Blog

How to improve your emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence and how to improve it

Improving Emotional Intelligence
Improving Emotional Intelligence — Image by Pixabay

In How to talk to angry people, we looked at how to knock the wind out of an angry person’s sails and how to diffuse angry situations. While the techniques discussed were emotional intelligence (EI)-based, the post didn’t explain what EI is and isn’t, or how to improve your emotional intelligence. So today, this post will do just that.

We’ll explore what it is and isn’t, together with its key features, and the management of EI at work and elsewhere. We’ll also discover whether it’s beneficial and if so, how to improve your emotional intelligence.

What emotional intelligence is

Managing Emotional Intelligence ---
Heart & mind managing Emotional Intelligence — Image by Pixabay

The concept of Emotional intelligence is attributed to Professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer (1990). In this American Psychology article published in 2008, they wrote of EI

“Emotional Intelligence includes the ability to engage in sophisticated information processing about one’s own and others’ emotions and the ability to use this information as a guide to thinking and behavior. That is, individuals high in emotional intelligence pay attention to, use, understand, and manage emotions, and these skills serve adaptive functions that potentially benefit themselves and others”.

John D Mayer, Peter Salovey, & David R Caruso

So EI is being able to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to

  • relieve stress
  • communicate effectively
  • empathise with others
  • overcome challenges and
  • defuse conflict.

What Emotional Intelligence isn’t

Happiness and motivation are not Emotional Intelligence
Happiness and motivation are not Emotional Intelligence – Photo by Pexels

It’s not friendliness or pleasantness, calmness, optimism or happiness, and it’s not motivation. John D Mayer says that “while these qualities are important, they have little to do with intelligence, little to do with emotions, and nearly nothing to do with actual emotional intelligence.” He continues  “It’s especially unfortunate that even some trained psychologists have confused emotional intelligence with such personal qualities.”

That’s not to say you can’t be super pleasant or friendly, ecstatically happy and optimistic, calm or motivated. Of course, these are all great attributes and will work fantastically alongside EI. But let’s not confuse the two.

Why it’s important to improve your emotional intelligence

Emotional Intelligence

Strong EI helps us to build stronger relationships, succeed at university or work, and achieve our career and personal goals. It can also help us to connect with our feelings, turn goals into action, and make informed decisions about what matters most to us. EI is having the ability to

  1. perceive emotions in oneself and others accurately.
  2. use emotions to facilitate thinking.
  3. understand emotions, emotional language, and the signals conveyed by emotions.
  4. manage emotions so as to attain specific goals.

Key features of Emotional Intelligence:

The ability to sense others' emotions
The ability to sense others’ emotions — Image by Free Images

According to Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped to popularize EI, there are five key elements to it:

  1. Self-awareness — the ability to recognise and understand personal moods, emotions and drives and the effect of them on both self and others. Imagine being angry with hubby but you hide it from the kids because you don’t want to upset them.
  2. Self-regulation — being able to manage your thoughts and actions. Managing our thoughts isn’t always easy as we often have Negative Automatic thoughts (NATs), which can be difficult to control. Self-regulations means having the ability to control impulsive feelings and behaviors, and adapt to changing circumstances. And while some of us can control our actions, others might smash a plate or slap someone in the face.
  3. Internal motivation — the force that leads you to achieve a goal because of personal satisfaction or desire. Examples might be running a marathon or starting your own business.
  4. Empathy — the ability to sense other people’s emotions, along with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. Remember that old saying “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.”
  5. Social skills — are the skills we use everyday to interact and communicate with others. They include verbal and non-verbal communication, such as speech, facial expression, gesture, and body language. Some people appear to ooze these skills, charming and engaging everyone they come across. Others might be less skilled, they feel shy, get tongue-tied or stand out as a wallflower at parties.

Emotionally intelligent people are able to:

Feeling jealous on the tennis court – image from Pixabay
  • identify what they’re feeling i.e. anger, fear, jealousy, rejected
  • know how to interpret their own and others’ emotions, despite some of their differences like age, office hierarchy or social standing
  • recognize how their emotions can affect others, such as the hope and optimism contagion we often see in leaders at work
  • regulate their own emotions so that they ‘don’t blow a gasket’ when that same disruptive colleague disagrees with yet another perfectly viable suggestion
  • manage other people’s emotions so that the above colleague might feel less argumentative or disagreeable. They understand that, when happy and relaxed, someone will be more likely to agree to taking on a task than when angry or stressed.

Put more simply: EI is the ability to make emotions work for us, instead of against us.

Emotional Intelligence in the workplace

Nurse team leader with high EI
Nurse team leader with high EI – image from Pixabay

People with high EI appear more able to deal with colleagues or customers’ complaints, or to mediate conflict between others. They often also excel at making strong and positive personal connections with seniors, colleagues and customers.

Staff teams with high EI are far better at working together. They use appropriate and effective communication skills, tend to trust each other, and value input from others. They’re able to understand and empathise with the feelings of others, and generally respond positively to their suggestions.

The best team leaders understand people; they know how they work, and how to influence them. They know how to inspire them, and lead them in the right direction. Effective leaders tend to have a solid understanding of how their own emotions and actions affect the people around them.

The better the leader relates to and works with colleagues, the more success they’ll garner. EI is an essential people skill and, to succeed in a competitive workplace, developing it is vital.

