Monday, 27 May 2013

Yes…you CAN : 5 ways to manage stress

Stress is a naturally occurring biological phenomenon. All living things experience stress, from the antelope being chased by a lion over the plains of Africa to the bomb squad expert deciding whether or not to cut the blue wire or the red wire.  Stress is part of life, it cannot be avoided – accept that now! But there are ways to help manage your stress so that it does not control your life.

1. You Can: Identify and acknowledge stressors
 Identifying what causes you stress and acknowledging it is the first step in coming closer to reducing your stress levels. Stress is like a bell curve. No stress at all and we’d never do anything as we would have no desire to strive for survival. A little bit of stress is needed for optimal performance, too much stress and your quality of life becomes seriously diminished. Determine the really big obvious stressors, such as work related issues, financial issues, health concerns; as well as the minor ones such as your partner’s annoying quirks that irk you, things your kids do that drive you nuts and the irritants you encounter each day.

2. You Can: Select what stress you can get rid of
Some stress is easily dealt with, and it is best to start with these things. Any issues that causes you stress which you can delegate – do so! Any problems you are dealing with that aren’t yours to begin with – get rid of them!

3. You Can: Prioritise
If you’ve got a lot on your plate, trying to deal with it all at once can be daunting. Prioritise what has to be done today, this week, this month etc. Now once you’ve done that go through your list again and really review it. What have you put down for dealing with today that you can really put off for the week? This doesn’t mean you are being disorganised, you are learning to prioritise.

4. You Can: Get help
Where has it ever been engraved in stone that you aren’t allowed to ask for help? Whether it’s a colleague, your partner, your parent, your child, your neighbour, your best friend, your stepmother’s gym instructor’s cleaning lady – if you ask you will usually find that there is someone who can help you if you need it.

5.  You Can: Cope
Coping with stress is one of life’s essential skills. And you can do it, you already are, even if your current coping mechanism is doing so many different tasks you never have any time for yourself, you’re simply trying to distract yourself from the stress by keeping busy. There are countless ways to cope with stress, far more than what I could possibly cover in this post. Learning to relax is one such coping mechanism– which may seem easy in theory, but may be very difficult for many so don’t be concerned if you take some time to learn this skill. Learn to identify your body’s signals – it will tell you when you need to stop and take a break before you burn out.

Yes, you can manage stress, but you cannot beat it.   Embrace stress, as trying to “fight stress  is only going to increase stress and anxiety by raising adrenaline levels, creating a higher level of fear. Acknowledge how stress makes your body feel and notice those subtle changes.  We all experience stress, just don’t let it stop you from experiencing the rest of your life. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

5 Reasons Why You Should Avoid Solving Others’ Problems

Some of us always seem to end up solving other peoples’ problems. It can be anything from petty everyday issues to helping someone make on of life’s big decisions. We are the ones others turn to when they want something. I’m not just talking about your kids phoning asking for help, it’s EVERYONE.  If you are one of these people you know that you have been a problem solver for everyone ranging from your boss, your colleagues, your friends, associates and even complete strangers. Some of us seem to end up being the perpetual helper and  I know I am one of these people.  So why do we do it? Maybe we have got “sucker” or “push over” written on our face, but I think it would fundamentally come down to our caring nature. Caring people like to help others out, which is fine in small, reasonable amounts. But as I have learnt, there are several reasons why it is not advisable to get involved in solving other people’s problems.

1. People rely on you
This can make us feel needed and important, but what about when you really don’t have the time or the means to help out? This only puts extra pressure on you and increases your stress levels.

2. You will end up never having time for yourself
You might be able to solve others’ problems, but how is your own life looking? Sometimes you spend so much time focusing on others your own life can take a back seat, and this should not be the case.

3 You rarely get any thanks
Often as the person people turn to for help, it’s just taken as a given that you will be able to resolve whatever issue is thrown your way without question.  People end up taking you for granted, and consequently rarely thank you for solving their problems.

4. Resolving mundane issues will not leave you with that warm fuzzy feeling
Helping out at a charity event or volunteering your time for a cause you are passionate about will leave you feeling great and glowing with that “warm fuzzy feeling” of having done a good deed. Getting bogged down in helping others deal with routine mundane issues will not. Ask yourself “will doing this particular task make me feel good about myself? Unless you absolutely have to (this means you are employed and getting paid as compensation for your efforts!) don’t do it unless you answered “yes” to the previous question.

