Catriona Futter – Equip For Life Coaching Becoming your best self and living life to the full – 07713 974138

Category Archives: Change Your Perspective

The way we see our lives and ourselves affects how we live. Change your perspective on yourself and your circumstances and you have the potential to live with much greater freedom.

Plan in relaxation or planning to relax?

Plan in relaxation

Plan in relaxation

Do you sometimes hear yourself rationalising with your own self that you really are planning to relax as soon as this next event has passed or this project is finished, or such–and-such crisis is over? It is ludicrous, you argue with yourself, to plan in relaxation now, of course you are simply too busy and have no time for such self-indulgent frivolities. Honestly, who would have the audacity to suggest such a thing.

I remember a caption on a poster I had many years ago that read:

As soon as the rush is over, I am going to have a nervous breakdown. I worked for it, I owe it to myself, and no body is going to deprive me of it.”

Now, this was meant to be humorous (worries me now not a little why I had this poster, I guess I liked the picture) but it makes a valid point.

How often do we actually plan in relaxation, recognising that the day is never coming that will be less busy?

None of what I am saying here is new, and much of it I have discussed before. But I struggle to learn these lessons, and my guess is that you do too.

I promise myself the reward of some time to chill out and do something fun for me once I have ticked all these items off my to-do list. I assure myself that I will have more time to read or play the piano or run when the children have reached this stage. I bury the nagging and niggling dissatisfaction and growing fatigue and irritability with more busyness, lying to myself that I am really OK and I should just get on with it.

But I am slowly learning to listen to my own internal dialogue and give credence to the – often quieter – voice of my frazzled soul that is desperately trying to catch up.

Burnout can often lead to a loss of motivation for things that previously inspired and excited. A growing sense of dissatisfaction with the tasks in hand can stem from a build up of weariness and fatigue that can eventually become all-consuming. We lose sight of what got us into what we are doing to begin with, we lose our vision.

This leads on from our musings last week on the importance of taking regular breaks, even simply for a few minutes to breathe, change position and re-connect with the WHY of what we are doing. To ask the “So what?” question:

Why am I doing this in the first place?

That “So what?” question can then lead on to an important check for our soul – if I keep going at this pace without planning in some time to relax, what is going to happen to me? And extending that further, what therefore will the implications be on those I am working with and for, living with, caring for, investing in, simply being friends with?

You get my drift. Self care is not self indulgent or selfish if applied appropriately and wisely.

To plan in relaxation is to recognise in advance that you are a finite being with finite resources, and that a little judicious, regular investment in yourself will allow you to fulfil your many roles and purpose better.

MB (My Beloved as he is known here) has had a particularly demanding and stretching time at work, which will not abate soon. So on a recent public holiday, us four enjoyed a gloriously sunny cycle ride to The Kelpies. There were a stack of things that we could have done at home. But what was most required was some time away, exercise, a picnic, reconnecting with family, and the stimulation of seeing these spectacular beasts up close. Not a major expedition, but a few hours of restorative and rejuvenating relaxation.

So, how about you?

Take a few minutes to pay attention to what your body is telling you about how you are feeling, and how close you are to any or all of the symptoms of burnout. Then look at your diary for the next week or so, and plan in a little time to relax. Of course, the temptation can be that when we are almost beyond tired, this in itself can seem too hard and we self-anaesthetise with mind-numbing activities rather than restorative ones. This we will explore more next week.

But for now, as one learner to another, can we stop and pay attention to how we are, and plan in relaxation before it is too late?

 

Breaking up is so very hard to do….

Taking regular breaks

Taking regular breaks

Breaking up is so very hard to do. Or so goes the song. Not a very up-beat, life-affirming place to start, especially when we are on the bleak subject of burnout anyway. And since the words of The Walker Brothers song are cheesier than the cheesy vapours emanating from Ian Mellis’ cheese shop, let’s keep the cheesy theme – because of course we are talking here about breaking up your daily routine as a way of addressing some of the risks of burnout. Taking regular breaks, if you will. I knew you’d like that.

