Get Out Of Your Own Way!

Get Out Of Your Own Way!

Do you spend a lot of your day focusing on the negative? Glass half empty?  When something negative happens to you, what do you tell yourself? Take a minute to think about what you said to yourself recently when something didn’t work out the way you wanted it to. Was it kind and helpful? Or did you turn on yourself? PRIME WELLNESS – Click here to read more!

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Is Low Emotional Intelligence Affecting Your Relationships?

Is Low Emotional Intelligence Affecting Your Relationships?

The ability to manage our emotions, as well as be aware of the emotions of others, are critical skills to master if we want meaningful relationships in our lives. Where IQ was always touted as the key to success in life, what we now know from years of research, is that emotional intelligence (aka Emotional Quotient or EQ) is one of the most important ingredients to a happy, healthy, and connected life.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

EQ is the ability to understand, use, and manage our own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. “People with well-developed emotional skills are more likely to be content and effective in their lives, mastering the habits of mind that foster their own productivity,” says Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional

Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.  Goleman argues that “People who cannot marshal some control over their emotional life fight inner battles that sabotage their ability for focused work and clear thought.”

How does a person with low emotional intelligence show up?

Generally speaking, people with low EQ cannot accurately perceive emotions in themselves and others. They are quick to blame, make excuses, judge others, and are ultimately self-destructive, particularly in the context of relationships. They can be challenging to get along with both at an individual and social level and difficult to work with because they cannot respond to even the most well-intended and constructive criticism.

 

Are we born with emotional intelligence?

The short answer is no.  Research shows that we are not born with emotional intelligence; instead, we learn these essential skills through lived experience. Foundational blocks are laid in our childhood and our primary carers, usually, our parents, play a massive role in teaching us these skills. If you came from a loving family with emotionally intelligent parents, the likelihood is that you developed these skills growing up.  However, if this was not the case, you may have struggled to navigate your emotions growing up, and the ability to forge close relationships has been a struggle most of your life.  People don’t seem to get you and you them.

What do people with low emotional intelligence have in common?

Several behaviors flag a low EQ. This list is by no means exhaustive but will give you an insight into the struggles these people face.  Perhaps as you read through each one, have a think about whether any resonate in your life and if yes, what you can do to change them.  

1. They don’t develop meaningful relationships

Think of someone in your life that struggles to make friends. Perhaps it may be you? What we know with certainty, is that humans are DNA wired for connection. We all need meaningful relationships to thrive, be happy and live long, healthy lives. Strong and lasting bonds are formed through the mutual exchange of ideas, showing empathy, being compassionate, and offering support to the people we care about.

However, when we lack essential EQ skills, we tend to go through life alone because we find it very difficult to form friendships, especially meaningful and lasting ones.

Not only are we unaware of our own emotions and behaviours and their impact on others, but we are unable to calibrate the other person’s feelings and therefore often ‘put our foot in it.’ If the friend is courageous enough to give us feedback, we have the opportunity to make it right. However, most friends will say nothing, and instead ‘drift’ away from the friendship over time. The end result is that we miss out on the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships, which leads to self-imposed isolation.

We can, however, break this pattern by getting to know other people better through resisting the temptation to talk more than we listen. If a person feels heard, they are more likely to share more details about their life. This results in meaningful exchange and the opportunity to build trust in the relationship.

2. They are not self-aware

Last week I witnessed a road rage incident. Two drivers in front of me literally got out of their cars and had a fistfight. I was stunned, as were most of the drivers stuck at the traffic lights. I instinctively locked my doors. Neither men showed any awareness of their behaviour and eventually, after what seemed to be ages, got back into their cars and drove off.

This is an example of a lack of emotional awareness and the impact we are having on others. In addition, the inability to self-regulate is a key indicator of low EQ.  With low self-awareness, we sometimes cannot identify our own emotions and what is coming up for us, and therefore consequently lack understanding of our own behaviour.  Emotional eruptions of frustration, irritation, and anger are common, and we tend to react in the moment without thinking about what we are saying.

Emotionally intelligent people have a genuine and realistic understanding of themselves, their emotions, how they are showing up in life and the impact they have on other people. They are in tune with how they feel, but they do not let their emotions rule their lives. They respond to situations rationally rather than react with emotion and often when they feel their feelings becoming more intense, they push the pause button to allow themselves a bit of breathing space and get their emotions under control. They are mindfully present when responding to any situation.

