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During my conversation with Peter it became clear his own perfectionism trait had been at the heart of his problems, when he suffered “a complete collapse” just a few years ago, whilst working as a department manager for a large retail organisation.
I asked Peter about his career history and whether he had any previous experience of distress at work, to which I was given a resounding “No”. He had always considered himself as a confident, self-starter, who enjoyed the buzz of a busy and demanding work environment. He took pride in being a respected and trusted leader and loved the ability to make a difference.
However, this was all to change. Having moved into a more senior role at work Peter started making big plans for his new role, developing a vision for success. He quickly identified a number of improvements for the area, specifically around new tooling, and set about developing a business proposal in order to secure the much-needed funding from senior management. After some initial encouragement it became clear the budget was not going to be made available, much to the frustration of Peter.
Peter recalls, “I’d taken on this new team who were using outdated and unsupported software and they were really struggling. I had really high hopes for taking this area forward and yet management were simply not supporting me, I was so frustrated”. He continues “I fully appreciated there was a budget to be managed, and there were other priorities, but how could I be expected to make this a high performing team if we couldn’t get the tools we needed for the job!?
He might have experienced a setback but Peter still had his vision and he started to take on the burden of developing these outdated systems himself, feeling a personal responsibility for his teams struggles. Unfortunately, this burden only increased when a further team was moved under his management shortly afterwards and yet again he found little support from senior management when he identified similar tooling needs again. “This was the start of the problems, I felt unarmed and I clearly wasn’t being taken serious”.
As the weeks went on Peter was putting himself under increasing pressure, and for the first time in his career he felt unable to cope and felt his confidence was completely broken. I asked him to describe those feelings to me to which he says “I couldn’t communicate effectively with anyone and no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t concentrate, I remember I had to produce a PowerPoint slide, just one slide, and I simply couldn’t do it”. “I soon realised I didn’t care anymore, I had no interest in the job. I didn’t dreed work when I woke up in the morning, nothing like that, I just felt numb”.
Following some concerned enquiries from friends and family Peter decided it had become too much for him and after a discussion with HR he decided the best option was to take himself away from work, and he took the decision to take two weeks on sick leave.
Initially the break made a big difference, allowing time for a “re-set” and he effectively adopted mindfulness techniques in particular as a means of distraction. Unfortunately, upon returning to work it became clear to Peter that things hadn’t changed at all, and being back in the environment was making him feel low again. During his ‘back to work’ interview Peter informed HR he no longer wished to continue in his current role and hoped a new challenge would prove to be the solution to his problems but despite this being a confidential conversation he was shocked to discover his manager was made aware of these feelings, by HR, whilst attending his next 1-2-1 session.
“That was a big moment for me, I realised that culturally this organisation had some big problems and from that moment on it was clear to see that moves were being made to engineer my exit, a vendetta if you will”. Peter describes how he was stripped of responsibilities, with certain parts of his role being given to others. Meanwhile a new role was advertised internally, which was “perfect” for him but despite applying he was overlooked and received no feedback for the decision.
Whilst this was all happening Peter was struggling again, he was drinking alcohol more frequently at home and had started smoking again (a habit he had successfully kicked several years previous). He was having difficulty sleeping and when he did manage to fall asleep he would often wake around 3-4am and be unable to get back to sleep again. This in turn lead to feelings of irritability and he recalls painful memories of being snappy with his wife and children which was upsetting for all and completely out of character.
This situation continued for a few months before Peter took the decision to raise a formal grievance over his treatment from senior management. He now had evidence to support his beliefs, that he was being mistreated, and he had subsequently lost confidence in the culture of the company. He felt trapped by his financial position, which meant leaving his job was not a viable option at this stage, so for the sake of his health he took the decision to take long term sick, a period that eventually lasted for 6 months.
Upon retuning to work Peter was soon offered a settlement package by his company, to leave the organisation, something he was relieved to receive and allowed him to finally remove himself, for good, from this toxic and unhealthy environment. I was really interested to know more about those 6 months, how he felt and what he did to recover from the significant stress he had experienced.
Peter explained, “As part of the company’s wellness programme I was introduced to CBT but this wasn’t something I took to particularly well. I decided to explore some options through my local council and in particular support via their stress at work team. I was lined up with a member of the team with the main focus being around adopting coping techniques and this was incredibly valuable. I think the anonymous and non-judgemental nature of this relationship really allowed me to open up about everything, something I’d not really done before then”.
He continues, “I was then offered an opportunity to have some counselling sessions through work, which were arranged weekly over a period of two months. These were really helpful, following a similar non-judgemental pattern but this time I started to look at the wider view and was being asked questions about my values and taking a closer look at my resources. I would say the main things that came from this were that you have to put yourself first, you have to be the number one priority for yourself. I also realised I worry too much about the things I can’t control, and above all I’m most definitely a perfectionist but this isn’t a bad thing, provided you know where to draw the line and never let it convince you you’re not good enough”.