Not many of us like change, but EI gives us the tools we need to deal with any changes that might come our way. At work, I’ve seen people face change with crossed arms, rolling eyes and negative attitudes. But I’ve also seen staff with EI responding in much more positive ways, and inspiring other team members to feel the same way.

Using EI in other situations

Managing emotions - active listening and making others feel heard
Managing emotions – active listening and making others feel heard

Most of us know someone who’s a really good listener. Whatever the situation we’re in, they always seem to know just how we feel, know what to say and how to say it so we don’t feel upset or offended.

They’re always considerate and compassionate, and able to instil positivity and hope in others. Even if we can’t come up with an immediate solution to our problem, we’re often feeling less distressed and more optimistic.

Even changes at home, with our families and children can be managed with EI, by using empathy and acknowledging any fears, ensuring everyone feels listened to and heard.

Whether it’s with an angry partner or a moody teenager, we’ll no doubt have to face difficult conversations in our personal lives. These tough talks will no doubt stir up all sorts of emotions, but having the right skills will ensure you’re able to handle them effectively. You’ll be able to emotionally connect with the other person before finding an effective solution.

How to develop and improve your Emotional Intelligence

Practicing Emotional Intelligence can help retrain your brain
Practicing Emotional Intelligence can help retrain your brain

While some people naturally have high EI, it’s still a skill that can be practiced and developed. Practicing EI behaviors can help your brain adapt to making these behaviors become automatic, and replace less helpful behaviors. So practice:

  1. Honing effective listening skills. People with EI listen to understand before responding, rather than just waiting for their turn to speak. This allows them to respond appropriately and shows their respect for the person speaking who, in turn, feels listened to and heard.
  2. Practice using effective communication skills and assertive communication, and learn how to say ‘NO’, and mean it. Ask someone close, or a mentor maybe, how you come across during conversations, particularly in times of stress and conflict.
  3. Try to remain open to feedback from others. You don’t have to agree with or believe them but just listen, take a breath and become aware of the emotions this evokes. Think about how you might have responded had you’d done so impulsively.
  4. Practice maintaining self-motivation and a positive attitude, as they’re contagious. Remember, self-motivation in the emotionally intelligent person promotes motivation and positivity in others. They’re motivated to set and attain their goals, and are resilient in the face of the challenges in reaching them. Try to be aware of the self-motivation, or lack of, in others and observe their moods. Use your self-motivation and positive attitude accordingly to affect an appropriate shift in the negativity of said others.
  5. Seek ways to become more self-aware. Be aware of your own many and various emotions, and how they affect people around you. See if you can determine the emotions of someone close, asking them if you’ve got it right. Watch other people when they’re communicating, paying attention to their body language, any facial clues or gestures and see how this affect you or others.
  6. Practice staying calm by learning some breathing techniques or other strategies that you’ll be able to use quickly and easily during stressful situations.
  7. Become more aware of the people around you, at work or in social situations. Observe how they behave and relate to others, and if you like what you see, ‘steal’ it, and practice it.

Last thoughts

Emotional Intelligence can be learned — Image from Unsplash

The above are only some of the skills mastered by high emotionally intelligent people, but they’re enough to start with. However, I can’t repeat enough how practice is vital — you wouldn’t drive down the motorway after just one driving lesson, would you? Nor would you beat a Grandmaster at chess, having just played the game once or twice.

Remember that building and maintaining effective relationships is key to engaging effectively with others. Someone with high EI doesn’t take the negative emotional reactions or responses of others personally. Rather, they’ll try to understand the source of those emotions and the values that are meaningful to others. This allows them to engage appropriately rather than avoiding the person who often ‘blows a gasket’ either at home, socially or at work.

Improving EI can help us feel more confident in our dealings with others, particularly during times of stress or conflict. EI is beneficial and if mastered, it enables us to maintain strong relationships and attain a happier and more fulfilled life.

Over to you

Image from Clipart

Do you recognise the emotions you feel and are you able to manage them without allowing them to overwhelm you? Can you motivate yourself to do things, like exercise or relaxation, and in turn motivate others, perhaps to join you? Are you able to sense the emotions of others and respond effectively?

How to talk to angry people

Do you know how to talk to an angry person?

Receptionists have to know to talk to angry people waiting in busy A&E departments
Receptionists have to know to talk to angry people waiting in busy A&E departments

Have you ever come across a group of angry people, or an angry person, and not known how to talk to them? Perhaps you’ve had to deliver bad news to your team about cutbacks, redundancies, or a reduction in salary, particularly recently?

Are you a nurse or other professional who’s had to cope with the angry family of a patient? Or a rowdy group of drunks fooling around in the A&E department? I dare say we’ve all come face to face with at least one angry person in our lifetime.

Unfortunately, I’ve had a few angry people men crowding my personal space, fists clenched, close up and spitting with rage. Some had me back up against a wall or cowering in fear, and one turned to physical abuse.

But let me tell you something now, I won’t ever allow this kind of behaviour again, and I hope you won’t either. It’s never acceptable – ever!

Recent tales of anger and aggression

Angry young man
Angry young man

A group of angry young thugs attacked my nephew on his way home from a night out. They surrounded him, swearing at him for ‘looking at them’ and ‘saying something nasty.’

My nephew was tipsy, but he tried reasoning with them. However, he’d barely spoken when one of the thugs headbutted him and he stumbled and fell to the ground. The rest joined in, kicking him in the face, head and upper body.

Fortunately, a car stopped, the thugs ran off and the driver called both the police and ambulance. My nephew was badly bruised and sustained a cracked cheek bone and a broken nose.