Genuine introspection and getting to know ourselves can help us develop self-awareness, compassion, and social intelligence.

3.  They are self-focused

Have you ever spoken to someone, and the minute you start sharing something about your life they immediately take over and start talking about themselves? Perhaps they have a better example than you or a more exciting story to tell? Because people with low EQ are unable to process or understand the emotions of others, and the need to give them space to share, they tend to draw every conversation, circumstance, and situation back to themselves. Regardless of what we talk about, they seem to have a valid reason to steer every topic of conversation back to them. A sure way for the other person to feel unheard and shut down.

Not only do they steer the conversation to their world, but they also tend to take over the conversation, asking rhetorical rather than open-ended questions. This type of questioning is usually intended to grab or keep your attention, but not hear our response. The kind of question also doesn’t allow us the opportunity to respond.

People with low EQ cannot truly open themselves up to being fully available to others, but usually will not allow others to open up, either. They are often emotionally manipulative, calculating, and inherently controlling.

This pattern can be broken by honing our skills of actively listening, instead of listening to talk. Allowing the other person to speak until they have nothing more to say, before we interject with our opinion, our story, or our point of view.

4.  They are never wrong

I cannot help but think of my older brother Grant when it comes to this point. I remember once he said with a cheeky smile, “I am never wrong. Once I thought I was wrong, but I was mistaken.” Most of us probably know someone who has an opinion about everything, and they often think they have the only idea that matters and cannot possibly be wrong. And if they are found to be incorrect, they struggle to apologize and admit their mistake. In fact, they often argue with others in an attempt to force or sway them to their point of view. And if the other person doesn’t come to the party, they simply ignore them and their position as irrelevant. They usually show little sympathy, cannot empathize with others, and can sometimes be perceived as bullies.

This pattern can be broken by learning to see, hear, and feel the emotions of others and by learning to shape our own responses and reactions accordingly. Acknowledging that we cannot always be right and that sometimes other people know more than we do is crucial to building trusting relationships.

5.  They are never at fault

Does this ring a bell?  Do you know someone that regardless of the issue is never at fault? A low score in an exam is the fault of the instructor or something wrong with the exam. A difficult conversation with a client is often the client’s fault for not listening. A project that misses a deadline is the fault of someone else in the team.

People with low EQ struggle to accept blame for anything. They cannot see mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow. Their inability to admit a mistake, also means they can never learn from their mistake and therefore are likely to make a mistake again. At which time they will probably blame the same scapegoat over and over again.

Receiving feedback at the best of times is difficult. Our primitive brains feel threatened when we receive feedback and tend to become defensive. Being aware of this natural inclination to become defensive is a starting point to managing feedback. Seeing feedback as an opportunity to learn something, identify a gap that you were not aware of or do something differently is gold.

We can break the pattern by acknowledging the mistake, figuring our part in it, and identifying the lessons to be learnt.

Where to from here?

The first step in developing emotional intelligence is knowing that we lack it in the first place. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learnt and the ability to do so is entirely within our control.  So if you think that perhaps your EQ needs some attention, why not start today. Maybe take the bold step of asking a loved one if any of the above behaviours pertain to you. Yes, I know it will be a hugely courageous step but do it anyway. Or perhaps you see within yourself what your floors are and that this is an area you need to spend more time focusing on.

At the end of the day, most of us want to go through life having relationships that are happy and resourceful. Healthy relationships are also critically important for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

Author: Dr. Leanne Wall

E: leanne@drleannewall.com

W: drleannewall.com

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Why giving feedback in your personal relationships may not get the result you want and what you can do about it.

Why giving feedback in your personal relationships may not get the result you want and what you can do about it.

When you partner or someone close to you asks, “Can I give you some feedback?” how do you react? If you are human, your stress response will immediately switch on as you instantly brace yourself for what no doubt will be feedback on how you have messed up.  In the same moment, you start worrying about the impact of the feedback, how you will need to justify your actions and perhaps retaliate with some feedback of your own.

This is a sign that your primitive brain, responsible for your survival flight, fight or flee response is switched on and in the driver’s seat. With its seatbelt securely fastened, the primitive brain has detected a threat (i.e. incoming feedback) and initiated a cascade of stress hormones to be dumped into your system.  It also switches off all those parts of the brain (i.e. our thinking brain) that require either too much energy to run in this perceived crisis or may try and prevent it from fighting, fleeing or freezing.  This allows the primitive brain to focus on one thing and one thing only – getting away from the danger in front of it. Yes, that means that our primitive brains cannot differentiate between a perceived threat of receiving feedback to a real threat of being eaten by a lion! The kind of life-threatening event that occurred back when we lived in caves and gathered nuts, fruit and seeds for dinner.

