something.  To put your hand up and say 'I need some help' - just as you would if you broke your leg.   Hopefully with more talk in workplaces, plus a bit more realism from leadership it may open up a whole new range of conversations and corporate cultures that will keep the tide of talking about mental health moving forward.

 

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Leadership and resilience!

The definition of resilience in the Oxford dictionary: The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

I would also add the ability to adapt to change and not give up when challenges arise.

How does this work in a leader role? To what level do we expect our leaders to be resilient?

Most of us have challenges to deal with on a regular basis whether it's work based or privately.

No matter who we are, all these situations will affect us and can then interfere with our ability to be productive at work. Even a manager or a CEO has times where days are tough for whatever reason! 

This is where resilience comes in. How long do we allow a situation to affect us and how do we spring back into action?

Awareness of the affects is a start, understanding self and the impact adversity has on us goes a long way to learn how to deal with it. I am astounded how many people do not understand their thoughts and actions when challenging situations arise. The more aware we are, the more we can avoid situations where negative behaviour affects our leadership skills.

Listening to our bodies and feelings is such a big part of then being able to handle situations in a correct and helpful way rather than compounding the situation and creating additional stress to everyone involved.

Change has an impact on everyone, the leaders as well. Working together and being inclusive by communicating and clarifying any decisions, the teams are able to support their leader and feel safe to ask questions.

The most common feeling when change happens is to feel uncertain, what will happen to me? Will I be OK? Unless the communication is clear and concise from the leaders, this will affect all involved.

SO, what does a person need to do to be an effective and resilient leader?

Here are some suggestions:

- Being the leader means being a role model. Just the same as being a role model to our children is important, so is being one at work! As a leader you will be observed. If you feel unsure at times; act as if you know what you are doing! Stay calm, focussed, communicate and be encouraging. Show trust by asking for help, delegate when needed and be available.

- When challenges arise, take control and ensure you find out what the team needs from you. This creates team spirit and belonging which we all need to get out the other side.

- There is no failure, only learning! We all make mistakes and that's OK. Recognise and move on. Yet again, just like parenting; admit/say what happened, apologise, learn from it. Showing vulnerability is a strength!

Look after your most valuable asset, your employees.

 

Photo by Tommy Lisbin on Unsplash

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How adaptable is your child? How adaptable are you?

Recent events have really got me thinking about the family structure and how adaptable it needs to be. This last week our family of 4 was a family of 2 and it was fascinating to see how we ‘adapted’! 

Adaptability is one of the most crucial coping skills we need to teach our children.  Every child will have a degree of adaptability as their trait, meaning how easily or fast they are able to adjust to changes in their environment.  It does not include the initial emotional reaction.  Eg:  If a parent leaves the home and the child cries (emotional reaction).  What happens then?  Does the child adapt and attach to the new childminder or is the child unable to adapt and continues to cry?

I found a lovely quiz to help you determine how adaptable your children are:-

Track your answers on the following scale from one to five:

  1. Do your children cry and get upset when you ask them to finish an activity and move on to something else?
  2. Do surprises upset your children?
  3. Do your children find it stressful to change ideas or routines?
  4. Do you feel like you have to coax or beg your children for days to get them involved in new activities?
  5. Is it difficult for your children to make decisions and when they do, do they agonize over their choices?

No                                                                                        Yes

1         __         2        __      3       __         4    __            5

Adapts quickly                                                          Adapts slowly

Looking at your answers you should relate to the following traits:-

LESS ADAPTABLE

  • More rigid
  • More resistant
  • Less comfortable with new people
  • Likes routine
  • Likes predictability
  • More cautious (less risky children)
  • Less influenced by peer pressure

MORE ADAPTABLE

  • Adjusts quickly to changes
  • Happy with new routines
  • Easier to parent
  • Go with the flow children
  • Flexible
  • Enjoy new things/places/ideas/activities
  • Can be impulsive and risk taking

As adults, we are much less able to change our innate traits or personality, so the more we can encourage adaptability in our children the more they will be able to adapt to the demands of adult and working life.  

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Conflict and courage

I've been working with a few different clients recently who are going through tough times at work. The common denominator is relationships with managers and work colleagues. They are finding it hard to fit in and to feel accepted by others and struggling because of it.

What can be done when this is going on? How can a person help themselves and what do we expect from management?

What we have discussed in our sessions is their own mindset and reactions in various situations. What have they become aware of? What choice do they have? 

