last week I taught a workshop on fostering emotional intelligence, focussing specifically on the importance of being aware of our emotions as well as allowing ourselves to express our feelings in a healthy manner. When it came to discussing how to express our emotions, the workshop attendees brought up many questions and concerns which include variations of the following:
How do you tell someone you aren’t happy that they keep cancelling plans with you?
How do you tell someone that you don’t like their behaviour towards you?
How do you tell someone you don’t like how they speak to you?
When I asked what was preventing individuals from speaking up and honouring their feelings, I received the all too common responses:
These responses are all too familiar because I have been there. I have been the people pleaser that avoids conflict. I have been the person that invalidates my own feelings in favour of the needs of others. And I can tell you; it is not healthy. It will lead to resentment, damaged relationships and sometimes burnout.
So, in answer to the above questions, this is what I suggested as responses:
Can you help me understand why you keep cancelling plans with me? Is there something going on in your personal life that I need to be mindful of?
I don’t appreciate you treating me this way. Can you share with me why you feel it is acceptable to do so?
I don’t appreciate how you are speaking to me. Please can I request that we have a kind, open, and constructive dialogue instead?
Responding in the above way does not ‘attack’ the other person, nor is it likely to induce an egoic, defensive response, but instead is a way of honouring and communicating your feelings and boundaries in a constructive manner that will be conducive to an open and honest conversation.
It is uncomfortable setting and communicating our boundaries, particularly if we are not used to doing so. However, it is imperative to do so if we want to build a fulfilling and happy life.
If we do not set boundaries or if we regularly breach them, we become a victim to other people and situations, and this can lead us to feel a lack of respect for ourselves. It can also make us feel as though our needs and desires are being invalidated.
By setting boundaries, realise that:
To take your power back, you need to define your boundaries by:
I hope this was helpful, as always, it you have any questions or need any help, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I am currently on vacation with my husband in Palm Springs, California. Yesterday while my hubby decided to go Longboarding, I decided to do a 4-mile hike up and down one of the local mountains. The first half of the hike was pretty tough – it was 1.5 miles straight up a vertical incline with short, sharp switchbacks. When I reached the top, I was pretty pleased with myself – my phone told me I had climbed 80 flights of stairs and that I had completed the incline in 45 minutes. The hike down around the side of the mountain was much more comfortable – the terrain still had short, sharp switchbacks, but the very nature of it being downhill made for a much easier hike.
Forty-five minutes later, when I reached the bottom of the mountain and discovered that the trailhead abruptly ended in front of an 8-foot barbwire fence, which seemed to stretch on for miles. The barbwire fencing had a sign indicating that the land beyond the wall was private property and owned by the California government for flood control.
Beyond the fencing, and just a few streets away was our condo.
I stared at the fencing and then back up at the mountain in dismay. Did I really have to hike back up the mountain and then have to climb down the other side just because of an 8-foot barbwire fence? And why was there a well-marked trail indicating to hike this way if you couldn’t get past the fence?
Recognizing that I didn’t have enough water with me to reclimb the mountain, I decided to scale the barbwire fence. Several failed attempts later, and after a great deal of muttering under my breath, I managed to lob myself over the fence relatively unscathed. I was euphoric and silently singing praises to myself for being so resourceful.
I walked past the private property and down a newly tarmacked road to discover that I was walking in a private gated community that would, at some point, become a housing development. As I walked past all the vacant lots, I spied a 10-foot electric gate at the end of the road. I groaned. There was not a person in sight who operated the gate, and as I reached the gate, I discovered there was no chance of opening it or climbing over it.
I discovered a 5-foot cement wall with tall box hedging surrounding it on the other side. Determined not to give up, I catapulted myself up and over the cement wall and landed in the hedging on the other side. I had a few minor scratches and cuts on my hand, but overall, I was unscathed.
As I walked back to our condo, I realized that my hiking adventure is an excellent metaphor for our goals.
We often set goals and tactics to realize our ambitions; however, we usually don’t anticipate the bumps and roadblocks (and 8-foot barbwire fences!) that come up along the way. Setbacks will happen, and that is okay. The critical thing to realize is that it is just a setback – not a reason or an excuse to quit. Pivot and adapt to the situation, and you will be bound to realize your goals.
As the year (and decade) comes to a close, may I make a suggestion for one of your 2020 goals?
I suggest loving yourself - the good as well as the aspects of yourself that you wish to improve. I am making this suggestion because as each year comes to an end, many of us view ourselves and our lives through the lens of judgment. Instead of focusing on the good, we tend to focus on all the areas that need improvement.
Whilst aiming for improvement is good and often necessary, it's also important to focus on loving ourselves, regardless of what we deem needs to be improved.
So how do we love ourselves?
Quite simply, loving yourself starts with liking yourself, which starts with respecting yourself, which starts with thinking of yourself in positive ways.
In practical terms, to love yourself, consider the following:
To reiterate - don't just focus on what you want to improve in 2020 - recognise and spend time celebrating how great you are just because you are you. The more you practice loving yourself, the more your self-worth will improve, which will increase your motivation for your other goals.