My friend was in a store recently and she inadvertently queue-jumped. She hadn’t realised that the group behind her were adhering to the 2 metre rule. She just saw a space and strolled into it.

A group of angry young ladies verbally abused and threatened her, despite her sincere apologies. My friend left her full trolley, and the store.

My nephew and my friend later wondered if there was anything they could have said or done differently. The thugs appeared to be on a mission, and nothing Tommy said would have stopped them.

On the other hand, Louise might have been able to calm the situation as it was broad daylight and she was surrounded by people. However, had I been her say last week, when I felt desperately low in mood and anxious, I might have panicked and done what she did. Today, I would have handled it differently.

Reasons to be angry

Rightly or wrongly, people are angry and protesting
Rightly or wrongly, people are angry and protesting — Image by Pexels

While the above tales may be extreme, it appears that people are becoming more angry, and about many things. Americans are living in a big ‘anger incubator.’ Americans are angry about the death of George Floyd. They’re angry about police violence and the country’s legacy of racism.

Around the world there’s anger provoked by the coronavirus pandemic: anger at public officials because they’ve shut down parts of society. Or anger because they aren’t doing enough to curb the virus.

People are angry about having to to wear masks, or angry toward people who refuse to wear a mask. Others are angry with anyone who doesn’t see things their way.

In London, everyone from tenants, residents, shop-keepers, businesses and black cabbies in London are angry. They’re angry and taking to the streets because of Sadiq Khan’s ridiculous road closures and under used cycle lanes.

We’re surrounded by anger – we get angry at t.v. or the news, and if it’s not that, it’s social media. If it’s not politics it’s soaring crime levels.

But anger is normal, right?

Anger is normal but rage is not
Anger is normal but rage is not

Anger is a normal but very powerful human emotion that can range from slight irritation to strong rage. There’s good reason for anger too. It lets us know that there’s a barrier in the way of something that’s undoubtedly important to us. It’s this barrier that evokes an emotion in us, which leads to our anger.

You see, anger doesn’t act alone. It’s always driven by another emotion like fear, anxiety, jealousy, disgust, frustration or other strong feelings. And often, rather than show any of these emotions, for whatever reason, we become angry.

Think about the man who you’ve just told is about to lose the job he desperately needs. Rather than express sadness or disappointment in front of you, his male boss, he might show anger. Behind his angry shield, he’s feeling threatened — not by you, but by the loss of his job, his salary or his status.

As women, because we often get “Oh, don’t turn on the waterworks,” we don’t. We get defensive, and angry (mainly at that comment).

So how do we talk to an angry person

Angry people are often stressed
Angry people are often stressed

We all know how easy it is to become upset or flustered when we’re confronted by an angry person and we don’t know what to say or do. If we don’t know how to respond, we can easily make the situation worse. However, when we respond calmly and with empathy, we stay in control, and can diffuse the situation effectively and courteously.

Let’s take a look at a few simple ways to reduce the anger and maintain a sense of calm. While the angry person is raging and waving their hands around, or blustering, red in the face and finger-pointing:

  • Take a few slow and deep breaths. Effective breathing techniques will slow your heart rate down and have a calming effect on you.
  • Try to maintain a relaxed but confident posture — hold your head up but let your shoulders drop down from your ears, unclench those fists and relax your jaw. Crossing your arms, heavy sighing or tutting and rolling your eyes is a surefire way to add fuel to someone’s fire.
  • Try to remain or at least appear calm but for crying out loud, don’t say “calm down!” to the angry person who’s about to blow a gasket. If you didn’t already know this — it’s like a red rag to a bull.
  • Listen actively, and show that you’re listening by giving appropriate eye contact, just don’t stare or glare. Try to understand what’s driving their anger i.e. they feel hurt, judged by you or others in some way, they might feel let down, disappointed, disrespected or afraid.
  • Once you’ve listened to them, do not say “I understand but,” or “okay, but.” We’ve all been on the tail end of that response. A simple change of the word ‘but’ to ‘and’ can often make a difference, and that’s another post.

An example might be

Receptionist at busy GP surgery

The lady with two screaming toddlers who fumes at the receptionist in the doctor’s surgery. “I’ve been waiting for almost an hour, I’ve been up all night with these two and I need to be seen now.”

The receptionist smiles and says “I understand, but everyone else has been………”

“No you don’t bloody understand……….” fumes the lady. You don’t know that hubby screamed at her to keep the kids quiet so she’s upset and and tearful. It can soon escalate into something like “….. you patronising old jobsworth.”

  • Responding to someone’s needs calmly can be the key to gaining cooperation from the emotionally agitated person. In tough situations, the issue at hand isn’t usually the actual issue. How you handle the issue becomes the actual issue.
  • Show empathy, kindness and compassion, and an apology can go a long way too. You might say “I’m really sorry you’ve had to wait for so long and I appreciate how frustrating it must be. I’ll go and see if there’s anything I can do.” Then go and do just that.

Acknowledge their anger

Upset and stressed— Image by Unsplash
  • Acknowledge their anger. If someone expresses anger and you fail to react to it they’ll feel like they aren’t getting through to you. Think about how you would feel in a similar situation. Imagine you’ve been charged £15.00 by the bank for going overdrawn by 59 pence. You explain to the bank teller that you were only overdrawn for a few hours because your salary went in at midnight.