As I reflect on Peter’s story I think it highlights a number of important points including the essential need for self-care, which is especially important when we find our working environment to be toxic. We often put ourselves under pressure, trying to achieve perfection when the reality is perfect doesn’t really exist. There isn’t anything wrong with being ambitious and motivated to succeed but we have to find the balance, and arm ourselves with effective coping skills for those moments when the pressure starts to increase.
Finally, this is yet another example of the importance of asking for help. This help can come in many forms, as Peter discovered, and often it’s a case of searching until you find the right one. Remember asking for help isn’t giving up, it’s refusing to give up.
If Peter’s story is something you can relate to, or perhaps you are currently going through a similar situation right now, remember you don’t have to do this alone. Please get in touch and we can assess whether a Stress Management intervention is right for you.
The story begins almost 20 years ago when John, in his role as an architect, experienced a breakdown in his relationship with his line manager.
“I always considered myself to be a grafter, someone who delivered quality work and would go the extra mile to finish a project. I enjoyed good relationships with all my peers and managers throughout my career so this was a really unusual experience for me”, John recalls.
It’s fair to say John was in a dark place. His boss, who he describes as a bully, was making his life a misery and in turn he was finding it more and more difficult to get his emotional needs met at work. He was no longer enjoying his job, he was sleeping badly, feeling exhausted and dreading the start of a new day. The constant worrying was taking its toll on his physical and mental health and he started to develop intense feelings of Anxiety.
“I was suffering from panic attacks and I was certainly heading for a breakdown. I just didn’t feel like I had the coping skills to get through this and I had to get out” and this is exactly what John did, finding a new job and getting himself out of his toxic environment.
John took a month off work before starting his new job, giving himself some time to “recharge” and get himself ready for a new challenge. The experience had left him with some work to do, in order to rebuild his confidence and self-esteem but he slowly managed to get his life back on track in a more positive environment.
Fast forward 15 years and John was now working for a small local company, he had management responsibilities and was enjoying his work but things took a turn for the worse as it is revealed his company has been acquired by a large London based organisation.
“We were immediately told our jobs would be safe, which was reassuring, however it become pretty clear that our roles would change and my senior position was certainly under threat.”
John’s role had definitely changed, his workload increased significantly and despite having a management team that said all the right things they rarely backed up their words with actions. There was little to no support available.
John reflects “I still had a management title but it felt hollow, I wasn’t respected at all. I was being asked to attend meetings in London at short notice and handed more and more work with no consideration for my existing workload. “I started to get these anxious feelings back again, it felt like history repeating itself. The trouble is it happens slowly, creeping up on you without you realising.”
John was feeling the pressure now, by his own admission he was becoming grumpy at home and instead of using his love of running as a coping strategy he was now turning to drink in order to relax himself each evening. His diet was poor, he was consuming large volumes of coffee and his sleep “was all over the place”.
After some consideration he decided to seek some help from a Trauma specialist but John says “it had got so bad for me at this point I remember I couldn’t even talk about my situation, I was in such a bad place with everything”.
John took the decision to quit his job and remove himself from this environment. He acknowledged he couldn’t change the culture and he recognised the terrible impact the job was having on his health and the impact it was having on his relationships at home. On this occasion John didn’t have a new job lined up but breaking free did give him the opportunity to consider his future and he is now feeling fulfilled and content, running his own business and rediscovering his love for work.
John describes the feelings of being trapped and in hindsight believes he should have probably removed himself from the toxic environment sooner but notably he also feels it was his inability to open up and share his problems with someone that caused him even greater stress. John says “I think it’s part of the condition really, you feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness”.
As I reflect on John’s story I feel there are some really powerful lessons to take from this. As human beings we all take enrichment from our environment, everything we do in life is in our quest to meet our innate emotional needs. In John’s case, on both occasions, his need for control and status were significantly undermined by his managers and the general working environment. Unfortunately, the culture was toxic so removing himself from the environment altogether was the best solution and by ‘setting himself free’ he has been able to get his emotions back in balance, which in turn have allowed him to create a much happier life for himself.
It should be appreciated that leaving a job isn’t always an option especially if doing so would leave you in financial difficulties. In this case it’s vital that individuals have a set of effective coping skills they can call upon when needed, so they can reduce/limit the damaging effects of stress on the body. John’s failure to develop/adopt any coping skills, during his first stressful experience, unfortunately made him vulnerable to this happening again and John accepts this is something he wished he’d spent some time on.
