Mar 9, 2020
Welcome to episode 28. A few weeks ago, I published an episode about healthy coping mechanisms in which I talked openly about some difficult times I went through and how I’d got through these with the strengths (and emotions) of hope, love and gratitude.
Today, I’m going to share some of the emotions running through my head right now, and how I’m using positive psychology to help me. I hope that, in doing this, I can help you, too - whether you are going through a difficult time yourself or are supporting one of your students through some challenges. Because, really, it might be an over-used cliché, but it IS ok not to be ok. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do to help us feel a bit less rubbish than we would if we didn’t have positive psychology tools at our disposal, however.
Last week, I had one of my regular coaching sessions with my executive coach. We do talk about emotions in those sessions, of course, as I don’t live and work in a vacuum, but this session was something else! I spent almost the entire hour and a half of my Skype coaching session crying (with some beautiful and uplifting moments of laughter thrown in!). Once I gave myself permission to talk about the anxieties I am dealing with and to let the emotions out, I couldn’t turn the tap off and my eyes just kept on leaking.
I don’t want you to worry about me. Even though I’m not ok, I accept it’s ok to feel this way, under my present circumstances. And I know I will be ok again. I am dealing with a lot of stuff…financial stuff, family stuff…stuff that comes at all of us at some point or other in life. Lots of change, lots of uncertainty, lots of worry. It’s just all coming at me in one go - which I know also happens to lots of us from time to time. And like many of us in various parts of the world, this is all underscored by a political climate that I find extremely concerning and that sends me into moments of despair on an almost daily basis.
I’m permanently exhausted and, through talking with my coach, I realised that of course I’m exhausted - I’m dealing with all this anxiety, with various circumstances that I cannot directly control or even influence, and working hard to keep myself mentally well…it’s bound to be tiring! And I released that, although on an intellectual level I understood and accepted that it’s ok to feel this way, to not be at my very best all the time with all this stuff going on, that it’s ok to give in to the exhaustion when I can and just ‘be’, I was compounding how I was feeling by adding a layer of guilt - that I should be doing more, that I shouldn’t be so self-indulgent, that I should just get my act together. Does that ound familiar?!
I talked through some of the well-practised positive psychology tools and strategies I am currently using, with my coach, and these are serving me well: Gratitude is so ingrained in everything I do that I experience it, deliberately and by chance, multiple times a day over the smallest of things sometimes. The same goes for savouring (which I also covered in a recent episode). Then there are the things I do more deliberately - what Layous and Lyubomirsky refer to as “Positive Activity Interventions”. At the moment, what is working well for me is taking every opportunity to go for an energising walk outside. Practising self-kindness is something I thought I was doing quite well, but now I realise I was undoing the impact of this by feeling guilty, so now I’m working on that, too. And as Layous and Lyubomirsky say in their paper, working on our happiness takes effort, like most other worthwhile things in life. They also mention another couple of points worth noting: That we need a variety of activities to draw upon as we otherwise experience fatigue or boredom from the endless repetition of one activity, and that not all activities work for everyone; even though everything I share with you on this podcast is evidence-informed - there needs to be a fit.
Throughout this podcast’s many episodes, I have and will continue to share with you various activities that may help you or your students flourish. Not all activities will work for everyone, but whether you’re working on yourself or supporting one of your students, it’s about building up a toolkit of activities you can try out to find the ones that work for each individual.
And as my wonderful coach reminded me last week, it’s ok if you still feel rubbish despite doing all this stuff…just think how much worse you might feel if you weren’t putting in the effort to support your mental health! Thanks to my knowledge of positive psychology and putting the work in, I am able to keep bringing the energy and professionalism I pride myself on to my public-facing work, I am able to keep things ticking along - even if sometimes I just do the bare minimum - in my behind the scenes work, and I am able to say “I feel pretty rubbish at the moment, but it’s ok…it’s normal under the circumstances and I know it will get better again.” Sometimes that is all we can do.
So keep adding to your toolkit, keep trying out the different techniques, ideas and interventions I and my wonderful podcast guests share with you, and put the work into your wellbeing (or support your students into putting the work into theirs). And start by being kind to yourself - it’s one essential item in the toolkit and possibly the most difficult one for many of us to put into practice. Let me know how you get on and what works for you!
And, as always, I look forward to catching up with you next week. Until we speak again, For Flourishing’s Sake, have a great week!