The bank teller might say, “I can see you’re annoyed and I’d like you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” Or “I think I understand what’s happened here, but please correct me if I’ve got it wrong.”

You’d feel listened to and understood, and you’d calm down. You know it’s not the teller’s fault and that at least they’ve offered to help fix the issue.

So we’ve covered how to breath and relax, remaining calm and listening. Then apologising and using your effective communication skills like empathy and kindness to help calm the angry person. Understand what’s driving their anger and acknowledge that, responding calmly and taking any necessary action to fix the issue.

When we’re able to diffuse someone’s anger, it can help us to deal with others who perhaps lack the emotional intelligence to manage their emotions. Let’s explore this further and continue with more strategies to diffuse anger in the follow-up post.

Over to you

When was the last time you had an angry person shouting at you? What did it make you feel like? Or were you angry and someone dealt with your complaint inappropriately? How could they have handled it differently? I’d love for you to share your experiences or just comment, or ask any questions.

Caz

Improving access to mental health support

Latest on who’s improving access to mental health support

Training barbers in mental health first aid --- NHS improving access to mental health support
Training barbers in mental health first aid — NHS improving access to mental health support

What made me think about improving access to mental health support, you might wonder. While reading Pulse Today (intended for health professionals only?), the following article caught my eye. Barbers to be trained in mental health support as part of £10m suicide prevention plan. NHS England announced a £10m investment in community suicide prevention. This includes a bid to train barbers in mental health first aid.

Research shows that tho’ more women are diagnosed with mental health problems, men are less likely to seek help. They’re also more likely to commit suicide, mainly before the age of 50.

Because men don’t like to admit to having a mental illness, they’re not accessing mental health services, and therefore — they go undiagnosed and untreated.

So, I’m impressed with this bid to train barbers. Where better for men to start talking about mental health?

Okay, I’ll be honest, I’ve never been to a barber. But, rumour has it that men do offload some of their stressors during a haircut. While they might not actually say mental health problems, they’ll chat about their crappy exes or sh*t redundancies at work.

One of my sources, often asks me what he should do or say to help someone who’s in crisis. Now I’ll be telling him about this training!

This innovative approach got me thinking about who else is improving support systems and moreover, how they’re doing it. So, off I went to visit one of my best friends, Google, who’s helped me with my research many times. And once again, he didn’t let me down.

Better mental health support for chefs

Exhausted chefs experiencing mental health problems
Exhausted chefs experiencing mental health problems

Hospitality Action launches industry-wide mental health survey. Industry charity Hospitality Action is conducting an industry-wide survey into current attitudes towards mental health and stress in the hospitality sector.

Their 2018 survey showed that 46% of respondents had struggled with a mental health problems within the previous 12 months. This industry tends to be male dominated and those figures are what I would expect to see.

Another new report reveals four in five chefs suffer from poor mental health? It said that 81% experienced mental health problems during their career. What’s more, over half felt that not enough was being done to support them in the workplace.

Hospitality Action report that this new survey will help them develop its mental health provision, which includes access to counselling. Additionally, they’ll be able to offer a wide range of resources for managers and staff to improve mental wellbeing in the workplace.

What’s new in schools and colleges

In 2017, the Government published its Green Paper for Transforming children and young people’s mental health.

It detailed proposals for expanding access to mental health care for children and young people. These focused on providing additional support through schools and colleges and reducing waiting times for treatment. 

The first Mental Health Support Teams were launched in 25 trailblazer areas announced in December 2018. These included 12 areas that are also testing a four-week waiting time. These trailblazer MHSTs are building up their capacity and capability during 2019. A further 57 sites were confirmed in July 2019, which will start developing 123 Mental Health Support Teams during 2020.

This long-awaited news is music to my ears. Every school, college and alternative provision will be trained through a series of workshops to pool their resources and understanding and to draw up long term plans.

Massive scale-up in investment

Global collaboration and investment needed in  mental health
Global collaboration and investment needed in mental health

Joint release by the World Health Organization, United for Global Mental Health and the World Federation for Mental Health

World Mental Health Day: an opportunity to kick-start a massive scale-up in investment in mental health. The World Mental Health Day campaign will offer opportunities, for all of us to do something life-affirming: as

  • individuals, to take concrete actions in support of our own mental health, and to support friends and family who are struggling
  • employers, to take steps towards putting in place employee wellness programmes
  • governments, to commit to establishing or scaling-up mental health services, and
  • as journalists, to explain what more can and must be done to make mental health care a reality for everyone.

This joint initiative will be hosting a series of events on World Mental Health Day to help increase awareness of mental health issues, break down stigma and bring about policy change.

During one event, world leaders and mental health experts will join the WHO Director-General to talk about their commitment to mental health and what more must be done.

Great, so we’re looking at seeing increased investment in mental health across the world. Let’s all hope they’re not just talking empty words.

Over to you

I love the above innovative initiatives being rolled out in the UK, and wonder what do you think? What’s happening in your part of the world in terms of improving access to mental health support? I love reading about what’s happening in other countries so I look forward to your comments. I also appreciate constructive criticism about any of my posts or about my site in general.

Why the quotes today

Quotes are not normally my thing

Quote about dark skies and when times get tough

For those of you who’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know I don’t normally do quotes. So why the quotes today? Wellllll, if you’ve seen my last post about my suicidal thoughts and plan, you’ll know I’m not in a great space right now.

A friend sent me a beautiful friendship quote, and it got me thinking — keep my brain occupied today — reading quotes for a while. And now, I’d like to share some with you.

