Do you know someone who is ‘challenging’? Do they actively try to put you down? Blank you? Or just generally make life unpleasant. Are there ways we can stop this from affecting us and learn how to rise above it?
I think we all come across people in our day to day lives whose behaviour doesn’t sit well with us. They’re the ones that seem to dislike you for no real reason or create conflict unnecessarily. I imagine most of us have experienced people who are difficult for no known reason or seem to want to make trouble.
It’s hard not to overthink these situations or let it affect your own sense of self by wondering if it’s something about you that enables people to behave badly. I’ve spent too much time either making excuses for someone’s behaviour or letting it affect my confidence. The fact is we are all accountable for our own behaviour and sometimes it’s just not ok.
Whilst I do think there are times we project our own insecurities on others, there are other situations where we need to remember: it’s not me, it’s you.
How best to handle toxic behaviour?
We all need boundaries and to learn how to recognise when they’re being overstepped. We don’t have to put ourselves in situations that makes us feel uncomfortable. If they’re friends or relatives and you feel the relationship is toxic, then I would suggest limiting contact or removing them from your life altogether. But what do you do if it’s a work colleague? Or a partner’s friend? Or someone that it’s just not that easy to avoid?
How do you rise above it?
Rising above it means you don’t let yourself be controlled by other people’s negative behaviours. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or are allowing bad behaviour (please note, I’m not suggesting this for harmful situations); it just means you are not letting someone else’s toxic behaviour affect you.
It’s important to remember that how someone behaves says much more about them, than you. You can’t control other people’s behaviour, you can only think about how you respond.
4 ways to rise above it
Sleep on a difficult situation. You may find that it matters to you less the following day, or that you are calmly able to say something.
Reduce interactions with negative people and increase them with positive people who make you feel good about yourself. Life’s too short to spend with people who make you feel miserable.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. Ever had a sleepless night replaying a scenario in your head where this time you had the wittiest comeback putting someone in their place? Yes, me too. The reality is, it doesn’t matter. Who cares who had the last word? It’s point-scoring and isn’t going to resolve anything.
Remember people who pick faults are usually doing it as a way to deflect attention from their own shortcomings. It’s a defense mechanism and really they should have the emotional intelligence to look at themselves. Try to ignore them and just focus on being the best version of you.
Our nervous system consists of neurons (nerve cells) that transmit nerve signals or messages to and from the brain. The path which this information travels along is called a neural pathway.
Our neural pathways are developed from childhood. As a baby, we learn to smile through our parents or caregivers smiling at us. We learn not to touch a hot pan from being burnt in the past. They help keep us safe and secure.
Our neural pathways aren’t just responsible for our physical responses but our emotional ones too. We develop habits through them: both positive and negative and they determine our responses to situations because of experiences in the past.
How do we retrain our neural pathways?
The brain is often described as a muscle and although biologically it’s not, it can be trained in a similar sort of way through repetition. This is in the same way as going to the gym or undertaking regular exercise.
So how exactly do you start?
The best place to start is to identify the patterns you want to change. This does take an element of self awareness and understanding patterns and behaviours you would like to create.
In the same way that it takes time for your body to change as a result of exercise, retraining neural pathways also doesn’t happen overnight. However, with time, you will see changes. I spent my 20s and some of my 30s feeling awkward and shy. I would clam up when I met new people but then laugh and joke with my friends. People thought I was standoffish and over the years I realised I was giving the wrong impression. I made a conscious decision to be friendly to new people. The more I did it, the easier it became. It’s now second nature to me.
Many of us go through life feeling like our confidence is holding us back and our previous life experiences have affected our future. Retraining our neural pathways gives us the opportunity to reset the balance. Yes, it takes practice but one that is potentially life-changing.
I got my first job in communications back in 2001. I worked hard, no doubt moaned about my long hours, but once I left work, that was it. I couldn’t physically do any more work. I couldn’t answer emails because I didn’t have WiFi at home and regardless, there wasn’t the technology to log in remotely. Our mobile phones only made phone calls and sent texts (no camera phones). The height of their ability was to download a polyphonic ringtone.
If I needed to remind myself to do something, I would ring my work voicemail and leave myself a message. I (probably) received about 20 emails a day. It was generally understood if it was outside office hours, you wouldn’t get a response until the following day at best. There was no way to reply. Our expectations were much lower back then.
I ripped out pages from a printed A-Z if I went to a party and didn’t want to take a bag. As a result, there were a few areas in London that were a bit sparce… I would ring a friend for directions if I got stuck. It was pretty commonplace for at least one person to be stood outside a noisy bar navigating a friend in.
Online shopping will never take off…
People started to mention the idea of buying clothes online. I scoffed at the idea saying how that would never work – of course, only thinking about my 20-something self and not how life changing it would be for people who are unable to leave the house or dedicate a day to trailing round the shops. Millennials, please note: it’s not just your generation that can be accused of lacking in self awareness..
The impact of technology
Fast forward over 15 years and technology has changed our lives.