5. Don’t get involved…you don’t need to be!
Sometimes you might overhear a conversation and think “I know how to fix that” or “I know the best website for information regarding that problem”. You aren’t even involved, but somehow you end up getting yourself involved and offering your assistance anyway, simply because you have potential solutions.  You have enough of your own problems, without getting involved with others. Let people figure things out for themselves, in their own way.

The helpful people of the world are overlooked and underrated. Your own happiness is not going to be improved by involving yourself in other’s problems.  When you feel tempted to problem solve for others, simply remember that it’s not your problem, let others find their own solutions, and get on with living your own life!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

5 ways to deal with negative people

As human beings we create the environments in which we live, work and play that can either nurture or harm us. We respond to people and situations in our environment, which triggers how we feel and behave.

How many of us are fortunate enough to have truly positive influences surrounding us each day? I’m sure that we all have a friend, family member or co-worker that is Captain Negativity.

It’s easy to notice the difference in how we feel when we spend time with people who are positive compared to those who are pessimistic and look on the downside of life.  If you are constantly surrounded by these types of people you may not even realized just how much they are bringing you down!

You don’t have to be surrounded by impossibly perky people notice the difference.  Just notice how you feel after spending time with a friend who is always talking about what is wrong with their life, and finding the faults with yours; compared to how your feel after spending time with a friend who focuses on the good things life has to offer? Maybe you are one of those negative people – pay attention to your conversations and notice how often you comment in a positive way or a negative way. If you notice you are predominantly negative, perhaps it’s time to do something about it!

You can’t avoid negative people, especially if they’re a close friend or family member. But you can prevent them sucking the life out of you! Negativity is a highly contagious disease that you don’t want to catch; as once you've got it it’s a tough bug to get rid of.  Here are five ways to deal with the negative people in your life.

1. Limit your time with pessimism
If you have to spend time with negatively focused people, limit your time with them where you can.  The less time you spend with these types will give you more opportunity to spend with people who actually make you feel good.

2. Change the topic
Some people are genuinely having a hard time with some issues, and have a right to be negative to an extent.  Listen for a considered amount of time, and then try to change the topic to something that is less likely to promote a negative response. 

3. Don't get drawn into the negativity
While your friend is on their negativity rant, it’s easy to start thinking about all the things you don’t like about your life. Your job isn’t super great, you need a new car, and your latest hair cut is awful. The two of you will just start comparing the negatives in your lives, and end up in a competition as to who is worse off! Having a wallow in a pit of negativity may make you feel better for five minutes, but then you’ve just put yourself in a downer mood for the rest of the day

4. Balance out your time with positive people
It would be impossible for any of us to be surrounded by positive people 100% of the time. If you know you’ll be spending some time with a friend who you know brings you down, balance out your day by talking with others who are slightly more inspired with their lives.

5. Don't let others tell you how to feel
Negative people love to share, and tend to find it easy to focus on the negatives. You might have just got a new car that you are really excited about, but they might be more focused on how much you’re going to have to repay in interest. Not only is that not their problem, unless they are offering a way to help you reduce it they are just taking a good thing for you and reminding you of a downside. Never let anyone tell you what you feel, and don’t let anyone pass their negativity onto you!

Having valuable, positive relationships is highly important in contributing to our overall happiness. If you want to be a happy person, your environment needs to include people who are contributing to your happiness, and not drowning you in their negativity.  Happiness is just as contagious as negativity, it’s just not as abundant. You can’t completely avoid negative people, but you can prioritise which relationships bring positivity and happiness into your life and nurture them. 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

How to be still

I will admit, it has been a very stressful weekend! As I have been packing in preparation for moving house, I have had very little time to relax. Or even time just to be still, without my mind whirring away thinking of the next task that needs to be completed. I haven't slept well, as my mind just won't switch off and be quiet. I feel exhausted today. People around me tell me to" relax", but that is easier said than done. Boxes aren't going to pack themselves, so how can I reduce the stress?

The way I see it now. my body is trying to tell me it has had enough and it would like a break! I've recently discovered meditation, and the art of being still. Being still goes against all my natural tendencies, I'm the type of person who is always doing something. But as I've discovered, my mind needs some stillness for its well-being.

When I talk about meditation, I'm not talking about sitting cross legged on the floor and"ohmming"for hours. There are many different types of mediation out there, but I've found guided meditation audios available on iTunes, as apps or directly over the internet to be quite helpful. One of my favourites are the guided meditations at Meditation Oasis. I find these to be extremely useful at helping me to relax and switch off the traffic in my mind.