Finally, it’s important to remember that reaching out for support is in no way a sign of weakness but could well be the most important step you take in your quest to reduce stress and regain control of your life.
If John’s story is something you can relate to, or perhaps you are currently going through a similar situation right now, remember you don’t have to do this alone. Please get in touch and we can assess whether a Stress Management intervention is right for you.
During my school days I always considered myself to be sociable. I had lot of friends across different groups and always enjoyed a laugh (perhaps a bit too frequently if my school reports were to be believed) but the older I became the more I seemed to value my time away from people, an opportunity to gather my thoughts and assess what was going in my life at that time.
It wasn't until I came across the work of the Human Givens Institute (HGI), and their theory on emotional needs, that I started to realise there was more behind my desire to avoid people and conversations, and I wasn’t just becoming a recluse.
According to the HGI, "The law of all living organisms is that, to survive, they must take nourishment from the environment so that they can continually maintain and rebuild themselves".
Everyone is born with essential physical and emotional needs, the physical ones are well understood in terms of food, water and shelter but our emotional needs are just as crucial to our mental health and wellbeing. The HGI outline a total of 9 emotional needs, but it was the emotional need for Privacy that really made an impression on me personally. Without being too dramatic it became something of a breakthrough moment in how I understood myself and my inner workings.
I think I first became aware of my desire for privacy when I started to work in London for the first time, some 23 years ago. The journey to the office would take around 90 minutes and after a few weeks into the job I realised I was sharing this commute with a colleague and we became friendly.
However, after a while I decided this wasn't something I wanted to do on a daily basis and I proceeded to take drastic action to avoid my "new friend" at all costs. One of these techniques included the classic ninja move of hiding behind the concrete pillar on the platform, waiting until the very last second before diving through the carriage door. It most certainly looked ridiculous but the satisfaction of knowing I'd secured 90 minutes of 'me time' was worth its weight in gold.
As I sat there in the peace and quiet, with only my inner voice for company, I would often consider if this made me a bad person. I didn’t dislike this individual, we actually had quite a lot in common, and all I seemed to be doing was gazing out of the window.
What I now understand is this period of solitude was incredibly important for me. I also realise that my train friend was most likely looking to prioritise his own emotional need at this time, a need for attention, and this is where we encountered a conflict.
Everyone is different but I had, and still have, a very high emotional need for Privacy. A time that allows me to reflect on what I have going on and to reconcile my recent experiences. If I am not able to get this time to myself I feel very irritable and stressed.
There are suggestions that this need for Privacy is more important for the male of the species.
Thinking about it, whilst growing up my Dad was always in the garage messing around with his beloved Jaguar. He bought the car when it needed total renovation and he certainly put the required time in to restore it to its former glory all by himself, alone.
My father in law will undertake a specific project at home, such as repainting the entire upstairs of the house only to repeat the same tasks again a mere 12 months later, or even sooner. Again, something he does on his own.
It isn’t just a male thing though and the need for Privacy applies to all human beings. Last year a survey of 2000 parents, commissioned by B&Q, found that 42 per cent would often escape to the bathroom for a bit of peace and quiet away from the rest of their household. Furthermore 55 per cent regularly took an extra-long bath or shower just so they could have more time to themselves.
According to therapist John Perry we also have privacy needs as couples. This can be particularly important for parents of young children and essentially comes down to making time together as a couple without the distractions of home, or as some may refer to it ‘a date night’.
My wife and I really struggle for privacy at home, due to our two young children. When we purchased our current home (pre-children) we loved the open plan layout and considered this to be a massive bonus for social gatherings with friends. Fast forward to now and one of our most frequent topics of discussion is about how we can block walls up to keep our children away, as we quite often struggle to finish any conversation without interruption.
Recently my Wife and I arranged to have lunch at a local restaurant, in an attempt to have some quality time together, only to spend the entire occasion (including the eating part) in the company of a fellow customer who was on his own. This is yet another example of those conflicting needs unfortunately. We’ve since agreed to try a different restaurant next time or to stop being so polite.
The HGI states that "to be in constantly in the company of others raises stress levels (in most people)". Furthermore, they suggest that "when you are not in control of how much privacy you are getting the effects on our mental health can be dire".
For me this emotional need is very important and I have taken conscious steps to ensure this is part of my daily routine, which in turn has improved my sense of wellbeing.
Could a lack of Privacy be impacting your stress levels and mental health? If so maybe it’s time to make some changes now and start making time in the day that’s just for you!
This is one of the first questions I will ask my clients and unsurprisingly the answer is always different. People will usually describe themselves as ‹stressed› based on the nervous agitation they experience, as the result of an externally generated event, and this will be felt differently for every individual.