Ok, perhaps a more sombre tone is required. Last week we started exploring the importance of paying attention to our bodies, and what they were telling us. Taking regular breaks throughout the day is a natural extension of this, and relates in part to the nature of the much more sedentary, desk-and-computer-bound lives that many of us inhabit.

Burnout can in part result from a misalignment of input and output – you are giving more out than you are taking in. This could be for any number of reasons, including lack of energising, life-giving activities, no time for relaxation, a constant state of electronic availability, energy drainers including chaos and disorganisation, all of which we will dip our toes into in the next few weeks.

But the simple act of taking regular breaks, if only for a few minutes, throughout the work day allows us to stop, reconnect with what we were doing in the first place, and top up our batteries.

Our much needed and relied on electronic devices do not survive for more than a few hours without being plugged into a source of power, so why should the astonishingly complex, multifaceted, highly sophisticated computers that are our brains be any different? Without even considering the impact on the physical vessels of our bodies that house our brains, emotions, and responses.

The key here is to know yourself, and your own rhythms.

  • Are you more of a morning or evening person?
  • When are you at your sharpest and most mentally alert, and what tasks can you prioritise for those sections of the day?
  • Equally, when is your least productive time during the day, and what tasks would more usefully be suited to those times?
  • How long can you work for at full focus before your concentration starts to lapse?
  • For shift workers, this is a whole new challenge, as your biorhythms can be sorely messed with in switching between day and night shift, but probably applies even more.
  • What constitutes a break for you – what short activity would use your mind and body in a completely different way, perhaps allowing dormant, underused muscle groups a chance to wake up a little and engage the opposite side of your brain?
  • What does it mean for you to work smart – to maximise your working patterns to your own rhythms, varying the levels of intensity accordingly with regular position and task changes to allow your body and mind time to recharge. This is not always practical or realistic depending on your work environment and constraints. But the simple act of stopping, changing position, taking a few deep breaths and consciously bringing yourself back to the present can help to ground you in who and where you are.

Taking regular breaks is also important to allow ourselves to ask one of my favourite questions –

So what?

To step back from the task in hand, if only for a few minutes, and remind yourself of the goal and desired outcome

I am doing this, and so what?

What am I hoping to achieve and why?

What is most important here?

What difference is this making, and am I still on track with the original objectives?

So, make it easy on yourself…..(you knew that was coming)….by taking regular breaks throughout your day. Pay attention to your body. Recharge your mind for a few minutes. Reconnect with what you are seeking to do, and why. Your body will thank you for it.

 

What are the physical symptoms of burnout? Or, what is your body telling you?

Physical symptoms of burnoutWhat is your body telling you? Might seem like a slightly cheesy question, but one that warrants further exploration. A better question might be, what are the physical symptoms of burnout?

You remember you see that I spent more than two decades working as a physiotherapist (physical therapist to those readers across the pond) and I can’t switch it off…..I am acutely aware of the connection between body and mind, and how paying attention to what your physical body is telling you can be a useful key to unlock what is going on in the internal you.

Burnout manifests in many ways, not least in physical symptoms like headaches, muscle tension and pain, altered posture, poor sleep, and fatigue.

Now the physio in me is going into overdrive here because much of this is to do with our sedentary, desk-and-computer-bound lives. There are some clear no-brainers that can go some way to provide relief to upper body aches and tension:

  • optimum desk and chair height
  • good, symmetrical sitting posture
  • regularly changing position
  • a telephone head set if hours are spent on the phone (sore shoulder anyone?)
  • regular exercise

But this is of course simply scratching the surface. The bigger question relates to the amount of time spent doing these activities because of pressure of work or other commitments, and the impact of stress.

Exhaustion is often a major physical symptom of burnout – stress from multiple and various sources of pressure can take a huge toll on your mind and body. Recognise any of these?

  • Waking up after a reasonable night’s sleep with no energy
  • Drinking copious amounts of caffeine to get through the day
  • Difficulty staying awake at work, especially the afternoon slump
  • Brain fog – the inability to find the right word, make a coherent decision, think clearly
  • Brain pressure – a feeling that your head is held in a vice, with tension behind the eyes, and perhaps blurry vision

Not a very inspiring list is it?