In our switched on world it's easy to  feel like we constantly need to be connected and doing something. But in the long run, this will do us more harm than good. This is certainly what it feels like for me - what are your thoughts?  Taking a small amount of time out each day to just be still seems so easy, yet so few of us do it.
I'm going to practice being still. I know my body and my mind will thank me for it!

Friday, 10 May 2013

The power of music

Why does music make us feel so great?

When you hear a great song that you love start to play, it just makes you feel better and improves your day. You know that feeling, when you’re sitting in traffic and the station decides to play one of your favourites, you can just feel your mood lift.

A song you love + the power of your brain = why a favourite song provokes such a strong emotional response.

The brain is a powerful thing, and it is affected by music in many ways. It's official music and our mood are definitely linked. Scientists have done studies that have shown how listening to different types of music affects our mood and perceptions of the world. This is an extremely powerful neuro-biological link that we can harness to alter our mood and contribute to our happiness.

We are all wired differently, which is why a song that you love, your partner hates and your father can't stand at all. Our brains process aspects of music such as melody, rhythm, pitch, lyrics differently; so someone who has a preference for rhythm and blues music is unlikely to feel incredibly happy by listening to top 40 pop music. 

How you feel too affects how well music can work its magic on you. For example, even though you may love a particular song, sometimes it just doesn't hit the spot if it's not suited to your mood. If you love a good power ballad, it’s just not going to do it for you when you are working out and want some motivating, energetic music. Similarly, a song you might not like much normally may be fantastic to listen to for increasing your motivation when you're pumping it on the treadmill. 

Music is strongly linked to memories. You might reminisce on your wedding day when you hear the song you danced to get played. You may feel sad when you hear the song that played at your Grandma's funeral. In the middle of winter, playing songs that remind you of summer and warmth can help to keep you out of a winter funk.

While we can probably all agree that music is pretty awesome, remember to unplug from time to time, as there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. The pleasurable effects of music will be less effective if you are constantly surrounded by it.

I always knew music was great and an essential ingredient for the happiness recipe. Here are five of my favourite songs that always put me in a good mood and make me feel good. 

1. "White Flag" - by Dave Barnes
2. "The Beat" - by Ben Rector
3. "Fallin' For You"  by Colbie Caillat
4. "Hanginaround" - by Counting Crows
5. "Red" - Taylor Swift

I may like these songs, the rest of you may or may not, it will depend how you’re wired! What songs lift you up when you’re having a bad day? What songs make your body want to sway and get your toes tapping? What music is in your happiness recipe?

How to maintain a positive state of mind

The ability to be positive in any situation significantly contributes to being happy. I'm sure you've come across those people, who, no matter what the situation, seem to be able to find something positive about it. Everyone else around them may be moaning and grumbling, but they just manage to smile carry on. For some people this ability might come naturally, but I would think that for many people it is a learned talent.

It is hard to be positive; it is easy to be negative. It is how humans work. Take a look around you and listen to people's conversations. People constantly look for the negative, point out faults and have a downcast attitude. Being positive takes energy, and a little bit of effort.

I know myself when I'm faced with something challenging, or even something good it’s easy to be negative. At the moment I'm moving house, and whilst being in my own home for the first time is exciting, I'm struggling to think past the packing...and then the unpacking! It's just so easy to spot the negatives, the difficulties, the challenges; rather than identify and relish the positives.

So I've done some investigating this week and I came across this post at The Wellbeing Revolution about how to consistently maintain a positive state of mind. Author James McWhinney points out some key factors necessary to maintain positivity, including practicing gratitude, journaling, exercising, meditating, performing random acts of kindness and looking for something positive in every person and situation you encounter. Performing these tasks every day may take some effort, but there it is again, positivity doesn't come naturally to most of us, but I'm willing to learn and give it a go!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

What is happiness?

How would you describe "happiness"? What does "being happy" mean to you? The definition of happiness as per the Merriam Webster online dictionary is "a state of well being or contentment".  I believe happiness is indefinable,  rather it is something intangible that means so many different things to different people.

For starving people in it means having something to eat, for people in war torn countries it might mean not being under attack. Western society seems to have a much broader definition of happiness, where our individual, social, physical and emotional needs are met to our satisfaction. And even then, we may have lots of things to be happy about, but we still are not happy. We are obsessed with success, looks, money and power with the belief that we need these things to make our lives better.

I'm starting this blog to ponder the happiness question. To learn for myself what does happiness mean and how I can develop as a person.

I'm not an unhappy person, but I'm intrigued to discover how to learn to be truly content with what life offers.

What does happiness mean to you?