Quote - tears are a sign of strength

This one makes a lot of sense to me and I want people to know that mental illness, showing emotion or crying does not make us weak. In fact, our many and varied struggles have made us stronger.

Having had to struggle through the hard times, pain and suffering, and that feeling of drowning in quicksand, we’ve toughened up.

We’ve had to learn new skills and coping mechanisms and, we’ve realised strengths we previously weren’t aware of.

In the words of Bob Marley “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.”

Standing up for mental health

Quote - if you don't stand for something - standing up for mental Health and stamping out stigma
Standing up for mental health and stamping out stigma

As an ex-nurse mental health nurse, and someone who experiences mental illness, I remain extremely passionate about raising awareness. I’m a determined advocate fighting the stigma, social exclusion and discrimination that come with mental illness.

I’ll continue shouting out about mental illness, encouraging others to talk about their mental health and illness. Let’s all open up, reach out, and fight to get the right treatment, the right support we need and deserve, when we need it.

In my quest for change and improvement in mental health services, particularly for women, I do lots of reading and writing; to our government leaders and MP’s. I’ve just some interesting articles saying “All Women Should Be Screened For Anxiety Disorders,

One article goes on to say “Young women ages 13 and up, including those who are pregnant or have just given birth, should be screened for anxiety at routine visits,” according to a Women’s Preventive Services Initiative (WPSI) recommendation released March 2016.

The WPSI was established with the aim of improving women’s health in the USA, across their lifespan. Whoop, whoop, people, leaders, organisations, really are beginning to stand up, and trying to make a difference.

To wind up, I’ll leave a few more quotes for today. They either mean something to me, or I find them amusing, or just because…..

Over to you

Well, you know how cr*p my week’s been, and that I’m getting out of London for a few days. We’ll be sitting by the lake in the late summer sunshine, surrounded by woodland, fresh air and good company.

Thankfully there’s only six of us, ‘cos you’ve heard about the new law in England, right? It’s currently against the law to be out in public with more than six people. Ooops, I forgot. That means my niece is going to have to sit two metres away from us — in her own white painted circle that’s appeared in the park overnight! No worries, we’ll chuck over alcopops and stuff so she doesn’t feel left out.

So what’s your week been like, and will your weekend by full of happiness and sunshine?

My suicidal thoughts and plan

Have you ever had suicidal thoughts and made a plan?

Hands up for World Suicide Prevention Day
Suicidal thoughts and a plan
Suicidal thoughts and a plan?

Hands up if you’ve ever had suicidal thoughts and had a plan, or know someone who has! Okay, so today is World Suicide Prevention Day, one day that observes the commitment to remove the social stigma around discussions on suicide.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that each year approximately one million people die from suicide, one death every 40 seconds. It’s predicted that by 2020 the rate of death will increase to one every 20 seconds. And this was before we’d heard of Covid. Still, that makes approximately two millions deaths each year, and we choose to observe this fact only one day each year?

Still, once a year has to be better than not at all. I’m delighted to learn that it’s rather different in the USA. They have a National Suicide Prevention Month. During this time, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness.

Mind you, is it any wonder as more than 45,000 people die each year by suicide in America?

My interest in suicide prevention

Transverse Myelitis with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts
Transverse Myelitis with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts

You might wonder why my interest in this particular subject. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll already know that I have a rare and invisible physical disability called Transverse Myelitis. It comes with many and varied symptoms, some of which are:

  • muscle weakness in the arms/legs, causing mobility problems
  • uncomfortable nerve sensations, neuropathic pain, spasticity
  • pain and discomfort, sensory symptoms such as numbness or tingling
  • bladder dysfunction and/or bowel motility problems and sexual dysfunction
  • fatigue
  • muscle spasms in arms and legs
  • depression and anxiety caused by lifestyle changes, stress, and chronic pain

On March 31st 2011, my entire life changed overnight. Everything from being unable to attend to my hygiene needs to being medically retired from a job that I loved. I was devastated. I hated being disabled. And I was so damn angry at the world, and everyone in it. I was severely depressed and if had to stay like that forever, I was going to kill myself. I felt suicidal — again!

On this very day last year, I shared my history of mental illness publicly, and for the first time. What began as a one off post, turned into a series, which I’ve still to finish — one year later. However, I’ve had a few physical and mental setbacks over the last few months and my mood has taken a massive nosedive. And I just can’t shake it off, despite copious amounts of medication, and all my training, knowledge and skills in mental health.

Suicidal thoughts and me

When the devil whispers - book cover Ajinkya Bhasme
Book cover Ajinkya Bhasme

Anxiety and depression have set in and suicidal thoughts have managed to penetrate my age old barriers, permeating every pore. That little devil is sitting on my shoulder, whispering loudly “Everyone would be better of without you,” or “You are disgusting,” together with expletives and vile threats. And I wonder why other people can’t hear him. Maybe they can, and perhaps they agree with him, or they’re telling him to say all this?

Only it’s not a little devil, it’s not the devil’s voice. It’s the gravelly, rasping and hissing voice of my abuser, my step-grandad. I know not why his disgusting diatribe appears when it does. All I know is that he makes me sick, despite the fact he’s been dead for some years now. And no, in his case, I have no respect for the dead.

Now, he’ll never know the devastating effects of his sick and twisted sexual urges, and how I can’t sleep, or if I do, how the nightmares wake me up screaming cotton mouthed and struggling to breathe.