Your brain and feedback.
Logically, getting feedback from someone is not life-threatening. Even if the feedback is hurtful, spiteful or maybe even has a ring of truth to it, you are not going to die. You are still alive and kicking once the words are said. However, most of us have not developed the ability to receive feedback without feeling a level of anxiety. Our first jump is often to the negative and that this feedback is probably a personal attack on who we are or what we have done. Even feedback that may be constructive and resourceful to the relationship. All the primitive brain perceives is a threat, and it responds in the same way it would have 100,000 years ago when we were faced with a real threat, such as a hungry lion.

Understanding our primitive brain’s default position and need to keep us safe and out of danger provides essential context for the person giving the feedback. Let’s assume your goal is to help improve your relationship rather than intentionally be critical and undermine the other person. Even if you’re coming from a loving place that is well-intentioned and genuinely invested in the relationship, it doesn’t mean the other person will be open to receiving your feedback.

The minute the person you’re offering the feedback to gets that you are about to deliver negative or critical feedback, their sympathetic or flight, fight or freeze nervous system switches on like the lights on a pokey machine when you’ve just pulled a winning four cherry combination. This activation serves the purpose of preparing their body for intense physical activity, the kind of action you need when you are running away from someone who is chasing you down a dark alley with a machete. In the process of preparing for the sprint of a lifetime, the person’s ability to thoughtfully receive and consider the feedback you’re offering, no matter how well intended, has gone walkabout.

Their brain literally can’t handle it. And this is the reason why giving negative feedback has been shown time and time again to have very little correlation to improving relationships. Even if your partner looks like they are fine on the outside as you string some well-intended sentences together, their brain is not in the right state to effectively receive, consider and apply your input.  All the required resources to do this have already shut down at the mention of ‘feedback’. It’s like the hamster wheel is turning but the hamsters not home.

More positive feedback isn’t the answer either.
Let’s face it, receiving feedback at the best of times is not a pleasant experience. The reason why we have this visceral negative reaction to feedback is that we’ve learnt growing up or been trained to believe that most if not all feedback is usually critical, and seldomly positive. Years of being reprimanded by parents or teachers have left their mark. Particularly if you grew up in the 1960s where physical punishment at school was commonplace, and teacher’s seldomly gushed with compliments.

Looking at your personal relationship perhaps providing positive feedback when your partner does something great is also not commonplace. So what if you suddenly start showering them with tons of positive feedback? Will this teach them that not all feedback is negative and therefore tame their primitive brain from climbing into the driver’s seat when they hear the word ‘feedback’? Unfortunately, this tactic still has its problems.

By all means, give out all the praise and recognition you can muster in your relationship. Make sure it’s authentic and honest, with no trace of sarcastic undertones, because most of us can spot ‘phoney’ a mile off. This, in itself, will probably improve your relationship. However, research shows that it requires at least five pieces of positive feedback to adequately balance one negative piece of feedback. That’s a heck of a lot of positive feedback in my opinion! It is also a tough habit to create and maintain, not because you lack the desire to do it but because we are focused on so many other things during the day that takes up our energy and time.

Making a sandwich of feedback.
Something I learnt in my corporate days was this concept of sandwich feedback. What it essentially means is that you sandwich crappy feedback between two fresh and yummy ‘slices’ of positive feedback. So, it may go something like this… “I love how hard you work to help put food on the table, however, please put the toilet seat down after you pee, but overall you are a great hubby.” Sorry to tell you but this doesn’t work either because of what psychologists call conditioning.

The reason being is the person you’re giving feedback to gets used to the fact that after every piece of positive feedback, negative feedback is likely to follow.  Like the lingering stench after you have emptied the bins on bin night but not washed out that liquid residue at the bottom. So even when you are complimenting them on the beautiful dinner they just cooked, they have become so conditioned to expect negative feedback to follow, their pokey machine lines up another four cherries and starts glowing like a Christmas tree. Within milliseconds the primitive brain climbs into the driver’s seat, and you know what happens after that. Worse yet, the two separate pieces of great feedback you so carefully planned, have lost their impact and the primitive brain is already changing lanes and heading for the hills.