External stressors such as sudden unemployment, death of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship/marriage are all major sources of stress but as Dr. Gabor Maté explains in his book ‘When the Body Says No – The Cost of Hidden Stress’, internally generated stresses take their toll without in any way seeming out of the ordinary.
These are sources of stress that are inside us and relate to the thoughts and feelings that pop into our heads and cause us to feel unease e.g. negative self-talk or unrealistic expectations. They can also be as a result of our lifestyle choices such as excessive caffeine, alcohol intake or poor sleep hygiene.
When we are confronted with a stressful situation our adrenal glands immediately increase the production of two hormones, first adrenaline and then cortisol (to dampen the stress reaction). The adrenaline surge alerts you to immediate danger and prepares you to fight or flee. Therefore, if you spend your entire life in ‘high-stress’ it could mean you are constantly pumping out adrenaline and cortisol.
This can present you with all sorts of problems. Chronically elevated adrenalin levels raise blood pressure and damage the heart whereas cortisol acts on almost every tissue in the body, in one way or another – from the brain to the immune system, from the bones to the intestines. In fact, I was surprised to learn that cortisol actually has powerful bone-thinning actions.
The key point above is that in many cases we don’t recognise the serious impact that internally generated stresses have on our bodies or perhaps we do but instead we choose to accept this as part and parcel of life and have learnt to repress these feelings/emotions.
Holding onto feelings in this way is known as emotional repression. How we shape and make sense of our emotional experiences during childhood can be damaging for us in adult life, if we fail to learn how to express our feelings effectively.
Maté believes that such coping styles, as this one, magnify the risk of illness by increasing the likelihood of chronic stress. To support this, quite remarkably he shares that “not one” of the many adults interviewed for his book could answer, in the affirmative, when they were asked;
“When as a child, you felt sad, upset or angry, was there anyone you could talk to – even when he or she was the one who triggered your negative emotions?”
He continues to reveal that in a quarter of a century of clinical practice, including a decade of palliative work, he has never heard anyone with cancer or with chronic illness answer ‘yes’ to that question.
Maté believes that many children are conditioned in this manner, as part of their upbringing, which in turn develops lifelong patterns of repression.
As worrying as this certainly is, the good news is that emotional repression is in fact a coping mechanism as opposed to a personality trait that cannot be changed, even if many people believe this is an indispensable part of themselves.
I recently came across the fascinating story of two American anthropologists called Renato and Michelle Rosaldo. The couple went to live with the IIongot, an isolated tribe that lived in the rain forest in the Philippines where they conducted research for a period of 30 months between 1967-1969 and again in 1974.
The main purpose of their visit was to understand more about the tribe’s emotional landscape. As anthropologists they wanted to learn how the community saw themselves and their emotions.
During their visit they came to learn of a specific emotion that was unlike anything they had experienced in their western lives, something that the tribe referred to as ‘Ligit’. In short, this emotion came from the pain of bereavement and the way the tribe dealt with this sensation, as a group, was to wail/howl in order to relieve themselves from this hurt.
The story concludes in the tragic death of Michelle Rosaldo, who fell 65 feet from a hilltop, whilst the couple were on another research project. Several months after the funeral, and with his children back in school, Renato was driving through a secluded area when he felt compelled to pull over and start howling for over 30 minutes. Renato described it as a feeling of high voltage rushing through his body, something he had no control over. For the months that followed he would regularly hunt down a place to howl. A place, as he put it, “to be as loud as he wanted without bothering anyone”.
The significant thing here is that Renato needed to experience it in order to feel it. Living with the IIongot tribe allowed him to learn a new coping style, which he otherwise would never have discovered, and this helped him in a way the typical emotions he knew could not.
Whilst this example is specifically about grief I still feel it provides a great lesson to us all about the management of stress. A tribe so unaffected from the developments of modern/western living had a means of releasing this unpleasant pain and suffering. As Renato wrote, if these cultural practices were to be blocked the IIongots would find the emotion simply too agonising to live with. Yet isn’t this what so many of us believe to be the only way?
I’m not suggesting you start driving to secluded spots and howl for 30 minutes (unless you want to of course) but the equivalent to howling could be the use of breathing techniques, exercising, being amongst nature, practicing mindfulness or talking to someone about the problems you are experiencing.
We must open our minds and learn to move away from our habitual habits and embrace new approaches and techniques that in turn allow us to establish a greater sense of control and deal more effectively with the events and challenges life throws our way.
In the summer of 2021 I attempted to find my eight-year-old son a football team in the local area. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done with many teams already full or only looking for one or two players (meaning my son was competing against many other boys).
After many unsuccessful attempts we finally found a team, but there was a catch. In order for the team to go ahead it needed a willing parent to become the manager.