He’ll never know about the lost years of my life where I felt hurt, confused and angry. Or how much that’s impacted on areas of my life, like when a word, touch or simple movement interrupts an intimate moment. But perhaps this is another post.

I’ve never been much of a believer, but sometimes I wish I had an angel on my opposite shoulder berating that sick pervert. Better still, punching his lights out and telling him he’s wrong, and to leave this beautiful soul alone.

Too young to be suicidal

Children can be suicidal but don't tend to plan it
Some children are suicidal

Suicidal thoughts have plagued me since I was eleven years old. I didn’t quite grasp the whole concept of suicidal ideation or completion, I just knew I didn’t want to be alive. I think that because I had therapy as an adult, and I have my nursing skills, I’ve been able to ignore these thoughts — to some degree sometimes.

However, on bad days and times like this, it feels like I’m standing on a skinny ledge, and any slight change in the wind’s going to tip me over the edge.

Yes, I can talk about it on my blog, in comments on other blogs, I can tell hubby or friends that’s how I feel. Then there’s a great gush of sudden wisdom, all the platitudes, the well-meaning, but empty words. “I know how you feel,” or “You’ve got through this before,” and “You’re strong, you can do this.”

Well get this. I don’t feel f*cking strong. I’m tired of being f*cking strong. So f*ck off somewhere else with your bullsh*t and when you get there, f*ck off some more. And if you feel like judging, get this — Why don’t you take the f*cking plank out of your own damn eyes, before you take the splinter out of mine?

Suicidal planning and risk assessment

Suicidal ideation, plan, means and method
Do they have access to a gun?

As a mental health nurse and ward manager, the ability to carry out a suicidal risk assessment is an important skill, the purpose of which is to:

  • Establish the patient’s intent/plan.
  • Do they know what method they’ll use i.e. overdose, jump from a bridge, gun or other lethal methods.
  • Do they have the means by which to carry out their plan, i.e. stockpiled medication, locality or ability to get to a high bridge, do they have access to a gun. Always ask whether “if we could take your pain and suffering away, would you still want to die.
  • Assess the seriousness and perceived seriousness of their attempt, i.e. the middle-aged, middle-classed, white lady living in London who says she’s going to shoot herself – would she know how to access a gun or how to use it? This would reduce the seriousness somewhat.
  • When will they carry this plan out i.e. is there a birthday or a date coming up which reminds them of something sad or makes them angry, or will it be on impulse.
  • Assess how they feel about the attempt at the time of assessment, i.e. asking something like “How do you feel knowing what you’re going to do?”
  • Find out if they have anything to look forward to i.e. long-awaited holiday in the Caribbean.

Covering these points allowed me to make an adequate assessment of risk.

Warning, do not try this at home. The above techniques are to be used by medical and nursing professionals only”

Caz

My suicide plan

Suicidal ideation and plan to jump from 12th floor flat
Should I jump from my 12th floor flat?

Whoops, I went off on a tangent there. But I suppose all that plays a role in my current dilemma. Looking back at the risk assessment I can see that I

  • have the intent and plan
  • have various means and methods, like bags full of medication, and I live on the 12th floor of my block, right opposite tube and train stations
  • feel that over the last week, the pressure has been mounting and if tonight, I have more horrific nightmares or can’t sleep, the seriousness increases
  • don’t have a specific date and I know it would be impulsive
  • am not sure how I feel. I don’t want to think or feel — anything, so I don’t try to
  • probably have thing I could look forward to, but I don’t really care one way or another

Hubby thinks the weekend away with friends, that he’s planned, is going to help. And it might. It might help me forget — for a while — and a few ten glasses of wine almost certainly will — short term.

Older lady seeks weekend fun

Okay, enough already! Stop the pity party! I hear you say. And I agree, cos even I get on my own nerves. Now I know I won’t be attempting to die by suicide anytime this week, perhaps my brain will switch off and give me some respite.

Rather than sitting indoors alone at my laptop, I’ll be engaging in some happy and no doubt funny conversations with my cousins and their partners. Hopefully, during those forty-eight hours where we’ll be sipping on cocktails and dining by barbeque, my brain will reboot and remind me what fun is.

Who is responsible for suicide prevention?

Who do you think is responsible for suicide prevention?

Who is responsible for suicide prevention?
Who is responsible for suicide prevention? Image from Unsplash

TRIGGER WARNING. After my last post, Increased suicide rates during a recession, a comment from a blogging friend got me thinking. What more can we do to raise awareness and prevent suicide? Moreover, who should be responsible for suicide prevention? Should it be our governments, leaders, the NHS and charities, or are doctors and nurses responsible?

I’d say yes they all are, but I’d also add that, in fact, we are all responsible.

We all have a moral, familial and social responsibility surely, to prevent suicide and to save lives? But to do this, I believe, we have to break down the stigma around mental illness and suicide, and actually talk about it.

Would you start a conversation up about suicide today, tomorrow; with your colleagues, friends, class mates or teachers/lecturers? And if not, why not?

Suicide is too important to ignore

Suicide prevention - stop him from dying by suicide
Suicide prevention – stop him from dying by suicide

While suicide is a difficult topic, it occurs too often, so it’s too important to ignore. Suicide knows no boundaries and cuts across all ages, class or gender. It’s the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.

Despite a common belief that only teens and adults die by suicide, younger children can also be at risk. “We know that children as young as 5 commit die by suicide and that it happens to the very old, as well,” says Psychology today, 2020. (I edited out the word commit, as that word still has connotations of committing a crime). Suicide is no longer a crime, yet it remains a tragedy.