There’s a better way of giving negative feedback.
To really make an impact in your relationship, you need to evolve the way you give negative  feedback from feedback being merely to correct or punish, to feedback that inspires growth and wanting to change. This is the difference between saying, “Don’t you dare get in my face again!” and “How could you approach me differently next time?” The first way may trigger some memories of you being dragged into the principal’s office to be reprimanded with a cane (only in my schooling days), while the latter takes a more collaborative and constructive approach. We are in this together.

Why does this approach make all the difference? Remember that critical feedback leads to our sympathetic nervous system lighting up and sending us into survival mode. However, when we focus on non-judgemental and ‘future looking’ statements, the primitive brain does not feel under threat.  Instead of the sympathetic nervous system switching on it stays nice and quiet, and the parasympathetic nervous system turns on instead. This is the rest and digest nervous system, which has the opposite impact on how receptive we are to the feedback message. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for calming us down and opens up our minds to receive the message, consider new possibilities and grow from the experience.

Below are several examples of what you could say:

  • Instead of saying, “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” say, “What do you reckon might happen if we tried XYZ?”
  • Instead of saying, “You need to improve how you talk to my mother,” say, “Based on what you know about my mum, how could you approach her differently to help her be more open to what you have to say?”
  • Instead of saying, “Your plan clearly didn’t work,” say, “I’d really like to get this done by the end of the month. How do you think we can get there?”
  • Instead of saying, “I don’t understand why you can’t get the garage sorted it looks like a bomb hit it,” say, “It will be so great when we have the garage done don’t you reckon? What do you need to make sure the garage gets sorted?”

This is the difference between demanding and collaborating. It opens up a conversation about how things can get done versus focusing on past failures. The aim is to get the other person to commit to a different behaviour moving forward that will positively impact your relationship. If they renege on their commitments, it opens up an opportunity to have a tougher conversation. It also indicates to them that you consider yourself to be in this together, and are willing to support them as needed.

There’s still a place for tougher conversations.
When you frame feedback in this way, you set the expectations for future behaviour in your relationship. This doesn’t however mean the other person will meet that expectation. They may not rise to the occasion or follow through on the commitments they have made. When this happens again and again, it is absolutely okay to take the conversation to the next level and create a firmer demand for what you need. How these conversations unfold is a different article for a different day, however, here is the key takeaway: those tougher conversations should not be step one of the process of improving your relationship.

By approaching feedback in this way, your create more space for your partner, family member or friend to have a constructive conversation, effectively hear and synthesise what you have to say and be clear on what your expectations are. If you do this well, you will potentially eliminate the need for more challenging conversations to take place later on.  The more open and honest we are upfront about what we are feeling or what we need helps create healthy relationships where conversations can be had, and we feel heard and appreciated.

Author: Leanne Wall
E: Leanne@drleannewall.com
W: www.drleannewall.com

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Practising gratitude makes us happier & less stressed.

Practising gratitude makes us happier & less stressed.

Gratitude combats stress? Had you said this to me back in my medical school days, I would have put my nose up at this claim. Being the concrete thinker that I was back in my twenties, I needed scientific proof for everything health related.  None of this ethnic-bongo-hairy-armpit brigade stuff, as my father used to call it. Fast track 30 years and there is now a ton of research to show precisely this. Expressing gratitude daily for the things you have, reduces our stress hormone levels. Who would have thought? By merely pausing for a few minutes a day and focusing on being thankful, showing appreciation for and returning kindness to others, can not only reduce our stress levels but is beneficial for our overall health and happiness.

Happy chemicals in the brain
Without getting too technical, research shows that focusing our attention on things we are grateful for actually forces a shift to the positive when it comes to some of our endogenous (self-made) happy chemicals. The simple act of being grateful has been shown to stimulate more neurotransmitters in the brain, specifically dopamine and serotonin, which in turn promote feelings of contentment. It goes without saying that this cascade of feel-good chemicals has a positive impact on our mental health too.

Gratitude benefits our mental health
Recent evidence suggests that complementing psychological counselling with additional activities that are not too cumbersome for clients but yield high results, may be helpful when dealing with mental health challenges. In research conducted by Joel Wong and Joshua Brown back in 2017, they zeroed in on the practice of gratitude to determine why study after study was showing that people who consciously express gratitude, are happier and felt less depressed.  Whereas most research studies on gratitude were conducted with well-functioning people, their research honed-in on people who were struggling with mental health challenges.  They found a number of reasons why gratitude may impact our bodies and minds, thereby positively affecting our mental health.