A bully will keep on going when their victim reacts to them in a way that feeds their sense control. The feeling of being powerful is then reinforced and they will continue.

The subtle changes in our own reaction to a bully can be really effective. It's kind of like a tennis match where a ball is smashed only to be caught and not returned straight away. If we hold on to the ball and lobb it back in a nice, friendly way, the smashing becomes less fun.

By replying in a disarming way like "I'm sorry you feel that way" or " Goodness, I didn't mean to...." or similar, the person doesn't get ammunition to continue to be nasty. 

Acceptance of differences in the workplace is so important as we come from different countries, backgrounds and situations. We don't tend to know what is going on in someone else's life and why they are difficult to deal with at times. It can explain a behaviour even if it doesn't make it OK. 

As far as managing staff and the treatment of each other in the workplace, the company needs to provide training and make sure the managers are vigilant, understanding and empathic to staff that 'dare' to bring any issues to the table. It is hard to have to do this and no one does this lightly. To be heard and seen is vital.

When someone speaks up, others tend to follow or at least respond and say 'me too'. 

Be courageous, speak up and stand tall!

 

 

 

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Extended family....extended....

Åse wrote last week about the importance of connections and relationships.  How family is so important for your sanity as a parent – and in the absence of extended family living nearby – you need to make your own ‘new family’ with friends and neighbours.

This week I have a dilemma that hasn’t quite happened before.  My husband is away and both my children have important events taking place on Friday that both need my involvement.  I can’t be in 2 (very distant) places at once – so what do I do?  Like Åse, I have no direct family here in Surrey and so need to rely on others for help at times like this.

I have had the arduous task of moving 9 times in 10 years.  Despite becoming super-efficient at packing and unpacking, plus developing excellent muscles – I have also had to adapt to continuous new environments and new people at every turn.   Bonding and settling into new places is very hard when you move constantly, as is establishing those trusted relationships that are so necessary when you don’t have family living nearby.

So, who do I call in a situation like the one I am in for Friday?  Do I throw the net wide and call on my close friends who don’t live in the area, or I do disappoint one child over another?  This caused me a very sleepless night last night (as well as the VERY hot weather!) until I realised that I have teenagers now.  The responsibility for scheduling and decision making is no longer just mine to make.  I have two very capable teenagers who can join this discussion and hopefully work out a solution.

And I was right.  My daughter seems to have embodied the extended family culture in a very real way and has created a network that really staggers me in the community she moves in.  She can draw on help, advice and support (in this case transport!) in a way that I didn’t expect – showing me that it is never too soon to embody the concept of creating a family wherever you go.  Not just you – but every member of your family.  This led me to a very meaningful conversation with my son today about the relationships he is forming and how to develop this feeling of community that is so essential to successful relationships.

From my side, I am extremely thankful for my daughter who has such confidence and wisdom with the relationships she develops, and the adults who have taken her under their wing and are lighthouses for her.   I will keep this conversation up with my son…and help him to get there too!

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What is family all about?

As a person who has lived away from the country I grew up in and where my extended family still is, I have had to create new family along the way. I have my own family but any other family like grandparents, aunties and uncles are not here. Having two children, family was always important. Our extended families were essential to us so visits were a big part of any holidays we ever had. For years, the only holidays we could afford were visiting our family abroad. This has enabled a close relationship between my daughters and my Swedish family which I am so happy and grateful to have. I know my daughters feel very Swedish despite never living there.

When they were little, help from friends was essential. We became each others aunties and the kids always had somewhere to go and feel at home with. Juggling work and children whilst trying to organise child care was a challenge at times. This is where the 'aunties' came in. Their support and ability to step in was such a blessing. I remember being so envious of people who had family around to ask for help but what we had was even more amazing. My children grew up knowing and trusting other people outside family and experiencing different ways of being a family. This has helped them along the way in accepting others and knowing there is more to life than just being a certain way. Acceptance, tolerance and being non-judgemental of others are traits they both have now as adults. 

Having that kind of bond with friends where I could ask for help without feeling guilty was amazing. They helped me and I helped them. No one counted the times, we just did what we could for each other. I used local teenagers for babysitting and the girls loved some of them and others less so. They even became bargaining tools at times; 'if you do as you are told, I'll book Tamara to babysit next time'. Worked a treat! Rightly or wrongly...