The real tragedy of suicide is that it’s a permanent solution to what should be a temporary problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Global Burden of Disease study estimate that almost 800,000 people die from suicide every year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. Due to the stigma associated with suicide – and the fact that it is illegal in some countries – this figure is also likely to be an underestimate, with some suicides being classified as unintentional injuries.

There are many different reasons for suicide or attempted suicide, and these might include feelings of loss, low self-worth, isolation. It’s also known that depression and suicide often go together. But not everyone who’s depressed is suicidal and not everyone who’s suicidal is depressed.

And still we don’t talk about it, or if we do we use language that judges, stigmatises, discriminates, and condemns.

Elephant in the room

Suicide - the elephant in the room
Suicide — The elephant in the room – Image from MGEU

So, in order to prevent suicide, first we must address it — the proverbial elephant in the room. We need talk about it, often and more openly. We need to educate ourselves. Preventing suicide will not happen on it’s own.

There’s plenty of online information and resources available:

I won’t patronise you by listing details from every country. I just wanted to let you have some idea of the resources that are available out there. We could be using these resources. Why not adapt them to suit your area or audience, to open up a conversation about suicide prevention.

Moreover, we ought to be looking out for our loved ones and others in our communities. What about the youngster always alone in the park, or the teenager sleeping on the streets. Then there’s the old lady next door who never seems to have any visitors? Or a colleague, maybe even our boss, who looks like they’re struggling to keep it together?

Suicide is not without pain

The pain of suicide and loss
The pain of suicide and loss — Image Unsplash

Every suicide is a tragedy, and many will ask themselves later if there’s anything they could have done to prevent it. They’ll feel the pain, grief, loss, and devastation at having lost someone to suicide. This in turn can lead to guilt, anger, depression, shame and possible thoughts of suicide.

And so the circle continues. Whole generations of families dying by suicide. Did you know that two of the most prevalent risk factors for suicide are family history of suicide, and family history of psychiatric illness. A well-known case is the novelist Ernest Hemingway’s family, in which five members over four generations died from completed suicides, The Independent.

Mind writes that “While every type of grief has the potential to cause intense and complex feelings, research shows that people bereaved by suicide can have a particularly complex set of feelings and can experience additional struggles and dilemmas in trying to resolve their grief.

Suicide can have a ripple effect, extending well beyond the person’s immediate family and friends. How we are affected will depend on our relationship to the person who has died, the strength of the attachment and the circumstances around the death.”

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide (SOBS) are a great source of support for people who have been bereaved by suicide. See the SOBS website for details of their helpline, local support groups and many more practical resources.

Let’s talk about suicide

Old lady contemplating suicide
Sad old lady might be contemplating suicide — Photo by Pexels.com

Why don’t we talk about suicide — in schools and universities, at work, in the pub?

I refuse to believe it’s because people don’t care or they turn their eyes and pretend not to see?

Is it because we live in a world full of shame, stigma and a lack of understanding or empathy? Perhaps we just don’t know how to talk about suicide?

We need to educate ourselves and teach others; informing them that suicide is preventable. We need to use our social media in a more positive way to support, encourage and show kindness to others. Perhaps we could start by paying a little more attention, and really see what’s going on around us. Have you noticed the old lady or the lone teenager? Did you walk on by and look the other way?

Start a conversation

Two mates not talking about suicide?
From freepik.com

There are many ways to initiate a discussion about suicide. Simply asking someone how they feel, or asking about their day is enough to start a conversation. Think about how much this might mean to someone, particularly the elderly? They often live alone, have no company for days on end, or don’t speak to anyone on the telephone.

My previous post was about the warning signs, risk factors and how to support someone who feels suicidal. So now we’ll look at how we can introduce the topic of suicide and suicide prevention. Talk to your pals, colleagues, in team meetings, children, at the pub:

  • Ask “Did you know it’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10th September?”
  • Ask have they ever thought about the concept of suicide or its impact, what do they think of WSPD and why we have WSPD.
  • Have a discussion about how we can prevent suicide by finding out how spot the risks, the signs and how to support someone who is struggling.
  • Explain the myths and stigma around mental illness and suicide.
  • See if the know the suicide rates of their own country, perhaps in comparison to another country.
  • Show them some local, national or global statistics
  • Suggest they tell their friends or use their social media to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
Lone teenager feeling suicidal —Photo Pexels.com

Just get the conversation started. Put Suicide Awareness posters up in your bedroom, at school, the staffroom, your office, the lift at work, anywhere (legally). Later, ask others if they’ve seen them — and there’s the start of a conversation.

Contrary to some beliefs, suicide isn’t selfish. It’s someone’s desperate and overwhelming struggle. Many don’t actually want to die, they want to be rid of the pain and suffering they’re experiencing. And this is where we can all help — by being more vigilant, supporting others in need, being aware and informing others.

Over to you

Think about suicide prevention

Do you think we all have a responsibility to prevent suicide? Would you put the World Suicide Prevention Day posters on the walls and leave WSPD resources around your place of work? Would you start up a conversation about suicide today, tomorrow; with your colleagues, friends, classmates or teachers/lecturers? And if not, why not? I’m really interested in your opinions and look forward to any comments, questions or constructive criticism.

Increased suicide rates during a recession

Will we see increased suicide rates during this recession?