Now of course, any and all of those symptoms can be experienced for other reasons, and tiredness can be short term and linked to specific life events. But fatigue like this can be crippling and hard to break out of.

When your body is telling you that it is not functioning well as the tool that allows you to be you, it might be time to take action.

Some of this ties back to energy drainers – lying awake during the night, what is going round in your head? What drains your energy and what action can you take to limit, deal with or delegate those things?

Other aspects of addressing the physical symptoms of burnout include taking regular breaks, disconnecting and reconnecting, putting helpful structures into place, and avoiding negativity in thought and attitude. All of these will be explored in the next few weeks.

But as I reflect on Bill Withers encouragement from last week, that “we all need some body to lean on” – I want the body that I walk around in and inhabit to be in good condition, not just to facilitate all that I am seeking to be and do, but for those who might need to lean on it.

What is your body telling you? Are you aware of any of the physical symptoms of burnout? Where is there tension, aches, fatigue, and – importantly – when you start to pay attention to those symptoms, what emotions come to the surface?

What starts to fill your mind with worry or stress? What is at the root of that – work pressure, family commitments, overscheduling, financial worries?

Burnout can only be addressed successfully once the roots are identified. Sometimes, we can do well to stop, take stock of what we are doing, reassess what is most important to us, and recognise that we are neither indispensable nor required to be “on” all the time. We can learn to take ourselves and our need to be in control less seriously.

Sometimes, when the physical symptoms of burnout become too hard to ignore, we might need somebody to more than lean on – somebody to help us process what is going on, and empower us to address and deal with it. I can help….this is hard, and if this is you, get in touch for your free taster session and we can deal with this together.

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on?

Who do you lean on in times of stress or crisis? When you are burnt out? Or even, for that matter, in normal day-to-day life?

Since jumping on the burnout bandwagon a couple of weeks back, I have done a bit of digging into what to do about it – all well and good to know you are heading towards burnout but without practical help, it is a slippery and troubling slope.

One of the symptoms of neurasthenia – Victorian burnout – is emotional weariness. For me, this encapsulates

  • a lack of emotional resilience with other people’s problems or needs
  • out-of-character and disproportional emotional outbursts
  • difficulty with work and personal relationships
  • irritability and unnecessary conflict with our nearest and dearest
  • withdrawing from or avoiding people altogether

This is Mental Health Awareness Week, and the focus is on relationships: the importance of having a support network to lean on.

One of my commonest emotions during our time living with My Beloved’s Black Dog was loneliness – few people knew what was going on, and therefore I had little support or opportunity to express how I was feeling and share the load. And this is of course even more true for MB, the one dominated by said Black Dog.

As I was musing on this post, I was humming to myself the Bill Withers song, Lean on Me. The words are so insightful and profound, especially

“no one can fill those of your needs that you don’t let show”.

Wow. I have in the past not let people in to how I was really feeling because of fear of what they would think, stubbornness, pride, lack of opportunity, fear of being misunderstood…..whilst simultaneously craving their support. Yet how could they provide that support for me to lean on if I didn’t let my needs show?

So: how good is your support system?

Who do you lean on, and how do you strengthen and invest in that support system?

Who leans on you?

Some very simple practical ideas for reconnecting with and strengthening your support system:

  • prioritise spending time with true friends, those who ask you how you are not just what you are doing, who accept you just as you are, and who love you even at your worst.  (I still remember having proper ‘flu as a student, being flat-bound on my own, and a friend turning up with emergency supplies – he took one look at me, told me how horrific I looked, gave me a big hug and made me tea. Love him for it.) It doesn’t have to be hours and hours, but identifying who these people are, and making time for them regularly is crucial to maintaining that support system you lean on.
  • Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, someone who makes you feel good
  • do something nice for someone else, unexpectedly and without any desired reciprocation
  • say thank you to people you normally don’t notice or that you take for granted
  • write an old fashioned letter.

As Bill Withers puts it so beautifully –

Sometimes in our life, we all have pain, we all have sorrow

But if we are wise, we know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Please, swallow your pride if I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill those of your needs that you won’t let show

If there is a load you have to bear that you can’t carry

I’m right up the road, I’ll share your load if you just call me

Other ways to tackle burnout that we will take a look at over the coming weeks include

paying attention to your body

self care and how not to self anaesthetise

relaxation and re-envisioning

disconnecting and reconnecting

so stay tuned.

