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Mariana Trench anyone?

It's no surprise really but it has been noticeable this last week in particular that many friends, family, children, associates and clients have reported feeling a significant dip in their positivity and resilience. Some would describe it as a trench.


I'll resist the temptation to coin a marketeer's catchy title for this pseudo-collective dip because: a) a dip like this at a time like this is an entirely reasonable and natural experience and b) the dip is not a 'thing'; if like me your birthday sometimes falls on the fictional 'Blue Monday', you'll know it's nonsense to label a particular week or day as generically low when many good things will be happening for many people at that particular time.


That said, let's look at where we are in the cycle. We're nearly a year into Covid-19, it's a good few weeks into Lockdown, a month of recent home-schooling (for parents, children and teachers alike), the weather and shortness of the days play a significant part in our mood and our ability to get outside and the commercial challenges and business anxieties are biting hard for many people. Vaccines are rolling out and yet no-one is fully vaccinated at this point and new strains dominate the news.

Now more than ever before, it is the time for radical prioritisation of mental and physical health. The threat-detecting part of our brain is on over-drive and our usual outlets for the resulting stress are restricted. Our children are feeling it as well, so much more than before. My daughter and a number of her friends have shown signs of anxiety in the last 10 days that I haven't seen present in this way before. It's a significant signal that we'd be foolish to ignore.


We need to get more intentional and creative in our approach to calming the system. It's tempting to shelve the walk/run when it's so bleak outside, to relentlessly crack on with work/home-school/life admin at the expense of that vital bout of fresh air, wind-down time or conversation with a friend and to sink into a spiral of negativity. We and those around us need the opposite to be true.


If your inner critic is on over-drive or your catastrophising and filtering is at a peak, notice and take action. These are a selection of common thinking traps and they are exactly what they say they are: commonplace. Do you recognise any?

- all or nothing thinking: things are black or white, perfect or a failure

- personalisation: you think everything people say or do is related to you

- filtering: taking the negative details and magnifying them while filtering out the positives; all the good aspects are over-shadowed by even a small negative

- catastrophising: you anticipate and assume the worst, expecting disaster and focusing on 'what ifs'

- should/oughts/musts/can'ts: beliefs about what should or can't be done, often ingrained since childhood


They are normal and widely experienced thought patterns but the more you raise awareness of what the narrative is, the better your opportunity to counter them with alternative perspectives...and to enlist the help of others to break the echo chamber of your own mind, accessing liberating new thoughts. The relief is tangible.


I'm not immune. This week a small thing tipped me into catastrophising in a big way. Rather than allowing this to dominate the day, I recognised it was at play, acknowledged it and took two immediate courses of action, once I'd spent the first few minutes in its grip:

- I wrote down what had actually happened and imagined what the best version of me would say about that. I have developed a quick emotional link to this self by way of an image that sums me up at my very best.

- I spoke to two trusted people in very short 5 minute conversations to access their vital counter perspectives. One is always a voice of reason and logic and the other is brilliant in finding the humour and puncturing any bubble of self-importance.


It would have been easy to insist to myself I was too busy and stressed out to make those calls but the result was the catastrophising subsided within 30 minutes whereas we know that a thought spiral can last for days in some cases for people. They have the power to diminish our productivity, effectiveness and communication in a big way.


So, what could you do to get the thinking distortions in perspective again? Working with a coach is one way to tackle long-term thinking traps and to tame the inner critic. In the immediate term, what super simple things can you start doing today to help you climb out of whatever trench you've fallen into? No rocket science here, just a vital reminder that you need to give yourself permission to do what you already know is going to help:


  1. Phone a friend. Really. Fight the hermit tendency that lockdown has brewed and have a conversation with someone you really like and trust.

  2. Go outside. This doesn't have to be a 5k run. A quick walk before work, a walking meeting on the phone instead of zoom or a lunchtime child-sized jog to the post box (child optional) will reset your and your child's system with vital endorphins. I hear people say they're glad they have to go out to walk the dog (great). I'd say you and your family are probably more important than a dog (risking controversy) and yet we don't always make the time to go out every day for our own health.

  3. Whether it's a gratitude journal or a 2 minute reflection time, identify at least one and ideally three things you are thankful for today

  4. Role-model to others, and especially your children, doing relaxing things not involving a screen. Children are often more inclined to join you doing something than find their own solutions. What could you do that you might both enjoy? Set aside any grown-up snobbery that painting by numbers or playing with lego is a waste of precious time and reframe to essential recovery time. Whether it's reading, colouring, running, meccano, playing a board game, catching a ball, making a meal together or phoning grandparents...create a space for it. Everyone has 15 minutes; it's 2% of the time you have in one 12 hour 'day' so give yourself permission to spend it wisely on doing the thing you are currently telling yourself you just can't do. And then build up from there.

Whether you're riding The Little Dipper or The Big One, simple things to nurture your health are the essential starting point. Of course, it's vital to stress the importance of seeking medical help if you or someone you know is seriously sinking.


For many of us, this current dip is tough going but it's not terminal. What's gone well today? What did you do well today? What small wins did you have? And stop there. Bank it and change the record before any "but" whispers in your ear.


This too shall pass.

 

Georgie Rudd is the Founder and Director of Rudd Coaching Ltd. She coaches leaders in global FTSE 100 businesses and Partnership firms. Having worked as a senior leader in both, she understands the challenges and pressures and delivers high impact development that makes a difference. The approach is best described as a high empathy, high challenge 'thinking partnership' that delivers actionable intelligence for her clients. This means the work is outcomes-focused, facilitating insights that lead to real change. She coaches on a wide range of topics including helping leaders to deliver strategy, create boundaries and build resilience, lead with empathy and connect brilliantly with others, increase personal impact and dial up self-belief.


For a conversation about corporate or private coaching, contact georgie@ruddcoaching.co.uk

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