  1. Gratitude unshackles us from negative emotions.
    The act of writing down what we are grateful for produces better mental health by shifting our attention from toxic, negative emotions, such as resentment and envy, towards more positive emotions such as love and appreciation. When we write about what we are grateful for, and how other people have blessed our lives, it is considerably more difficult to get bogged down by negative experiences.
  2. Gratitude helps even if we don’t share it.
    The mere act of expressing gratitude has a positive impact on our mental health and is not dependent on actually communicating that gratitude to another person. Thinking of writing a gratitude letter to someone, however, don’t really want them to read it? You should write it anyway. The simple act of writing the letter helps us appreciate the people in our lives and shifts our focus away from negative feelings and thoughts.
  3. Gratitude benefits take time.
    Just like building a muscle, you can’t lift a dumbbell once or twice and expect to have biceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger. The same goes for gratitude. When we first start taking time out to be grateful, we may not immediately feel the positive effects. However, countless studies show that the more we complete this activity, the more we fire those neurotransmitters in our brains, and the more chemicals like serotonin and dopamine will be produced. The long-term benefits of expressing gratitude have been demonstrated and clearly positively impact our mental health.
  4. Gratitude has long-lasting effects on the brain.
    An interesting finding by Wong and Brown was that individuals who wrote gratitude letters showed increased neurological activity in the medial prefrontal cortex when they experienced gratitude as seen in the functional MRI scanner. “This finding suggests that practising gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time,” said Wong.Strategies to bring more gratitude to our lives
    Here are some proven strategies; some of them are straightforward practices that we can try on our own; some are activities that can be done regularly to elevate our sense of well-being.  Whatever you are looking for, consider the following and see how you may flood your life with gratitude.Smile!
    Research has shown that the simple act of smiling can change the way we feel, regardless of why we are smiling. Instinctively people often smile back when they see a genuine smile on someone’s face.  This can double the benefits because not only do you feel better, but you’ve created an environment where others are smiling back at you. And let’s not forget that a smile can ease a complicated social interaction in seconds, reducing the amount of stress you might feel in an otherwise awkward or difficult situation.

    Keep a gratitude journal
    Journaling has many proven benefits, including better health and greater resilience. Keeping a gratitude journal, however, brings an extra element of benefit. Writing down three things that you are grateful for on a daily basis, will allow you to enjoy the emotional lift that gratitude brings. Keeping a gratitude journal can lift depressed feelings and also help to relieve stress.

    Practice the Loving-Kindness meditation
    This form of meditation starts with focusing on positive, loving feelings towards yourself, and then branches out from there to others. The loving-kindness meditation is widely practised and brings not only the benefit of meditation, which is a huge stress reliever but also increases compassion and connection to others. This type of meditation can help you immerse yourself in the feelings of gratitude you have for all the people in your life that are important to you, and to develop greater feelings of gratitude for those with whom you may struggle.

    Stop comparing yourself
    Envy is one of those emotions that virtually every one of us falls prey to. A friend who has got the perfect relationship or crazily well-behaved children, or someone we know gets a promotion when we feel perhaps it should’ve been ours. Those of us who are prone to envy tend to compare the worst thing in our lives to the best thing in someone else’s.  Rarely do we trade entire lives with someone else and get the whole picture. Instead, we tend to pick those pieces of our life we don’t like and compare them to those parts of other people’s lives that we don’t have and wish we had.  If you find you are wrestling with the green-eyed monster, you can alter your comparisons and add in some gratitude.  If you find yourself wishing for something that someone else has, remind yourself to notice what you have and they don’t, not in a comparative way but in a way that makes you realise how lucky you are as well.

    Give a hug and say thank you
    Merely saying thank you with a quick word or embrace can go a long way to making you feel connected to others. They also will likely feel more connected to you. These fleeting experiences can translate into positive feelings on both sides of the relationship, and build stronger relationships and all the benefits that come with these.

    Plan a gratitude visit
    Think of how many people in your life have shown you kindness at some point or other – kindness that perhaps has changed your circumstances, given you something that you really needed and was important to you, or helped you in some way during a time of need. When last did you tell one of these people how much you appreciated them and what they did for you, and how it helped you in your life?  Perhaps writing a letter of gratitude and delivering it or going on a gratitude visit can bring positive feelings to those people in your life that you appreciate, and even more feelings for you! It is a significant gesture that gets even bigger benefits. So have a think about who in your life deserves a gesture of gratitude from you. It may just be a word of thanks, a warm hug or an acknowledgement of the critical role they play or have played in your life.