But for this week of Mental Health awareness and promoting relationships, who do you lean on? And who leans on you? How can you this week let them know how important they are as your support system?

Strength to body and soul

Apparently, American President Theodore Roosevelt (1858- 1919) experienced neurasthenia. And the fascinating thing here for me is the discovery of one of his solutions to combat the condition and regain strength to body and soulStrength to body and soul – he opened many national parks.

The outdoors.

Space.

Fresh air, no technology, stunning scenery.

The sense of being part of something much bigger than yourself.

And this brings to mind a popular character in our house, John Muir. He was a Scottish conservationist and naturalist, and founder of – guess what – the American National Park system. Here are some of his observations, from over a century ago –

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.” John Muir, Our National Parks (1901)

Tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised….sounds remarkably like some of the symptoms of burnout, or indeed, neurasthenia. And the fact that both Muir and Roosevelt identified these problems as symptomatic of our culture and way of life all those years ago both encourages me – there is little that is really new about the human condition – and causes despair – do we never learn?!

I am so enjoying this investigation into burnout and it’s history….

I love exploring our heritage, both in terms of our creativity and inventiveness, and understanding how, at a fundamental level, there is very little that is new under the sun. We have always been inventive, creative, relational people with an amazing capacity to learn, grow, cherish and enjoy.

And we have always needed time out to stop, breathe, see the bigger picture and be refreshed and restored. To regain strength in body and soul. Sometimes, when we feel overwhelmed with our 21st century lives and swamped by the need to be ‘on’ all the time, we can feel trapped and isolated. But look at our forefathers and see that there is a way out, and we are not alone.

The challenge is not staying put, but doing something about it.

And one small action we might take is to get out into the national park to drink of that fountain of life, to paraphrase John Muir. Or at least, get out into our local park, or some green space, or even head further afield into the hills, the coast, a forest. Today, it is the most glorious sunny day, and the idea of disappearing into a national park to commune with nature is extremely appealing. Not practical however, but there are always small concessions or compromises we can make to get outside, without technology, reconnect with the greater expanse of world of which we are part, and regain some small measure of strength to body and soul.

Being the best version of ourselves

So now that your soul has caught up, now what?

The best version of ourselves

The best version of ourselves

Allowing that time can feel costly when we are busy and over committed, and how do we know it is worth that cost? But I would beg to ask, what is the cost of running too far in front of our souls all the time?

When our souls become dried up and wizened through lack of nourishment, we cease to enjoy life and we no longer are enjoyable to be around.

Soul catch-up time causes us to slow, to be recharged and move more towards being the best version of ourselves. This is not a selfish end in itself, although it is important to care appropriately for yourself. This is about good boundaries – knowing what you are seeking to protect and why – and about preventing burnout. But that is not the whole story, just the opening chapter.

Imagine with me that you are more of your best self to all those around you – your nearest and dearest; your family and friends; your work colleagues and co-workers; those casual acquaintances and people you meet in the street every day – the lollipop lady, the shop keeper, the ticket man at the station.

Try a little exercise with me:

  • think through your average week day or working day
  • List in your head or on paper all the people you routinely engage with, no matter how significant or seemingly insignificant those interactions
  • Think about the most recent encounters with those folk. Did they meet with the best version of you, the one whose soul is sustained and nourished inside of you? Or was it the you with your soul trailing behind, tired and frazzled, that they came into contact with?

Lay down the guilt and the self-flagellation stick and instead take up the challenge:

regular short chunks of soul care allows us to be closer to the best version of ourselves,

and this brings benefit to all our relationships.

As you read this, I am on holiday – the ideal time to let my soul catch up and overdose on soul-restorative activities. I know on my return home that the challenge is incorporating some of that into my week.

But I want to be my best self in all of my relationships and encounters with fellow humans, and that is my desire for you too. Incorporating a little rest, modest chunks of time for soul care each week will go a long way to enabling us to be the best version of ourselves.