We buy our groceries from our phone. It’s almost impossible to get lost as GPS can determine our exact location and the maps on our phones help us navigate to where we need to be. The postal system, which we all thought was going to die with email, has benefitted from online shopping and all the Amazon and Asos parcels sent to our offices and homes. We access news and culture regardless of location as long as we can get online. We can watch the latest films and even see theatre productions all without leaving our living rooms.
Social media – initially designed to help us keep in touch with friends and family – is now a viable career option with people ‘selling’ us lifestyles and promoting products. The term ‘influencer’ has become common parlance and changed the nature of advertising.
We run businesses from our phones; processing orders and promoting products and services. We email customers, clients, reach out to potential employers all through Apps and 4G connections.
Yet is technology making us less productive?
Great power involves great responsibility.
Franklin D Roosevelt
In the name of transparency, I should say I started writing this blog on the London Underground, typing away on my phone, whilst travelling to meet friends. I no longer work a 9-5 but have a flexible working arrangement so I can spend one day a week with my toddler. Technology on so many levels has massively changed my life.
However, I also feel the pull to dedicate more time to social media. Am I out there enough? Could I be doing more? As a blogger, I find it hard to balance my enjoyment of the writing process without evaluating myself by traffic levels. I also find it very hard to not get distracted. It’s easy to start mindlessly scrolling instagram, twitter and facebook – and when you’re tired, you need something easy that doesn’t take too much brain power. It does mean I focus less on the task in hand so even though I’m achieving more than I could have done in the past, too much choice makes me feel technology is making me less productive.
I have a friend who works in Silicon Valley. He gets on a company bus to his office, logs on and starts work. His commute is classified as working time and as a result he spends less time in the office. He has a better work/life balance and isn’t resentful about his commute. Technology is there to make life easier (not harder) and helps people be productive.
I’ve felt for a long time we measure the wrong metrics in workplaces. We like to see early starters and late finishers and classify them as hard workers, but we forget what really counts is the work that takes place during the day. It’s a false metric to view hours at a desk as a measure of productivity.
Over 50 hours and we’re no longer productive
Research shows that working over 50 hours a week has a negative impact on our productivity. After 50 hours, our productivity falls and after 55 hours, we are not productive at all. There is absolutely no benefit to our employer in us working – they are not gaining anything other than potential health issues to manage. It has also been shown, overworking is damaging our physical and mental health, as well as impacting on our relationships. It’s a lose-lose situation. Technology and our ability to be always on has enabled this – but fundamentally we’re not productive after a certain time.
It’s not just the employed that suffer with lack of boundaries. For those who are self-employed and particularly people who work from home, it must be even harder to create a work/life balance. There has been a quote circulating on Instagram creating by New York based artist, Adam JK mocking the ‘do what you love and you’ll never do a day’s work in your life’ idea highlighting how hard it is to switch off.
A more mindful approach to technology
Now, the purpose of this blog post isn’t to start an uprising at our desks or encourage you to throw your phone out of the window, but to reflect on how we we are using technology. Are we using it mindfully? Is technology making us more or less productive?
Tools to help cut down on screen time
Here are a few tricks and tips I use to keep an eye on my phone usage.
I monitor my iPhone screen time. If you go into settings > screen time, you get a weekly report on how much you are using your iphone. I aim to reduce this amount week on week.
Think about taking off your work emails from your phone or having two phones. There is also a way you can switch off your email in settings. If this isn’t possible, make sure you don’t have notifications switched on. Start putting boundaries around its usage (ie, no work emails at weekends).
Be aware of how sending emails outside of work times can affect other people. Are you sending a message that this is how you expect other people to work? Is it impacting on time you spend with family and friends?
Become comfortable with your own thoughts and not needing to entertain yourself 24/7. I genuinely think being bored can be good for you.
Keep your phone in your bag or away from you to stop temptation. I have a terrible habit of googling to see why I recognise an actor and losing the plot of a TV show because I’ve fallen down a Wikipedia rabbit hole. I now make sure I fully concentrate on what I’m watching – looking at my phone just ruins my enjoyment.
Remember technology can also impact on our emotional wellbeing
Watch out for feelings of inadequacy. It’s so easy to compare your real life with someone’s curated Instagram life and it’s not healthy because it’s not real. It’s something that creeps up on me from time to time and that’s when I know, it’s time to take a break from the ‘gram.
I try to implement Switch off Sunday. I also am much more aware of how much I’m using my phone around my child. I tend to put the radio on or listen to a podcast so I can dedicate time to him but also have a little bit of a distraction for myself.
Disconnecting from our technology to reconnect with ourselves is absolutely essential for wisdom.
I often have my best ideas when I’m not really doing anything. My brain feels less cluttered and I have space to think. Taking a break from technology is not about working less, it’s about working better. Let’s use technology and make it productive.
Boundaries are fundamental when it comes to taking care of ourselves. They enable us to recognise what we need and develop the right techniques and language to achieve them. Good boundaries help us create less stressful lives, better physical wellbeing and healthy respectful relationships. For some people, learning to set boundaries is a skill they learnt growing up. They have seen adults articulate and set boundaries and understand they are a necessity. They have the right level of self-awareness to understand their needs and articulate them. For others, including myself, setting and reinforcing boundaries is a work in progress.