I kept quiet for a couple of weeks but when it became obvious that nobody was going to step forward for this challenge I decided to go against my better judgement and put my name down.
All of a sudden here I was, first day of training with 11 eight-year-old boys and with all their parents standing and watching from the side (most probably thinking ‘rather him than me’).
Most of the boys had not played in a team before, including my son, so everything was a new experience. Our first game showed just how much work there was to do as we were beaten 14-0 and didn't manage to venture into the opposing half for the entire game.
Over the coming weeks and months the boys worked incredibly hard. They always turned up for training in numbers and began to learn by having fun together. Friendships were formed and they started to appreciate the importance of roles and responsibilities. After a while, against all odds (or atleast that's how it felt at the beginning) they started to actually win some football matches.
Whilst I had originally taken up this challenge for the benefit of my son I soon started to realise I was absolutely loving the experience. This had suddenly become a really important part of my life, something that gave me a real sense of purpose and excitement.
The opportunity to work with such young people in this environment is a privilege, as I now realise. The boys are creating memories they will never forget (I still remember my first goal, at nine years of age, like it was yesterday…well sort of), and I am playing a part in this. Significantly, they are developing life skills that can be applied throughout their youth and into adulthood.
It is a great feeling to know I am part of this experience but by the same token I am also getting a number of emotional needs met myself, including one specific one which the Human Givens Institute (HGI) recognise as 'Feeling part of a wider community'.
The HGI states that us humans are a 'group animal' and therefore it is an innate need for us to be part of a social grouping that is beyond our immediate family. Furthermore, the HGI claim that people with strong support networks of family, friends or community are happier as well as emotionally and physically healthier than people who feel isolated and unable to make connections with others.
Mental health is connected to our ability to focus outwards, caring for other people and getting our needs met by being active members of a community and helping meet the needs of others.
In the book ‘The Healing Power of Doing Good’, by Allan Luks and Peggy Payne (source: Reducing Stress by Maureen Cooper) research was carried out on the impact of volunteering. It details how a survey was conducted amongst 3300 volunteers, across 20+ organisations within the US, on a wide range of volunteering activities. The main purpose of this survey was to determine whether there were measurable benefits to people’s health, when they volunteered.
The majority of volunteers reported, what Allan Luks termed 'a helper's high', which is an immediate physical feel-good sensation, along with feelings of warmth and euphoria. This feeling is a sign of decrease in stress in the body.
In addition to this 95% of helpers reported improvements in their health ranging from a reduction in the effects of stress, less awareness and experience of pain, and improvements in immune system functioning.
What was also very interesting was the fact that 8 out of 10 volunteers described how this sense of wellbeing could reoccur whenever they simply 'remembered' helping out.
To explore the power of volunteering further I contacted Chris Senior who is 1st Team Assistant Manager at Hamworthy United FC, an adult football team based in Poole (Dorset) who recently enjoyed a successful campaign which resulted in promotion, as champions, to the Southern League Division One South.
I asked Chris about the importance of volunteers at Hamworthy, and the role they have played in the clubs success. Chris explained how this group of ‘unpaid’ individuals are vital to the existence of the club, helping with such tasks as spectator parking, stewarding and litter picking.
These helpers may not be paid for helping but they are getting something incredibly important back from the club. Chris says “There are two particular guys, in their late 70’s who have been involved with the club through thick and thin and they absolutely love it. I think it keeps them young and they get so much enjoyment from being part of the team, even if they aren’t playing on the pitch”.
After the club secured promotion, one of these volunteers turned to Chris and said “you boys will never know what you’ve done for us old boys, this is truly something we’ll never forget”. I think this is a wonderful quote and shows the power of our local communities.
Chris concluded our discussion by saying “Non-league football is really inclusive, everyone’s welcome and there’s something for everyone”, and I’ve certainly come to realise this myself over the past year.
These examples specifically relate to football but volunteering opportunities exist in many shapes and forms, and it may be possible to find something that suits your own interests.
Why not do some research yourself and see if you can find something that’s appealing to you, and start enjoying the benefits this experience has to offer.
The lockdown presented us all with many unique and unusual challenges, like we could never have imagined.
One of these challenges was the change to our working environments. I have personally worked full time in an office for nearly 25 years so having to adjust to constant homeworking was quite an experience.
During this initial period (when we still didn't know how long things would last) everyone adjusted as best they could. I remember hearing stories of people working from their ironing boards, as a makeshift desk. More recently I have seen pictures of people converting their ensuite shower rooms into a home office, which I must say looked amazing.
For those with small children this created a different challenge as we attempted to act as professionally as possible on conference calls, whilst using the mute button like an experienced DJ, masking the latest toddler meltdown in the background (although this could also apply to older children and some adults too, I’m sure).