 

Nourishing our souls

Nourishing our souls – that is where we are in this post-Easter period.

Nourishing our souls

Nourishing our souls

Lent is a time for abstaining, reflecting, giving up. And now we feast and enjoy all that this season has. And feasting for our souls allows them to catch up with our over-busy and over-committed bodies and gain some rest and refreshment. Not always is it practical to enjoy a full feast of time and space to ourselves.

But just as we need to eat each day to gain energy and sustenance for our bodies, so too we can carve out little chunks of time daily to meet up again with our souls.

Based tentatively on what I require for my own soul care, here are some smaller morsels of nourishment that might allow a little breathing space for your soul each day or each week:

  • Letting go of my mental lists, just for a day
  • New and stimulating book to read that feeds and expands my mind (this involved a trip to the local library, in itself a marvellous place of calmness and mind-expansion!)
  • A ‘how are you really doing’ conversation with MB with space to properly listen (and re-connect with dreams that were a bit dusty and fusty from lack of use)
  • Listening to music that allows me to refocus on what is central to my own soul
  • Creating something beautiful and simple to adorn our Easter table – making something new out of something ordinary and old

None of this is rocket science, most of this has been explored here before. But I know I need reminded, and I do this for a living…..so let me gently affirm you in your own work-in-progress of soul catch up.

Take time each day just to stop, breathe, notice what is around you and remember both who you are and what you can do.

Take a little more time each week to do something that invests in you and your soul, and brings nourishment and sustenance.

And take an extended chunk of time whenever it is realistic for you (for me, every three months) to get out of your head completely, get off the conveyor belt entirely and stop stock still until your soul fully reconnects with the rest of you and you become fully whole and fully alive again.

Nourishing our souls – it doesn’t have to take as much time as we think.

Soul care for the weary

The idea of letting our souls catch up with our tired, over-worked and weary bodies seems to have struck a chord with many. Indeed, a dear friend gently challenged me to attend to my own soul care over the Easter holiday weekend, and to her I am very grateful. Because I had to stop and recognise that the tiredness I had been feeling was tiredness of soul more than of body.

Sometimes the idea of letting our souls catch up seems too daunting and time consuming – we surely would need oodles of time, and this is neither realistic nor achievable.

But I believe that just as we nourish our bodies with varying quantities of food depending on the circumstances, so too there are layers of nourishment available for our souls. Sometimes we grab a quick snack on the run as a short term energy top up. Most days we have a sit-down meal which affords greater sustenance but still needs repeated on a daily basis. And at times of celebrating, holiday, expanded spaces – full blown feasts leave us, sated, satisfied and restored.

I recently enjoyed the soul equivalent of the latter – a whole day away to myself, on my favourite beach. Walking, thinking, reading, emptying out my brain of clutter and fog, and gradually re-filling it with re-committed priorities, values and certainties.

A day of soul care

A day of soul care

The investment that had gone into sharing our story of our Black Dog, and the creating of The 10 Things Challenge had, inevitably, taken its toll on my soul. I had been travelling too fast, and needed some catch up time. So I cleared a day in my diary, attended to family needs in advance and asked MB (My Beloved as he is referred to here) to be available for the children, and disappeared for 12 hours.

A whole day of soul care just for me.

I have never done this before, and I think I rather took my Nearest-and-Dearest a wee bit by surprise. But at that specific point, I had time, opportunity and pressing necessity and thus I made it possible.

Over the holiday weekend, it was neither practical nor necessary to repeat this soul feast. But I did enjoy smaller morsels of nourishment for the soul, and in a more sustainable and repeatable way.

Where is your soul currently? Is it far behind your tired and weary body, and running to catch up?

What form of nourishment would provide soul care to you, and how can you fit a morsel or a feast into this week?

Letting your soul catch up

Letting your soul catch up

Letting your soul catch up

Let me recount to you my own paraphrase of a tale I came across the other day. A Westerner, with a first world, 21st century mentality, was travelling with native tribesmen on a work project. For several days, there was rapid progress, much distance covered, and many of the Westerner’s boxes were ticked – they were making good progress, goals for the expedition were being achieved, it was busy and productive.