However, like a lot of self-care strategies, setting and reinforcing boundaries is a muscle that grows over time. The more we do it, the easier it gets.
7 steps to help you set boundaries
Understand your value. Someone or a situation that continually oversteps the mark has a massive impact on your self-esteem. Likewise, continually putting yourself at the bottom of a priority list is not healthy either. Everyone has the right to be treated properly and we need to believe we deserve better.
You cannot change other people’s behaviour, only your own. Setting boundaries won’t change how people behave towards you. It gives you the tools to respond and to reflect on where you want to see changes. However, it’s not your fault if your boundaries aren’t respected.
Think about situations where you want to set boundaries. What do you want to change? What is your response when this situation comes up? Decide the consequences ahead of time.
Communicate. Be decisive and remember your worth.
Prepare for your boundaries to be overstepped. Having boundaries in place won’t stop people from overstepping them. Prepare for it to happen and decide in advance how you will respond.
Remember boundary setting is a muscle we grow. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go right the first time or the second. You will get better at it and learn new responses as you go along.
Leave a situation. Unfortunately, if your boundaries aren’t respected, then the only way sometimes is to leave a situation or a person. We cannot change other people. We can leave though knowing we deserve better.
Warm open fires, children singing happily and families spending time together blissfully are the images of Christmas we see on TV. It’s a time where couples feel closer together, people repent over the mistakes they’ve made and everyone is in harmony. Right? Wrong. The truth is Christmas can highlight areas of life that aren’t so great. We are expected to have magical moments, which often don’t exist especially for those of us who have lived through divorce, death or feel like the oldest singleton in town.
So how can we survive the festive season ensuring that we make it through without arguments and telling ourselves next year we’re spending it in Goa?
6 ways to survive the festive season
Christmas can be a time of financial stress. I think it’s quite a human response to sometimes feel short-changed if someone hasn’t spent as much on you or embarrassed when the reverse happens. However, spend what you can afford and recognise other people are doing the same. We generally all have what we need and anything else is just a bonus.
Recognise your boundaries. I spent nearly every Christmas in my 30s lying in a single bed and reverting to the feelings I had as a teenager. I had one particularly bad year and realised that I also had choices around how I spent my time too. I didn’t need to put up with someone else’s negative behaviour for the sake of keeping the peace.
Don’t drink too much. Tempers can start to flare after too much alcohol and thinking about how much you’re drinking can help stop any arguments from starting. Keeping off the drink also helps you sleep better. It means you’re not snappy, much more willing to help out and generally easier to be around.
You are not a teenager anymore. There is something about setting foot into my mum’s house that makes me 16 again. I didn’t have a particularly stable childhood and those feelings of insecurity and inadequacy come flooding back. It’s easy to feel resentful and to want to raise issues that happened decades ago. However, I’m not 16 anymore, nothing is going to change and in the words of Frozen, ‘Let it Go’.
Create your own traditions. I have my own family now and Christmas has taken on a different meaning. I want my son to grow up making memories of Christmas that are meaningful and special.
Remember Christmas is only one day. We place so much importance on it and really it’s literally one day out of 365.
I look at friends who left homes and jobs in London to set up lives elsewhere and think how well they seem. Their skin looks brighter, their stress lines faded away and I think to myself, it’s because they’re not so busy anymore. I often fantasise about spending a week at a health camp (somewhere abroad obviously) and having five nights of good night’s sleep and time to fully relax. But the reality is, other than hugely missing home, I would find something else to do because I’m one of those people who measure their self-worth by how much they’ve achieved in a day. I’m a fully paid up member of the cult of busyness because somewhere in my subconscious I believe that I’m a better person when I get more done.
What is the cult of busyness?
Fully paid-up subscribers to the cult of busyness like myself get a feeling of satisfaction from being busy. It feeds our sense of importance and worth because we feel we are needed and wanted. It also sends an external message that somehow our lives are more valid because we have so much on and are always on the go.
As someone who puts their self-worth into how many tasks they’ve finished in a day, the cult of busyness is an attractive one to be in. I tick things off lists. I take my child to play dates. I rush around working full time and sorting my home in the evening.
My mind also has a habit of turning fun into tasks I need to do. Getting my haircut becomes something I need to tick off the list rather than an experience to enjoy. Likewise, shopping becomes about making sure I get everything I planned, rather than having time to myself. I realise it’s my mindset that needs to change. I’m aware that I’m filling up my life with a series of tasks… I need to become more comfortable with being still.
5 ways to leave the cult of busyness
Stop multi-tasking and focus on one thing at a time. I have a habit of trying to do too many things at once and achieving very little.
Switch off the screen. It’s so easy to lose time falling down an internet rabbit hole under the pretence of relaxing. Read a book, watch a film or have a bath instead.
Be realistic about what you can achieve. I take on too much and then feel overwhelmed by everything I need to do.
Set boundaries. For the first time in a long time, I articulated that I needed a day to myself. I used that day to do things I enjoy and not just to carry out a series of errands. I now recognise it’s something I need to do on a more regular basis.
Start saying no. I have a tendency to say yes to things without really thinking it through. I’m trying to learn that sometimes it’s ok to say no.