Many saw this experience as a novelty, after all everyone was in the same boat, but gradually the time being spent at home went on, and on, and on, with no clear sign of a return to normality.
As workloads started to increase our working environments remained unsuitable, in what was just one of the many stressors we were all facing as part of the pandemic.
In his book, The Self Worth Safari, John Niland discusses the significance of the setting, in which we choose to work. He says that "When planning for the future, my experience is that it’s important to be able to see the Horizon".
He adds that when talking to others on the subject the feedback he receives is that people find they can think more clearly about the future when they feel they are sitting above it, as opposed to be stuck in an uninspiring meeting room, or being surrounded by the chaos of their daily workspace.
I can really relate to the observations made here. I once attended a training course which was held in a basement room in London. It had no windows, very little air flow and the subject wasn't too interesting either. I remember feeling incredibly tired and disengaged and the days seemed to drag on. By contrast I was also lucky enough to train at the Guinness factory in Dublin. The panoramic views of the City were inspiring and whilst the learning content was similar to my course in London, I felt energised and ready to learn. I’m pretty sure both exams had different outcomes too.
John believes that we each have our own need for space, some need routine and familiarity whilst others need a variety of landscapes to support their quality of thinking.
Back at home I was recently able to move to a new working location, positioned in the garden, as opposed to my previous setup where I was facing a bedroom wall whilst trying to work on a small, child sized Ikea desk. I have felt noticeably more positive and productive as a result of this switch.
I feel less irritable and have renewed energy.
Another point made by John Niland is how our working environments, and specifically the state of one’s home or office, can in fact be an indicator of the relationship we have with ourselves. He uses a great example of how, in his early professional career, he would encounter rejection or setbacks and then when returning home, he would encounter the uncut lawn, unopened mail and cluttered home office. This environment would in turn contribute to his low sense of worth, almost reinforcing his view at that time, that he was failing.
The importance of working environments must not be underestimated and the impact of our move from office to home (be that full time or most of the time) is likely to have had more impact on our health and wellbeing than we probably realise.
As part of my research into this topic a good friend of mine recently introduced me to The WELL Building Standard. Pioneered by Delos, it was first launched into the construction arena back in October 2014.
It has now become a key element of any new proposal (for spaces and developments) to become WELL certified as it demonstrates the environment has been built with the wellbeing of its occupants at the heart of its design and construction.
The standard is based on the belief that many factors of the physical environment have a significant impact on day-to-day health and productivity, but it is often the interactions between multiple environmental factors that matter most.
The WELL Building Standard is organised into seven categories of wellness, called concepts: These concepts are Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind. The seven concepts are comprised of over 100 features. Every feature is intended to address specific aspects of occupant health, comfort or knowledge.
As you can imagine the standard is huge so for the purpose of this article I will focus on just two, which are Comfort and Mind. As you read through I encourage you to consider how these concepts were/are being met, by you, in your home office environment.
According to WELL, employee surveys show that acoustic problems are a leading source of dissatisfaction within the environmental conditions of an office and that internally generated noise, such as other people, can lead to decreased productivity.
Acoustic disruptions can also come from external sources. It is claimed that particularly in urban areas, loud or repetitive exterior noises can be a source of stress and a risk factor for certain health outcomes.
Studies show that individuals exposed to traffic noise have a higher risk for diabetes, stroke and heart attack, and those exposed to road traffic and aircraft noises have a higher risk for hypertension. Furthermore, exposure to noise can lead to reduced reaction time and increased levels of annoyance.
Thermal comfort is also important and can affect mood, performance and productivity. Temperature preferences differ between people, and are highly personal. I recall many disagreements about this in the office, with some ‘battles’ over the floor thermostat actually becoming quite a spectacle.
While mental and physical health are often conceptualised as separate domains, our minds and bodies are inextricably connected. The mind plays a vital role in an individual’s overall health and wellbeing and an atmosphere that supports a healthy mental state can have significant psychological and physical benefits.
WELL also highlights the importance of adaptable spaces. When I first read about this I immediately thought of those rather quirky offices with picnic benches, beanbags and hammocks located within a variety of different zones.
The idea here is that individuals should have the option to adjust their environments and choose the degrees of engagement they wish to have with others. Research demonstrates that the presence of a variety of workspaces leads to greater job satisfaction and group cohesiveness (much easier said than done when confined to your home).
Space Management is also a significant factor here, minimising clutter and maintaining a comfortable, well organised environment. As the saying goes ‹Tidy home, tidy mind›. This links back to the earlier comments I shared from John Niland in terms of maintain an orderly working space.