And then the tribesmen stopped. For no obvious reason. And nothing happened. Nothing obvious was being done. The Westerner became frustrated with this lack of progress, this waste of time, this enforced waiting. His timetable was slipping and he was not meeting his agenda. Eventually, standing it no longer, he asked the reason for the delay. The answer stopped him short –

We had been moving too fast and had to wait for our souls to catch up.”

The tale is attributed variously to South African or African tribesmen, Himalayan Sherpas, or Inca tribesmen. It matters not a jot. Us modern-livers, we all move too fast, and are tempted to fill our days with endless to-do lists, projects, work commitments, stuff, stuff, stuff. None of that is wrong. But how often do we take the time to stop and wait for our souls to catch up?

To let our tired, overstuffed brains slow and empty a little.

To step off the conveyor belt and regroup.

To reconnect with what we feel, what our hearts are telling us about what is around us.

To remind ourselves that we are more than just doing-machines.

This week, again I am overwhelmed with the grief, tragedy, on-going levels of conflict and hatred that are in our world. Each of us is human, each of us is unique, each of us is precious to someone. And yet, we lose sight of this so quickly and so catastrophically.

I know that for me, sometimes it takes my soul to become a dried up wizened thing before I notice and stop to pay attention. I lose sight of who I am, what really matters to me, and my perspective goes completely. So this little phrase – letting your soul catch up – is challenging me this week to take some time to do just that. To recognise that I have been travelling too fast, and to stop, and let my soul catch up. To pay attention to emotions under the surface, and remind myself of what really matters and what my values for living are.

As we approach Easter, may I encourage you to do the same? Whatever Easter means to you – family, friends, feasting, time off, or faith – to allow your soul to catch up with you and refresh and restore you for living according to what really matters to you.

The secret to happiness

Last week’s musings contained a challenge to support Fair Trade fortnight, and buy some fair trade products. How on earth does this lead on to the secret to happiness? Apparently Martin Luther King, some 50 years ago, said:

Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world.”

That’s quite a thought – cereal, coffee, bananas, milk, bread, peanut butter – regular breakfast items in our house

that someone somewhere has produced. I don’t often give it a thought, and instead often give in to the tendency to be consumed by my own problems and concerns. Those pressing issues of the 795 million undernourished people globally (according to the Fairtrade Foundation) are detached and distanced from my own life.Fair Trade challenge

But this is shocking, when I stop and consider how wrapped up I can be in my own immediate woes and concerns.

How much of my time is spent worrying about what are first world issues?

Things that concern me that would be unthinkable luxuries for many of the inhabitants of this planet?

Elder daughter, in a recent Modern Studies module, came across the concept of shrinking the world to 100 people and looking at the statistics. They were stark, shocking and very sobering:

If you have food in the fridge, clothes on your back,

a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank, and some change in your purse or wallet,

you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealth.

This is not to induce guilt nor to minimise poverty in this country, which is very real and very serious.

But I write this to challenge myself to stop and be aware of what I do have, and be thankful and appreciative rather than worrying about what I don’t have.

Being self-employed carries with it the challenge of a fluctuating and unstable income. I can easily fall into the trap of worrying about the costs of everything from car repairs, school trips, holidays, the children’s hobbies and activities. I am not going all political, nor am I suggesting that those things are bad and should be given up and the money given away. We are creatures with free will and choice, and the biggest challenge in this is to enjoy what I have and celebrate that with thankfulness and generosity – I have a loving family, great friends, wonderful neighbours, education for me and my children, a job, freedom of speech, food and a lovely home.

Came across this great quote today:

The secret to happiness lies not in getting what you want, but in wanting what you have.

Now I fully realise that this is a huge, complex and multifaceted issue, and far beyond the scope of my short musings. But I am simple soul who sees the world in black and white terms. And thus I challenge you and me alike:

Can we learn to live in appreciation for all we have, rather than worry or regret about what we don’t have?

Can we make wise decisions about how we use our resources to share those resources out a bit more?

Can we be inspired by videos like this one on the world if it were 100 people, and enjoy each day with gratitude, challenge ourselves to reach our full potential, and do our wee bit to make a difference?

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