There is something about September which feels like the start of a new year. I start re-evaluating what I want from life and feel more energetic and purposeful. I’ve always attributed this to the fact that the new school year starts in September in the UK. The last days of summer were spent buying new school shoes and pencil cases preparing for the year ahead. We had new teachers, different classes and the six-week holidays was enough time for collective memories to forget what had happened the year before.
I left school more than twenty years ago but yet I still feel in a cycle of using the summer to unwind before refocusing in September. This makes sense when you consider how our brains create neural pathways based on our previous thoughts and behaviours. Unless we do something to actively shift these thought processes, then they stay and good habits are a good thing.
Why a reset can be a positive thing
Now, I know lots of people hate the January new year because there’s too much of a focus on perfection over just getting on with life. However, I personally find it really useful to regroup, look at where I want to go in life and refocus accordingly. Now, I’m not one of those people that has a five year plan, or even a year’s plan tbh. I rarely know what I’m doing from one week to the next. But if I don’t check in with myself, then I have a tendency to drift along feeling like things aren’t quite right but not taking any action to change them. This is why a September reset really works for me.
How to harness the September new year feeling
Use Pinterest or magazines to create a vision board – look for what visually excites you and resonates with you
Think about your short term aims. What would you like to achieve?
Be positive. This isn’t designed to be a stick to beat yourself with.
Every month or so, I will look around and see drawers overflowing with old bits of paper, shelves with various piles of stuff on top of the books, a kitchen table we can’t eat at because things have accumulated on there and realise, I need to declutter. I’m not a neat freak or a minimalist; I like my home to feel homely and I want people to relax in it. I also live with a hoarder and the word ‘declutter’ sends him into a tailspin. However, I know that an accumulation of clutter has a negative impact on my state of mind. It affects my self-esteem lowering my opinion of myself, as well as making me feel like I can’t fully relax. The benefits of decluttering for me are all about improving my mental health and nothing to do with having a perfect house.
Benefits of decluttering
We all have different mess thresholds and it’s all relative. For me though, there are a number of benefits to decluttering.
Decluttering puts me back in control of my life. I really believe how you live in your space has a lot to do with how you feel internally. A messy cluttered home is often an indication that I’ve not been prioritising myself or is symptomatic of a deeper issue.
Space to think. Too much clutter makes me feel claustrophobic and it affects my ability to think clearly. Space around me frees up space in my brain and gives me clarity.
It lifts my energy levels. I feel much more energised after I’ve decluttered. In part, it gives me a sense of achievement but it also frees up time to focus on other things. It often puts a spring in my step and I feel inspired to get more done.
It boosts my confidence. Feeling much more on top of things has a massive impact on my self-esteem. In days of juggling work around my child and often feeling like I’m doing both badly, decluttering makes me feel like I’ve got at least one thing right.
Trying to buy less
We all know that possessions don’t make us happy. However, it is hard to buy less. I often buy a storage solution as a way to declutter, instead of examining why I have so much around me. I have a tendency to keep on to things in case it becomes useful again. It very rarely does.
My recent blast of decluttering made me realise I have multiples of things from jars of Marmite to similar pairs of shoes. I’m buying mindlessly without thinking about what I have already.
I’m trying to put checks in place before I buy. I want to question what purpose it will serve and how long it will be useful for.
I realised I was starting to drift about three years ago. I’d fallen out of love with a job I’d felt so passionately about and knew I was no longer feeling fulfilled. I had this inner feeling that things weren’t quite right – but I couldn’t work out exactly why. I knew I wanted to change my life; I just hadn’t got a clue what I wanted to do.
They often say change happens to you if you don’t make change happen yourself. It forces you to take action. Well I had major life changes: a baby, a death of a parent, a house move and yet still… I knew I needed to make some changes; I just didn’t know what I needed to change.
Buying every ‘how to change your life’ book on the market
I bought every self-development book on change and worked through exercises to try and work out what set my soul on fire. I spent hours googling how to unlock your life’s purpose and tried to create a lightbulb moment. I followed Instagram coaches and hung on their every word hoping some of their wisdom would seep into my skin. I created vision boards, set intentions, released energy and tried to break through some of my blocks.
Yet, the more I wanted to change, the harder it seemed to become. I felt paralysed by my indecision and overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions I was trying to make.
Change is a journey, not a destination
However, in the few months, life change has happened. It wasn’t a bolt in the blue but a series of tiny changes that grew into something bigger. I’ve refocused my job role and am building up new skills to open up a new career path. In turn, I now have a clearer understanding of my direction and what I want to do.
How I made change happen
I made small incremental changes, not always knowing why but because it made me feel good. I set up this blog to get serious about my own wellbeing, as well as to create content I wanted to write about and enjoy.
I became braver about pushing myself out there. I still cringe a bit when I post a blog on Twitter because I feel I’m opening myself up for judgement. However, each time I do it, I become more comfortable.
I moved away from right/wrong thinking. I had started to lose the ability to think clearly and became very black and white in my thinking. I have tried to retrain myself into understanding there is more than one path to happiness.