Finally, WELL consider the importance of beauty and design, stating that a beautiful and meaningful space, in which design aesthetics are expressly considered, can have a positive impact on occupant morale and mood. It continues that elements providing visual complexity, balance and proportion can impact a sense of comfort, ease and potentially mitigate stress. This reflects my own positive experience of moving to a garden location for work, instead of a wall I now find myself looking at a green space with the occasional visit from our friendly garden guest, the robin.
Whilst none of us chose this long-term home working arrangement, the reality is that for many of us it’s here to stay as part of flexible working agreements. The environment in which we choose to work is incredibly important and there are a number of factors that should be considered when making these choices.
So, if you are feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by a task, lacking creativity, suffering from writers block or simply finding yourself irritated with your surroundings. Why not take a moment to consider some of these points, experiment with your habitat and find an environment that is more conducive to your needs.
Well the chances are, these individuals have doubts just like you.
I recently used LinkedIn to conduct a survey on the subject of Self Confidence. I asked people how often they found self-confidence issues influenced their decision making. A total of 84 people contributed and the results revealed that 65% of participants (54 people) experienced this either 'all the time' or 'often'.
These results provide further evidence that just because someone may appear more confident than you, it doesn't mean they are.
Despite this, we still take someone’s perceived confidence as an indicator of their ability (even if they are actually no more capable than their peers).
In a study on group dynamics, and in particular leadership, Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons discovered that individuals typically became leaders by force of personality rather than strength of ability.
They found that it was those who exhibited the most dominant personalities that tended to become the leaders. However, interestingly, this wasn't because they bullied the others or shouted anyone down. The answer was in fact, quite simply because: They spoke first.
Self-confidence is not linked to our external world, buying a bigger house, a flashy car or being promoted to a more senior position at work doesn't necessarily build confidence.
Self-confidence comes from within, it is a state of mind, an emotional state.
Confidence means feeling sure of yourself and your abilities — not in an arrogant way, but in a realistic, secure way (kidshealth.org).
In her popular Ted Talk, Alyssa Dver explains how confidence is a choice. Dver believes every decision you have ever made, and every decision you make from here on in, is to do with how much confidence you have. She is keen to point out that confidence is not inherited but that we learn it from a young age. The issue is that over time it tends to erode based on our environment and what we experience as we grow up.
Dver goes onto explain how we have three types of confidence villains in our lives, that we should all be aware of (referring to them as villains because they try to take confidence away from us).
Let’s take a look at these more closely and consider how we might choose to combat each of them.
Situations can include such things as sitting an exam, presenting/public speaking, an interview or perhaps meeting a new boss for the first time.
For many, these types of occasions can strike fear into us (it’s thought that 75% of the population is in fact fearful of public speaking), and one of the reasons we may feel this way is based upon our past experiences.
The amygdala is the part of our brain that helps us to define and regulate emotions. It acts as an alerting system, and if we experience something that is considered a threat the amygdala will store this for future reference (also known as pattern matching).
Therefore, in the case of public speaking, if an individual has previously had a bad experience, the amygdala will record it as such (the associated sight, sounds, smells), meaning even the mere suggestion could be enough to put us into a state of panic or fear.
This is something I can personally relate to. As a child I was pretty fearless, I would be the first person to jump up on stage at an event and tell a joke or do a crazy dance, yet on one occasion during a high school trip I attempted a bit of comedy but unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan, leaving me with feelings of humiliation. This was enough for my amygdala to decide that public speaking, or any form of presentation to an audience, was bad news and must be avoided at all costs. Something that literally took me years to recover from.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I understood the process of pattern matching, that I was able to overcome such an issue. Situational fear is something that can be combated with the use of a technique called ‘The Hierarchy of Feared Situations’.
This technique involves asking a person to list all the things they consider to be bad/fearful and grading them from 1-10, with 10 being the worst of the worst. The individual in question is then asked to tackle each situation/event they have listed, at their own pace, until they are confident of moving onto the next one.
The theory here is that you are building your confidence to take on the next step, based upon the success of the last (as opposed to jumping straight into the most fearful situations).
What is actually happening here is you are training the emotional part of your brain to accept that maybe, just maybe, this type of situation isn’t so bad after all and thus re-writing the stored pattern held in your amygdala.
There are many other techniques that can be used and another key one is preparation. Practicing and preparing for an exam or speech, for example, can be a great way to build our confidence.
Sir Winston Churchill, famous for his inspiring speeches during WW2, was actually an incredibly anxious individual (not to mention he had insecurities over a speech impediment) and was known to spend one hour practicing for every one minute of a speech, to ensure he could produce the perfect delivery.
In life we will encounter many different types of people. Alyssa refers to people who may be ‘bitchy, cocky, condescending or name droppers’ but they could also be considered as a type of bully.