    On a final note
    Cultivating gratitude is really a very simple way of creating greater emotional well-being, a higher level of overall life satisfaction and a greater sense of happiness in life. Why wouldn’t you want to feel more positive and content, have oodles of serotonin and endorphins circulating in your veins, have stronger relationships with your loved ones and a greater sense of connection with your family, friends and community? It sounds like a no brainer, so what are you going to do today to start building your gratitude muscle?

Author: Leanne Wall
E: Leanne@drleannewall.com
W: drleannewall.com

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Pandemic fatigue! Do you have it and what to do about it?

Pandemic fatigue! Do you have it and what to do about it?

It has been months of stress and uncertainty. If you are anything like me, you are pining for normality.  Spring is only a few weeks away, but the end of the pandemic is not. Months of coping with a rollercoaster of emotions sparked by the stressors of quarantine, self-isolation, social-distancing, lock-downs, losses, grief, uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety are taking a toll on our mental health.  Pandemic Fatigue is not an official medical term, as yet, however, it does describe the impact that COVID-19 stressors are having on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. So what are some of the signs you may have Pandemic Fatigue?

Signs of pandemic fatigue

  1. From being a super diligent face mask wearer and always washing your hands, you find yourself dodging those sanitiser bottles or holding your breath when passing people in the hope of not breathing in any stray viral-ladened spittle missiles.
  2. Where social distancing was part of the new normal, you find yourself leaning into conversations at the coffee shop and going in for the hug.
  3. As much as you sleep, you still feel exhausted. Napping during the workday is also not helping nor are those sleeping tablets that you borrowed from your best mate a few months ago.
  4. You are feeling less patient and more irritated, snapping at those close to you like a chihuahua.
  5. You are feeling stressed by things that you ordinarily would take in your stride.
  6. You are getting more upset and emotional about the little things that previously wouldn’t have raised your heart rate.
  7. You are feeling more hopeless about the future, and there seems to be no light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
  8. You are eating more food, drinking more alcohol because what else is there to do and perhaps using more substances than usual.
  9. Your brain feels foggy and concentrating takes a significant effort, particularly if it has anything to do with your work to-do list, house chores, gym rosters and remembering to go shopping.

Our stress response is switched on 24/7

I know my attempt as humour needs work, however on a more serious note, if you said ‘that’s me’ to one or more of the above, you may just be feeling Pandemic Fatigue. Totally normal, understandable and expected. Our bodies were never designed to be ‘switched on’ in this stress mode for months on end.

Back in caveman days, our stress or survival response was triggered for only short bursts to get us out of danger and save us from the sabre-toothed tiger. It was never designed to be switched on 24/7! Our physiological stress response has been activated for a while now, and we are running out of energy. What we need are strategies to manage our Fatigue physically, mentally and emotionally. So what can you do to help minimise the impact of Pandemic Fatigue?

Some suggestions on how to get back on track

Protect yourself and others.  Wearing masks, washing our hands, and social distancing is making a massive difference when it comes to community spread. We hear this from all the experts on TV almost nightly. Put your masks on people! Remind yourself that by doing these necessary things, you are taking control of this otherwise uncertain environment.  This in turn will make you feel more hopeful as you will start feeling that you, your family and community will stay safer.

Clean up your sleep. Have a look at your sleep routine and try and maximise the quality and quantity of slow-wave and REM sleep, so that you can re-energise your brain and sort out those folders of new information that you have learnt that day. Remember the data is clear that consistency of sleep, i.e. the time you go to sleep and wake up every day, is the most effective way to get better quality sleep.

Also sleeping in a quiet and dark room, with a temperature of between 21-23 degrees Celsius makes for an ideal sleep environment. We know that 75% of insomnia is caused by stress and stress, in turn, causes insomnia! So focusing on your sleep and general wellbeing is a no brainer if you want to get through the next few months and curb this vicious cycle.

Push the pause button when emotional. When your brain switches into survival mode, your emotional part of your brain is in the driver’s seat. So feeling more sensitive and fragile is normal. If you find yourself cranky at the moment, and your emotions are getting the better of you, push the pause button and try and remove yourself from the situation or conversation.