I asked for what I wanted. This doesn’t come naturally to me – but I recognised I needed to become more open in asking for opportunities. I let myself be vulnerable and ask other people for help.
I let myself just be. I can find it hard to settle and allow events to unfold. It means I often feel frustrated when things aren’t moving fast enough. For once, in my life, I’m trying to trust in the process and let things unfold.
Anyone else remember the phrase ‘start the day as you mean to go’ being used a lot during their teenage years? I would hear it muttered after finally dragging myself out of bed in the afternoon – no doubt following an evening of being on the cider and black. But pass agg (passive aggressive) comments aside, there is a lot of sense to it. Personally, I do feel a lot better about myself if I feel I’ve started the day well.
A lot of our actions are habits and putting the right ones in place can bring about simple and effective changes. Our habits are essentially patterns in our brains (neural pathways). It takes time and effort to create new ones. Getting into good habits to begin each morning is how you start the day on a positive note.
Of course, there are always obstacles and incidents outside of our control. However, for the majority of the time, it’s the way we deal with them that affects our mood. Starting the day positively helps frame our thought-patterns and emotions so life feels a bit easier to deal with. So without further ado, let’s look at the 3 habits you need to get into to start the day well.
How to start the day on a positive note; the 3 habits you need
My day goes much more smoothly if I’ve managed to iron my clothes for the day ahead – rather than picking out what’s clean and hoping for the best. If I’ve made a green smoothie and my lunch in advance, then I am literally winning at life (small things here).
2. Be appreciative and show gratitude
Say thank you for the cup of coffee, your train arriving on time, or getting a good parking space outside work. Feel the appreciation for things around you and events going your way. This helps frame your mood and you’ll start noticing the good things and not look out for everything that can go wrong.
3. Start creative thinking or problem solving first thing
Use the first part of the day to tackle more challenging tasks and save the more administrative, basic jobs until later in the day. Your brain should be less tired and you’ll start the day with a sense of accomplishment.
Be kind to yourself
We’re all human and life doesn’t always turn out the way we intend to. If you oversleep, don’t make yourself an instagram worthy breakfast or begin the day with yoga etc, then don’t give yourself a hard time. Start again tomorrow.
Wellbeing doesn’t have to be an expensive commitment. It’s not about buying expensive bath oils or designer candles (although that can be nice). It’s about making sure we nourish ourselves and really look after our emotional and physical health. So how do you do this on a budget? Here are some simple ways to boost your wellbeing for free.
Five ways to boost your wellbeing for free
Keep a gratitude diary. You can use your phone or scribble down on a piece of old paper. Take stock to think about what you are grateful for and bring in some positivity to your thought processes. It’s a small act but one that makes a big difference.
Check out some yoga on Youtube. There are countless yoga tutorials on Youtube with one of the most famous being Adriene Mishler. She has over 3.5 million subscribers and 400 videos on her Yoga with Adriene channel. Adriene creates tutorials appealing to everyone from complete beginners to the over 60s and those in a hurry. She’s very down-to-earth, encouraging and best of all her content is totally free.
Download a mindfulness / meditation App. There are a number of guided meditation Apps such as Headspace or Andrew Johnson which offer taster content free of charge. All you need to do is download on to your phone and listen to when you have time such as commuting to work.
Listen to an uplifting podcast. There are so many spiritual and soulful podcasts such as Oprah’s Supersoul Conversations, the Happiness Project and the Good Life. They all feature inspiring guests sharing life lessons and helping to give greater insights into our own.
The first days of sunshine in London and it’s like the city becomes a different place. Strangers talk to each other and people walk around with smiles on their faces. My energy levels lift completely with a few sunny days and the start of light evenings. Suddenly I feel I have more time to get things done rather than thinking about bedtime from around 8.30pm. My experience is pretty common. So why does sunshine make us happier?
In my case, it’s not the cold weather which tends to affect my mood, but the lack of daylight, which leads to feeling tired and run down. For people who work in offices and start and end their day in darkness, these feelings are even worse. I have to remind myself to go out at lunch just to make sure I see some daylight.
Why does sunshine make us happier?
Sunshine is a natural mood boost
Time in the sun is thought to increase the release of serotonin, which boosts our mood and helps us feel calm and focused. This is one of the reasons why we’re encouraged to go out in during the day to ensure we’re seeing daylight and getting a natural serotonin boost. It’s also good for our circadian rhythm (the part of our brain that makes us feel tired at night and awake during the day).
It’s a natural form of vitamin D
Exposure to sunlight also gives us a daily dose of Vitamin D which can be hard to get from foods alone. Vitamin D promotes healthy cell and bone growth, reduces inflammation, and helps to stimulate our immune function. Just 20 minutes of exposure to sunshine a day has real health benefits (people with darker skin need longer). Exposure to the sun can lower blood pressure, help create stronger bones and teeth, reduce the risk of some cancers and can help with skin conditions.
Sunshine encourages good habits
The sunshine makes us want to be physically healthier, as well as emotionally. Salad starts to become a viable food order instead of just a garnish. It spurs us on to start exercising – if only because it’s nice just to be outdoors.