These types of people will happily try and take your confidence for themselves. This can be very damaging, particularly when growing up, as having a healthy and positive view of ourselves is important for our mental health.
As Lucy Foulkes explains in her book ‘Losing Our Minds’, our self-concept – the image we have of ourselves, the collection of traits and stories that we feel make us unique – is developing rapidly in adolescence. She adds, critically, adolescents also start incorporating what other people think about them in their sense of self.
Neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explains how the ‘Power of Words’ isn’t a metaphor and it is actually how our brain is wired.
Feldman says that humans regulate one another’s metabolisms, just like other social animals do. Other mammals like rats and mice use chemicals to communicate by smell, and they add vocal sounds and touch. Primates like monkeys and chimpanzees use vision. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom because we regulate each other with words.
In fact, we can actually tweak one another’s nervous system quickly with mere words, be that the spoken word or written text. Moreover, we can also adjust each other’s metabolisms by our actions. If you raise your voice, or even your eyebrow, you can affect what goes on inside other people’s bodies such as their heart rate or the chemicals carried in their bloodstream.
Who we surround ourselves with is very important. Spending time with the types of people previously mentioned will ultimately lead to low self-confidence, as they literally take it away for themselves.
There are many tools and techniques available to help here, one such example is to conduct a relationship audit, categorising each person into a group of six ‘types’ ranging from supporter to enemy. One such category is referred to as the ‘vampires’ which is described as ‹someone who seems to suck the energy, confidence, and life out of you when you are near them’.
The purpose of this audit is to assess how the people we surround ourselves with are affecting our behaviour. I have used this on many occasions and it is a very powerful and effective method which I would encourage everyone to try.
Another option here would be to work on our assertiveness. Non-assertive behaviour implies having difficulty standing up for oneself, voluntarily relinquishing responsibility for oneself and inviting persecution by assuming the role of victim.
Learning to push back and say ‘No’ can be a powerful skill to develop. Also changing the way we receive and deal with any form of criticism, which includes establishing whose opinions we actually value and those we do not.
Finally Dver talks about how we are often our own worst enemy, as is the case with Imposture Syndrome which can play a significant role in attacking our self-confidence. We may also find that stressful life events from our past, such as bullying, could contribute to these acts of self-sabotage.
In the case of imposture syndrome, thoughts such as ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m going to be found out soon’ are common, as too are feelings that everything we do is down to luck alone (when it is usually the case that evidence exists to the contrary, if we just took the time to find it).
Past experiences can shape who we are. As already mentioned, if you have been told you don’t deserve love and respect or good things happening to you. If you are mocked, insulted and attacked by others it wouldn’t be hard to see why someone would internalise this message (Lisa Foulkes).
Experiencing such things would ultimately impact the relationship we have with ourselves, our feeling of self-worth, and in turn form a pattern of self-reproach that robs us of energy and introduces a damaging level of internal chatter.
There are many ways we can deal with a case of imposture syndrome but one of the best approaches is to gather feedback from others.
The idea here is to help close the gap between our perception of self and the perception others have of us. This can be a great way to unearth some attributes you didn’t even realise you had and also learn the value others see in you. This in turn will build a greater understanding of self and improve self-confidence.
Another exercise involves writing down common beliefs you have about situations or people, and then identifying what evidence you have to support these. The idea here is that limited beliefs are often formed by your unconscious mind to protect you in some way. By bringing this out in the open, and considering alternatives, we are better placed to make changes and thus open up new opportunities for ourselves.
Self-confidence is an attitude about your own skills and abilities. It means you accept and trust yourself and have a sense of control in your life. You know your strengths and weakness well, and have a positive view of yourself. You set realistic expectations and goals, communicate assertively, and can handle criticism.
On the other hand, low self-confidence might make you feel full of self-doubt, be passive or submissive, or have difficulty trusting others. You may feel inferior, unloved, or be sensitive to criticism.
Feeling confident in yourself might depend on the situation. For instance, you can feel very confident in some areas, such as academics, but lack confidence in others, like relationships.
Be mindful of who you spend your time with and whether these individuals are actually good for you or not. Equally consider how you might be damaging your own self-confidence with your internal chatter and opinions. By simply taking time to challenge these internally held views might be enough to give you a new refreshing outlook on life.
An important thing to remember, as my survey has shown us (along with many other conversations I have had on this topic), is that self-confidence isn’t just a problem for you. Many people around us feel exactly the same. Being aware of this and normalising your experiences can prove a valuable first step in building your own self-confidence.
If you are struggling with a lack of confidence in your life, and could benefit from some support, please get in touch today and we can explore some approaches that may work for you and your situation.