Taking a few deep breaths also sends the message to your brain that you are calm and therefore must be safe. So the stress response switches down a gear, or two. Once you are feeling less emotional, then tackle the conversation or situation using your wonderfully developed pre-frontal cortex or thinking brain. Responding with thought versus reacting with emotion is vital.

Get active without a major sweat.
Choose activities that you enjoy but have perhaps let slide recently. Replace walking around the block and then kicking it under the bed, with a real walk in the fresh air and on the pavement! Exercise is fantastic for stress management, and the best part is you don’t need to be running on a treadmill at speed 15. Walking at a moderate pace 3-4 times a week has been shown to have a significant impact on our stress levels. If you are walking and talking and feeling a bit puffed out, researchers say you are walking too fast.

Nurture your creativity. Engaging in activities you used to enjoy is an excellent way to feel a sense of normalcy and reconnect to your sense-of-self. It can also be a good de-stressor that will improve your concentration and focus. Maybe pick up that project at home that you’ve been putting aside for a rainy day.

Perhaps a hobby that you used to spend lots of time doing and brought you enjoyment. Get those creative juices flowing. And if you have no idea what I am banging on about, watch a funny movie that gets you laughing like there is no tomorrow. We know from research that laughter increases our naturally produced happy chemicals, including endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.

Connection is everything. Connecting with others is super important. I know I have said this so many times in the articles I have written; however, research has proven time and time again that we are DNA wired to connect and connection is crucial for good mental health. We prioritise connecting with our tribe above all else, even having a voice in the tribe. As humans, we crave belonging. So for those introverts who are reading this, remember that connecting with a friend or a family member gets that wonderful connection hormone oxytocin to levels that can truly make you feel happy and loved.

Be clear on what you need from others. Be honest with people that you are close to if you are struggling with negative feelings. Many of us are feeling pretty crappy at the moment and are frankly quite tired of this viral environment. Merely wanting to be ‘normal’ again seems a tough ask. Often sharing how are you feeling with someone that can hold the space for you can be the difference between feeling really lonely and feeling uplifted and supported.

To get the support you need, let the other person know what it is that you want and need from them. If it is merely to be a listening ear, ask them for this. If it is advice you are after, make this clear too. There is nothing more frustrating than sharing how you feel with someone who then promptly goes into solution mode and starts providing unsolicited advice. I have no doubt the intention is well-meaning, however by and large it is not helpful in the moment. So stand your ground, be clear and ask for the support you need.

No more mind-reading. If you wake up feeling a bit irritable and impatient, let your close loved ones into the secret. They are not mind-readers.  Knowing that you’re not quite yourself and you’re feeling a bit sad, frustrated or cranky helps them understand if you don’t want to talk, or if perhaps you respond in a sharper way than usual. This doesn’t mean that you treat your family like a punching bag metaphorically. You still need to manage your emotions as best as you can and of course, are responsible for your behaviour. This is not a chance to revert back to childlike behaviours and start throwing your toys out of the cot.

Protecting your relationships and those closest to you is very important. Having more intimate connections with others who better understand you will help nourish you emotionally and help protect you against those stresses and challenging circumstances that are often out of our control.

Reach out if you are feeling lonely. For those who live alone or do not have a family or friend support structure around them, please remember that there are places you can go for support and help. Australia offers some amazing online support and resources. Lifeline (13 11 14) is just one of many who are available 24/7 and are qualified to provide you with the help you need.

No one knows precisely when this pandemic will end. The news is currently rife with information on developing vaccines and that perhaps by early next year, we will have access to this vital resource. The head of the WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said only last night on the news that it would take around two years for the world to get back to a healthy state. Two years, what is he thinking? However, the reality is it may very well take this long for the world to settle.

And when you are having one of those days, focus on what you can be grateful for.  I keep on pinching myself that I live in Australia. Things could be so much worse. I am grateful every day that my family are okay, and I can put my running shoes on and go for a walk under the glorious sunshine. Many others don’t have this luxury and have suffered unimaginable losses. It is this fact that keeps me moving forward and hopeful that this pandemic too will come to an end.

 

Author: Dr Leanne Wall (MBBCh. BSc. Grad Dip Counselling)
m: +61 (0) 409 216 289
e: leanne@drleannewall.com
w: www.drleannewall.com
l: linkedin.com/in/leanne-wall-730a3142

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