I went away with friends recently and laughed and laughed and laughed. I laughed until my stomach hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. And even though I’d been burning the candle at both ends – I came home feeling happier and lighter than I had done in a long time. It turns out laughter really is the best medicine and studies show it benefits almost every area of our lives.
Research has shown laughter really is contagious. Scientists played a series of sounds to participants to see how they responded to positive or negative sounds. They tested the movement of facial muscles afterwards. The study found that people tended to smile when they heard laughter.
Laughter helps create long-lasting relationships
Laura Kurtz, a social psychologist from the University of North Carolina investigated how much shared laughter influences the success of a relationship. She studied 77 heterosexual pairs (154 people total) who had been in a relationship for an average of 4 years and did video recordings of them recalling how they first met. The couples who laughed more together in the videos reported having happier relationships.
Being able to laugh at our shortcomings and failures has a positive impact on our resilience (the ability to overcome negative situations). Scientists asked 201 pairs of North American adult twins to complete a questionnaire on two positive (affiliative, self-enhancing) and two negative (aggressive, self-defeating) humour styles. Participants also were asked about how they felt about eight mental toughness factors: commitment, control, emotional control, control over own life, confidence, confidence in own abilities, interpersonal confidence, and challenge. Positive correlations were found between the positive humour styles and all of the mental toughness factors.
Ways to increase laughter in your life
spend time with people who make you laugh
watch comedies or read books which you know will make you laugh out loud
put yourself in social situations which involve laughing. Go to the cinema to watch a funny film or a comedy. night. Even if you’re on your own, being around other people who are laughing will still hugely impact on your wellbeing.
Do you ever feel stuck in a rut, or that things are ok, but, could be better? Does life feel a little bit blah? Well, this is when you might want to give your life an overhaul and look at what could do with sprucing up? Do you need to give your life a spring clean?
What is a spring clean?
The term ‘spring clean’ comes from the days when our homes were heated by fires. People would spring clean and air their homes in the warmer months to clean it of all the soot and grime that had accumulated when the weather was colder. These days, we rely on much more modern methods to heat our homes – but there is still something about the first sunny day and seeing flowers starting to bloom, which lifts our spirits and offers the chance to spring clean your life of some of the patterns we may be in.
How to give your life a spring clean
Do you have relationships in your life with people who make you feel bad about yourself? Are there people that you feel you have to mentally ‘psyche’ yourself up to spend time with? We should try to surround ourselves with people who lift us up and support us rather than bringing toxic energy. There are occasions when it’s time to let friendships go or manage the amount of time you spend with someone. We all change throughout our lives and sometimes our relationships need to change to.
Contact people you care about
How many times have you mentally composed a message to someone – but never actually sent it? Are there people on your mind, who you never seem to contact? Make the effort to reach out and let people know you’re thinking about them.
Declutter old clothes and possessions
My Dad always told me if you haven’t used something for two years, you should get rid of it. I think there is an element of truth in that idea. However, I sometimes struggle with the idea that I might want to wear something again. If I’m really uncertain, I pack it away and if I haven’t missed it in a year, I know I can give it away happily. There are physical benefits to decluttering in that it frees up more living space, as well as mentally feeling a lot clearer.
Go through life admin and paperwork
Write a list of everything you need to do and work through it. It can be really easy to put off tasks that need doing (even as I’m writing this I know I have a fair few outstanding..), however, it’s good to be able to clear the decks.
Look at finances
Anyone else like to stick their head in the sand when it comes to their finances? Or is it just me? Spring is a good time to think about your spending, where you might need to make savings and if you have any financial goals. Note to self.
Switch off social media
Social media brings lots of positives into our lives especially around building communities and connecting with people. However, it can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, lower self-esteem and the feeling of being ‘always on’. Like anything, there is a balance to be had so take the time to switch off and do something else instead.
Losing a loved one is something sadly nearly all of us will have to go through in life – yet, our culture shies away completely from talking about death. This is one of the reasons, IMO (please note, I’m not a grief counsellor) that we find it really hard to know what to say and how to help someone through grief. It’s easy to feel awkward, particularly when you haven’t experienced grief yourself and then end up not doing anything at all even when that isn’t your intention.
After my Dad died, I appreciated knowing people cared. There were people who reached out to me who I hadn’t spoken to for a long time but knew how much pain I would be in because they had suffered their own losses too. In my experience, there isn’t really a right or wrong way to be around someone who’s grieving. The best thing you can do is to show up and just be there. Everyone deals with grief differently and it doesn’t run to a timeline. It can be quite a lonely experience so being there for someone can make all the difference.
How to help someone through grief
Don’t worry about the message
Send a card, phone or text to let the person know you are thinking about them. There are no real words of comfort, which really make grief easier in the initial stages. I know I’ve poured over words that I’ve written to other people, desperate to find a way of giving them some comfort. But I know from my own experiences, the early days of grief are a bit of a blur and it’s too soon to do anything other than put one foot in front of the other. Just knowing someone cares helps.
Think of how you can offer practical help
Don’t ask or wait to be asked. Make food or buy groceries. It’s easy to forget to do basic tasks like eating or shopping when your world feels like it’s falling apart. Anything you can do to make life easier will help.