I wish all of you great health, happiness, love, laughter and many adventures in 2020.
We just had an election in the UK, and the lead up to the election as well as the election results has created intense, angry, divisive opinions. Broadcasters and pundits have spewed negative vitriol and generalisations, newspaper headlines have screamed sensationalist outrage and the electorate have been labelled racist and misogynist if voting one way or ignorant and discriminatory for voting another way.
To be sure, this divisiveness and discourse is not just taking place in the UK. It’s happening in my home country of Canada and continues to take place in the US as well as many countries across the globe.
Anger. Generalisations. Assumptions. Bullying. Divisiveness. Have all become the norm.
It can’t just be that we all have different opinions and are doing the best we can.
It can’t just be that many of us are plugging our noses and looking the other way when heading to the election box because no candidate truly represents what we believe in.
No, apparently, that can’t be the case.
We have to be labelled - racist, misogynistic, ignorant, poorly educated,Uninformed - out of touch Boomer, Gen X’er, Millennial. Left. Right.
I am exhausted by the bitterness and venom that is casually thrown around. And I am drained by all the labelling and judgement.
I am exhausted because I know that I am not those things and I know that innately that none of us are.
I recognise that there will always be a percentage of the population that are the things mentioned above, but I fundamentally believe the vast majority of people are good.
And let me share with you a short story why I fundamentally believe this.
* * *
It’s 11 pm a night, and I am sitting on the London Underground with a friend coming back from seeing Michael Buble in concert. A well-dressed gorgeous guy is sitting across from us. He has his arm around his beautiful girlfriend, and she is snuggled into his chest, resting. There are a couple of older ladies sitting next to my friend and a couple of younger ladies sitting nearby.
The train stops at Earls Court station in West London, and a homeless man gets on. He’s on crutches and has a hospital band around his wrist. I’m guessing he is in his mid 40’s. He’s wearing grey sweatpants, beaten and worn running shoes, a t-shirt and coat. He looks dishevelled. He raises his head slightly towards us and says “Excuse me, please. I am homeless and ever so hungry. Please, can you help me and give me some money”.
All of us reach into our wallets and give him some money, to which he says thank you.
The gentleman then awkwardly takes a seat next to gorgeous guy and as he does so, he both visibly and verbally yelps in pain when he stretches his leg out in from of him. It’s then that I notice that his leg is double the size of his other leg and I can see from where his sweatpants have rolled up, that the skin on his leg is purple.
The gorgeous guy starts talking to him and asks him how much money he is trying to raise that evening. I hear him say £20 to pay for the shelter a few train stops away. My friend who has been observing all this whispers to me There but for the grace of God go I. I remember that I have a £20 note in my wallet and hand it over to him.
He responds by bursting into tears. I am not talking crocodile tears. I am talking full-blown raw, emotional, visceral, primal tears. Between sobs, he says I hate being homeless; I hate having to ask. I really hate being homeless. But there are good people like you people who help me. Thank you.
Gorgeous guy puts his arm around him and cuddles him and offers some encouraging words. His girlfriend sheds a few tears. I have a lump in my throat. Another lady presses a few pound notes into his hand. He continues to cry, and after travelling past a few more train stations, he eventually gets off to go to the shelter.
As much as I believe that this down-and-out gentleman was brought into our train carriage so that we could help him, I also think he was brought into our carriage to remind us that humankind is innately good.
In offering our help, no one asked what political party do you affiliate yourself with? Are you left or right’?. No one judged, labelled, assumed, generalised or bullied. Because at the end of the day, it really doesn't matter and it's not who we are.
Who we are, are fundamentally good people, who are all connected.
Let’s remember that – let’s turn off and tune out the angry rhetoric and remember what we are here for.
To love. To be kind. To be compassionate. To be innately good.
Namaste - the light in me sees the light in you.
Modern-day work culture has seen an increase in epidemic stress levels. It is so prevalent in the workplace today that according to a Gallup study[i], two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job. And, in May 2019 the World Health Organisation listed burnout as a syndrome – a group of symptoms that occur together resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.[ii]
Burnout and workplace stress can significantly impact our health and can cause us to suffer from:
Insomnia. Exhaustion. Negativity. Cynicism. Poor Productivity. Living in autopilot mode. Sleepwalking through life. Always being “on”. Technology and screen addiction. Anxiety. Depression.
I didn’t recognise the signs that I was heading towards burnout until I found myself suffering from a panic attack. Pre-panic attack I projected an image of confidence and strength to colleagues, senior management, my staff and clients; however, I was like a duck – smooth and calm on the surface, yet always frantically kicking my feet below the surface. At the time, I worked for an American Fortune 100 company, and like many individuals in today’s society, I operated in a global environment accommodating multiple time zones, leading me to ‘always being on’ – meaning being contactable 24/7. Furthermore, constant re-structuring equated to increased working hours and unsustainable workloads, which saw me go from being an ambitious perfectionist and a high performer to becoming a highly stressed, burned out, overworked leader.