To feel lonely can be tough and I know there are lots of lonely people out there. The thing is, we have to make an effort to look after our relationships whether they are at home, at school, at work or anywhere you meet people on a regular basis. We tend to get back what we put in so make that phone call, send that text and show you care and that you are here. Someone will appreciate it and feel seen. Significance is one of our human needs and we all need to feel significant to someone. Family or friend, doesn't matter. The feeling is the same so let's show others they are significant to us! 

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Sun, sea and…….(holidays!)

It’s that time of the year again when many of us are planning to head off on a sunshine-infused holiday.  Family holidays are usually one of those longed-for events that seem on a pedestal of pleasure – with memories of sun, sea and smiles.  But – the reality is often quite different.  For many, family holidays can be more like sun, sea and stress!

We all have really high expectations for our family holidays, particularly if they have taken a lot of planning and saving.  With these high expectations comes a much longer way to fall!  Often the age of the children is a big factor.  Toddlers can battle to acclimatise to changes in their routines, weather and surroundings.  Teenagers will get bored and sulky – particularly if Wi-Fi is an issue where you’re staying.

Add to this the UK’s blended and vertical families where a ‘family holiday’ can now involve a 3G tier (grandparents, parents and children) that brings with it a whole new set of dynamics and potential stressors.

Statistically, the average family in the UK spends just one hour a day in each other’s company*.  And then you choose to go on holiday and 'blissfully' spend 24 hours a day together?  But, no matter when the statistics say – we all still long for that time together, so here are some tips for your family holiday:-

  1. There is no problem with being bored.  Don’t try to fill every moment or provide entertainment for your children continually.  This just adds to their sense of entitlement.  Empower them to be creative, come up with their own ideas to keep themselves busy.  Short bursts of this will give them fantastic life skills!
  2. Don’t expect too much!  Have one or two firm goals in mind (e.g.:  have an afternoon nap; read a book) and then anything else is a bonus.  Don’t plan for 3 highlights a day or ‘perfect’ times – you’re just building yourself and your family up for disappointment.
  3. Lead by example.  If you want your kids to stay off devices – you must too!  Don’t check emails all day or post constantly on social media.  Play a board game, do a pool aerobics class, hire bicycles for a family bike ride, go for a walk, read a book.  Show alternatives and model how to destress to your children.
  4. Be adaptable and flexible.  Holidays often don’t go as planned.  Don’t let it create stress.  Plan for some unexpected events and turn them into an adventure or a fantastic learning opportunity.  If it’s beyond your control (flight cancelled, wrong room booked) there’s no point in letting it stress you and ruin the holiday.  No one will remember the room in 6 months’ time, but they may remember how they felt about how you reacted!
  5. Keep a sense of humour.  There’s almost nothing that can’t be managed with a smile and a bit of humour.  Keep talking and laughing no matter the ‘disaster’ and you’ll be amazed at how much better the situation feels and how much better you cope with it. 
  6. Plan ahead.  Hold a family conference and get everyone on board with the tricky stuff about the holiday before you go.  Make sure everyone’s clear on rules and regs (e.g. spending money, bedtime etc).  This is especially important if you’re holidaying with another family who may parent in a different way.  Avoid conflict and situations but having this agreed on before you go (esp. with teenagers).

And remember – it’s a holiday after all.  So - have fun, relax the rules a bit and take home the most important thing of all – memories of time together and connecting as a family.

*  Lola Borg (Telegraph article)

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Summertime happiness?

The sun is shining, it's a beautiful summer and the streets are full of people with lots of friends, things to do and happy looking! Are they though?

A lot of people struggle in the summer with depression and anxiety. There are a lot of reasons for this like; high expectations, not pretty enough, body conscious, lack of sleep due to heat and/or light, different schedule and  routines. 

All these things can be discombobulating and disrupt everyday life.

There are lots of things you can do to help prevent summer depression and be able to actually enjoy this beautiful time of the year:

Know yourself and recognise the symptoms. 

Find someone to talk to about your emotions and take your feelings of sadness seriously. Keep fit Exercise, drinking enough water and stay in the shade and cool places when possible.

If the bedroom is to light, hang blackout curtains. Also use a fan to cool the room.

Be realistic about your schedule. What are your priorities and what can wait?

Be kind to yourself, do what you feel comfortable with. It's OK to say no if that is what is right.

We are lucky to have all the seasons in the UK so get out there and enjoy the summer! This too will pass too soon.

  

 

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