Please don’t worry about making someone cry
Honestly, really don’t worry about making someone cry. You can guarantee people are upset anyway and it’s nothing to do with your words. It really helps to be able to process emotions and tears are part of that.
Don’t be afraid to ask how they’re feeling
Talking really does help with processing what’s happened. Just be patient if someone isn’t ready. Keep going past the first year at the very least. Loss never really goes away although the pain does get easier. It’s always appreciated when people check in to see how you are.
As soon as I get busy, the first thing to fall by the wayside is taking proper care of myself. My daily diet becomes packet food and any activities I do to focus on my emotional health fall right down the priority list. I end up becoming sluggish, a bit fed up and start feeling bad about myself. I’ve made this mistake so many times, I’m determined to try and change my ways. This is why I’m putting some quick and simple wellbeing ideas in place so I can keep myself in balance.
Seven quick and easy wellbeing ideas
Boost your diet with citrus fruits such as grapefruit and lemons, which have a number of health benefits including improving the immune system. It may not stop you reaching for the takeaway menu (and we’re all allowed a treat) but it will help you feel like you’re putting some goodness into your body.
Mindfulness can be done almost anywhere such as on your commute or even when you’re walking. There are a number of Apps offering guided meditations including Headspace and Andrew Johnson. However, just being aware and tuning into your breath, can also make a real difference especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Try to see daylight and take a walk even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. It’s great for helping you get into a good sleep pattern because it sets your body clock to day and night.
Keep hydrated by drinking water and herbal teas. Buy a water carrier to keep it with you and keep hydrated on the go.
Practice gratitude. You may not have time to write a gratitude diary but you can still take 30 seconds throughout the day to check in with yourself and think about what you are grateful for.
I confess: I’m not a naturally green-fingered person. It’s a skill I continue to work on. Despite that though, nearly every surface in my home is covered with house plants.
There’s a myriad of reasons why I love about house plants so much. I enjoy seeing new leaves bud and grow. I like the fact I feel there’s some element of nature indoors. I get a kick out of coordinating their pots and thinking about how everything works together. Overall, they just make me happy.
However, I’m not just all about the aesthetic. Indoor plants are also proven to increase our mental wellbeing and physical health too.
Benefits of house plants
Plants improve your mood and reduce stress. Did you know lavender essential oil is one of the best oils for creating feelings of calm and reducing stress? Well the same goes for the plant too. The scent from a potted lavender plant will help your overall mental wellbeing. It’s not the only house plant either: try a snake plant or a red edged dracaena for a lifting boost too.
They improve the air quality. I vaguely remember learning in Biology GCSE about how we need plants and trees around us for oxygen. However, house plants do far more than that. There are some varieties of plants which purify the air in our homes and remove some of the toxins found in detergents and cosmetics. Try our old friend the red edged dracaena or a spider plant.
I love social media. I love how it connects people. I love how I know what my friends in other countries are up to. I love the interesting people I’ve met via instagram and how much I’ve learnt from life coaches and wellbeing experts just through some tiny squares.
It’s hard to be in the moment, when having a smartphone means you can fill every moment
What I don’t love is how it takes me away from my son and how it drains my time when I could be doing else I enjoy instead (like reading a book or watching a film). My concentration span has reduced since the advent of smartphones and I miss the feeling of being bored. It’s hard to be in the moment, when having a smartphone means you can fill every moment. So this is why I’m switching off social media. Just on a Sunday of course.
Comparing yourself to others on social media
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve disappeared down an instagram rabbit hole. Suddenly, I’m looking at wedding photos, holiday snaps and all sorts of images belonging to someone that I’ve got no connection too. It doesn’t make me feel particularly great about myself. Partly, because I start comparing my life to somebody else’s – and forgetting about the golden rule that someone’s curated feed is not their reality. But also, because it’s such a waste of time.
Limiting your daily screen time
Yes, I know this is supposed to be about why I’m switching off social media on a Sunday. However, I’m also trying to limit my daily screen time too. One of the greatest upgrades Apple added to the iPhone (IMO) is the ability to limit screen time. I allow myself one hour a day to look at social media – and then, that’s it. Time to do something else instead.
Switch off Sunday
So now I’ve got all this extra time on my hands; what will I be doing instead…? Well, I plan to use that time to fully engage with my son and do activities that he really enjoys. I’ve started to worry that he knows I’m sometimes distracted and I don’t want him to feel second best to a phone. There are times during our Fridays off together when I have to take care of something for work and I don’t want that to leak through to weekends.
I also want to start the week ahead feeling refreshed having had the chance to give my brain some space. I tend to get the best ideas when i’m able to reflect a bit more rather than feeling slightly overwhelmed. I’m much more easily inspired when I do something outside of my usual routine.
Social media has enhanced my life in so many ways. It just doesn’t need to become my life.
I have a confession to make: I used to be a serial apologiser. I’m British so it does come with the territory but I apologised so much, a former colleague described me as having ‘sorry tourettes’.
I used to say sorry for everything. If someone banged into me, I’d say sorry. I’d apologise for delegating work to my team even though I was their manager. I once apologised for needing to tell a waitress my chicken was still raw in a restaurant.