A typical day saw we wake up at 7 am, whereby I would immediately grab my Blackberry and plough through the emails that had come in overnight. I’d then head to the kitchen to make coffee and then a pot of coffee in hand, I’d skip breakfast, and head straight to my laptop in my home office. Most days I would finish work late, having also skipped lunch – my only nourishment being cookies, chocolate or any other sweet snack I could find, followed by more coffee. By the time I finished for the day, I would be so exhausted I’d usually just eat peanut butter on toast for dinner. I’d then crawl into bed and collapse into a deep sleep at midnight, only to wake up a couple of hours later, whereby I would stare at the ceiling, make mental to-do lists, before finally falling back asleep just a few hours before the alarm clock was due to go off.
Then one fateful day changed the course of my life forever.
I was at my 5-year old nephews birthday party, and I really did not want to be there. I wasn’t feeling myself. I was feeling overtired and dazed like I was suffering from jetlag, and I just could not muster the energy or enthusiasm to talk with the parents. It felt like a major effort just to try to think of something to say, and, on top of that, something inside of me didn’t feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly didn’t feel right, but something was definitely off, and the ‘off’ feeling was making me feel extremely unnerved.
After a few hours of monotonous small talk, excited present opening, and tears and tantrums between the children, my husband and I decided to leave and drive home to Central London. I was so grateful we could finally escape. As I waved my farewells and walked across the parking lot towards our car, I suddenly became acutely aware that the ‘off’ feeling had turned into an overwhelming sense of foreboding.
I attempted to dismiss the tight knot that was forming in my stomach as mere fatigue from work; however, I secretly suspected this was not the case. I had felt exhausted for the better part of a year, yet the sense of foreboding was an entirely new sensation, and as such, I was not wholly convinced that the knot in my stomach was caused by tiredness.
This was something else…something unexplainable.
Roughly 20 minutes into the drive back to London the knot in my stomach transformed into an overpowering, mind-blowing sense of fear and a surge of adrenaline raced through my body. My heart started pounding frantically, my hands became wet and clammy, and my arms and legs began tingling and going numb. I felt like I was suffocating and drowning in astounding feelings of trepidation and anxiety.
Instinctively I tumbled my head forward between my knees, frantically trying to gasp for breath and I began hyperventilating. And, as I desperately tried to pull more air into my lungs, I became profoundly conscious of the fact that I was not getting enough air which was making me feel really lightheaded and weak. I was absolutely convinced I was going to pass out and die right then and there.
And at the same time that these terrifying sensations were ravaging my body and mind, I became conscious of the fact that time seemed to have slowed down and I felt like I was an outside observer watching the situation play out in slow motion. I gazed out the car window in a state of utter stupefaction, in a state of detachment, staring at all the cars like I was actually seeing them for the very first time.
I felt like I was straddling two worlds – one world was my present reality, and the other world was like I was sitting outside of my current reality looking in.
Somehow through all the fog and confusion, I knew that I was having a panic attack, but I am not sure how I knew, as I had never had one before.
The panic attack lasted 20 minutes, and it absolutely broke me.
I went from being a confident, friendly girl that was sleepwalking through life to waking up to living in a constant state of fear.
I was living in a constant state of fear because I kept having panic attacks, and, because I never knew when a panic attack was going to strike, I developed a fear of them. My heart felt like it was perpetually pounding in overdrive mode which made me felt certain that another panic attack would strike at any moment.
And because of this, I developed what I call What-if disease.
What if I have a panic attack at work in the middle of a meeting?
What if it happens in front of my staff, or one of my clients?
What if it happens on the London Underground?
What if it happens in the middle of the fruit and veg aisle at the grocery store?
What if it happens when I’m crossing the street, and I collapse?
What if? What if? What if? My mind would scream at me.
I developed a fear of fear itself, and I became afraid of being afraid. And because I was so fearful, I sunk into a deep depression.
Outwardly I was living a perfect life. Yet, the reality was that I would hide in the office bathroom cubicles willing panics attacks to go away, and I would cradle hot water bottles at home in an attempt to self-sooth the overwhelming chronic fear and anxiety that permeated my psyche.
I was lost in my own private world of hell for 18 months, and besides my husband and parents, I didn’t tell anyone what was going on.
I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. I thought I was weak. I thought I would be fired.
I thought it was just me.
* * *
This excruciating dark night of the soul and existential crisis which I found myself in, led me to explore how to recover my mental health and it was during this exploration that I discovered that two-thirds of employee suffers from burnout. As I read that statistic, I realised that it wasn’t just me - it could have been happening to my leaders, my peers, my colleagues, my clients. Or moving closer to home – it could have been happening to my friends, family and acquaintances.
And it still could be.
It could be happening to you and your colleagues or your family and friends.
I am sharing my story because regrettably my story is not unique. Burnout is endemic in today’s society and we need to ask ourselves, what are we going to do to prevent burnout? What are we doing to ensure that Mental Health is not just a tick in the box exercise in the workplace? What are we doing to encourage meaningful changes and dialogue?
For my part, I’ll keep sharing my story.
And for the two-thirds of you who are suffering and who may be reading this, if I can leave you with any words of comfort.
Know this - YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It’s not just you.