Now I do believe it’s important to take responsibility and be personally accountable for our actions. But, the majority of times I apologised was for things completely out of my control. I was doing it for the other person to try and avoid confrontation and didn’t think about how my ‘sorry’ was impacting on me.
Do women apologise more than men?
It was only when someone pointed out how often I said sorry that I became more conscious of my behaviour. It also made me more aware of other people’s.
Now this wasn’t any sort of scientific study; more an issue I picked up on in my workplace (please note, I work in a very male-dominated environment). I noticed a difference between how often men and women apologise and what they were apologising for. I found women were much more likely to say sorry for small things such asking a question, whereas it was rare to get an apology from a man. This was even when they had created a significant negative impact on other people’s workloads.
I don’t think my experiences are too dissimilar from a lot of other women. A You Gov poll showed 44% of females surveyed felt women apologised too frequently. More than 10 per cent more women (37 per cent) thought they personally apologised too frequently compared to men (26 per cent). Reasons behind the compulsion to apologise range from women having higher standards of behaviours to me and / or automatically putting themselves into a secondary position, thereby making themselves seem less important.
I find the issues around women and language complex. The gender pay gap in the UK reinforces that. However, reducing saying sorry unnecessarily and using self-depreciating language feels a good first step. Self-awareness is key and understanding our triggers around the language we use helps us change.
4 ways to minimise the use of sorry
I apologise more when speaking than in written communication. For the latter, there is an App called Just Not Sorry which you can add to your Google taskbar. It checks your emails for too many uses of sorry and self-depreciating phrases such as just.
Use phrases such as ‘thank you for waiting’ and ‘thank you for your patience’ rather than apologising. You’re still being polite and recognising someone else’s feelings.
Become aware of double voicing and try to minimise its use (this is a really hard one for me).
Still recognise there is a time and place for an apology such as being late or hurting someone’s feelings.
My son was born in late September and the weather in London was still warm and sunny. I had absolutely no idea how to look after a newborn baby. However, the one thing we did every day without fail was going for a walk in nature.
I once read babies needed fresh air to help them sleep. I have no idea whether or not that’s true and can’t really say my own experience supports it. However, in those early days of motherhood when I felt uncertain about everything, a walk around the park made me feel like we’d accomplished something.
Those daily walks helped me feel more positive about not knowing what I was doing. They gave my day structure and a sense of purpose. It started to take less time to get out of the house and gradually my confidence grew too.
I now recognise more than ever how much nature affects our wellbeing. I grew up on the edge of the Peak District and pretty much every weekend, we would go for a walk. My school looked out on rolling hills and the need for green seeped into my bones.
Feeling part of nature has been shown to significantly impact on life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness and our overall happiness.
It seems like I’m not the only one. A study by Derby University and the Wildlife Trust looked at how nature affects our wellbeing. Researchers measured the impact of taking part in the Wildlife Trusts 30 Days of Wildness. Scientists asked participants about their health and happiness before, during and two months afterwards.
The results were illuminating. An additional 30% of people said their health was excellent following the research. Respondents also reported greater feelings of happiness, connection to nature and active nature behaviours (feeding birds, planting flowers etc).
Dr Richardson from Derby University highlights research evidence available that exposure to nature can improve hypertension (abnormally high blood pressure), respiratory tract and cardiovascular illnesses. It also has a positive impact on vitality and mood, anxiety and mental fatigue. Feeling part of nature significantly impacts on life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness and our overall happiness.
Accessing nature in the city
Living in a city may feel harder to access nature but there are steps we can take to make sure we’re still getting some benefits. These include taking a walk around lunchtime to make sure we’re getting Vitamin D, having an ‘urban garden’ on a windowsill and researching what’s around you. There are over 41 nature reserves managed by the London Wildlife Trust. A quick look at their website has shown me two in my local area including a centre for wildlife gardening just 15 minute’s walk away.
Honestly, I love podcasts. For anyone who is time poor (aka me), they’re such an easy and brilliant way of picking up new information. I use them to learn about the world, learn about myself and to simply relax. This is one of the reasons why I’m always on the lookout for great spiritual, self-care and wellbeing podcasts.
Here are five of my favourite wellbeing podcasts which inspire and lift me up with each episode.
Oprah interviews leading speakers and interesting people on all things wellbeing and spiritual practices in her Super Soul Conversations designed to help unlock your growth. I always pick up at least one great piece of advice, which I know I’ll use in daily life.
I stumbled across Ctrl Alt Delete and loved it so much, I’m now ploughing through the archives. Emma talks to people on a range of subjects from careers, self-development to feelings around social media and I find I learn something new every time. Whilst a business podcast primarily, I find she often veers into wellbeing in an interesting way.
I learnt about Gretchen Rubin through the two podcasts above and love the way she talks about happiness in a scientific yet accessible way. Her sister co-hosts the podcast and I really enjoy the relationship they have with each other.
The High Low is a weekly discussion show covering everything from the trivial to the political. This isn’t a wellbeing podcast, however, it’s directly targeted at women. Some of the issues covered such as the myth of the pregnancy glow really resonated with me.