Increased rates of suicide during a recession
Increased rates of suicide during a recession

There’s no doubt about it, we’re in a global economic recession. And historically, increased suicide rates have been observed following a depression. Dr Adrian James, Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2020 said: “Recessions are terrible news for the nation’s mental health. Debt, unemployment and poverty are linked to higher rates of anxiety disorders, alcohol use, depression, and even suicide.

Trigger Warning: Talk of Suicide

The looming economic crisis will widen existing health and social inequalities and worsen the mental health problems they bring. Those already unemployed, young people, single-parent families Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities will be hit the hardest.”

Death by suicide cuts across all ages, and can run through generations in some families. My lovely blogging pal, Nathan at My Brain’s not Broken posted this informative and insightful article Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2020 only today.

Nathan’s article was a timely reminder that it’s World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) on 10th September. WSPD aims to promote worldwide action to prevent suicides. Various events and activities are held during this occasion to raise awareness that suicide is a major preventable cause of premature death.

This is my nod to WSPD 2020, and I’ll be looking to post more on Suicide Prevention in the run up to 10th September.

Past recessions and increased suicide rate

Recession and increased suicide rates
Recession and increased suicide rates

The BMJ‘s, 2012 study concluded “that the recent recession in the UK led to about 1000 excess suicides in England: 846 among men and 155 among women. You can read about risks of suicide in men here.

Again in 2014, we saw The BMJ‘s startling headline “Economic recession may have caused 10 000 extra suicides.” It read that the 2008/2010 increased rates of suicide were “highly likely to be related to the recent economic recession.”

The Guardian, 2015 wrote “Austerity a factor in rising suicide rate among UK men. Academics from the universities of Bristol, Manchester and Oxford estimate an extra 1,000 deaths and an additional 30-40,000 suicide attempts may have occurred after the economic downturn.

While the report shows a correlation between economic turmoil and increased suicide rates, it can’t prove a causal relationship, the researchers note. It can’t prove that the people who lost their jobs or homes were the ones who died by suicide.

Can we predict and prepare for increased suicide rates

Yes, research shows that the best predictor of future behaviour or risk is past behaviour. That said, we can expect to see another dramatic increase in the suicide rates. So now we know this, we can prepare for it, prevent it even, right?

An article in The Lancet, 2020 said that mental health services need to prepare for a rise in suicides due to covid 19. The paper called for mental health services to develop clear remote assessment and care pathways, and staff training to support new ways of working.

It states that:

  • Helplines that are already established should receive additional support to maintain or increase their volunteer workforce, and offer more flexible methods of working.
  • Digital training resources would enable those who have not previously worked with people who are suicidal to take active roles in mental health services and helplines.
  • Evidence-based online interventions and applications should be made available to support people who are suicidal.
  • Governments should provide ongoing support for those who have lost employment and have financial issues as a result.
  • Mental health consequences are likely to be present for longer and peak later than the actual pandemic.
  • However, research evidence and the experience of national strategies provide a strong basis for suicide prevention.

Helplines and Crisis Centres are going to be critical in providing immediate support to everyone who needs it or to signpost individuals to local services.

Can we prevent suicide?

Suicide prevention
Suicide prevention

Yes, while the ‘powers that be’ discuss and implement policies and procedures at the top end, we can all take action to prevent suicide. Talking about suicide and staying connected with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help.

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, there’s plenty you can do to help save a life.

Know the warning signs

Warning signs of suicide
Warning signs of suicide

If you believe that a friend or family member is suicidal, you can play a role in suicide prevention.

The best way to prevent suicide is to recognize the warning signs and know how to respond if you spot them. Especially if their behavior is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Watch out for the following warning signs:

  • Saying they want to die or to kill themselves
  • Drawing or writing a lot about suicide and dying
  • Seeking out ways to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain and being a burden to others
  • Expressing feelings of worthlessness, self-loathing, self-hatred
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Appearing anxious or agitated, or behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much and staying bed all day
  • Displaying exceptionable rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

If you spot warning signs of suicide in someone you care about, it’s natural to feel uncomfortable or afraid to mention suicide. Of course they might get angry with you for even suggesting it, but what’s the alternative? Anyone who talks about suicide or shows other warning signs needs immediate professional help

Know the risk factors

Man feeling hopeless
Man feeling hopeless — know the risks — Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that someone will consider, attempt, or die by suicide. They can’t cause or predict a suicide attempt, but they’re important to be aware of.

  • Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
  • Family history of suicide, or exposure to others who have died by suicide (like in the media)
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • Lack of mental and physical health care, and substance abuse treatment
  • Hopelessness. Studies have found that hopelessness is a strong predictor of suicide. People who feel hopeless might talk of “unbearable” feelings, predict a bleak future, and say that they have nothing to look forward to.
  • Lack of social support and sense of isolation
  • Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
  • History of trauma or abuse
  • History of, or increase in alcohol use and other substance use disorders
  • Major physical illnesses
  • Job or financial loss
  • Loss of relationship(s)
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Stigma associated with asking for help

The above lists are by no means exhaustive. If you are concerned either about yourself, or someone you know, you must seek professional support.

How to help someone who is suicidal

Death by suicide — Image by Unsplash

If they have a plan and are ready to carry out that plan, call 999 immediately. It’s better to be safe! Tell them you’re concerned and ask if they’re having thoughts of suicide. However, your first concern must be your immediate safety. If you fear for yourself or the person who’s suicidal — call 999. If you feel safe:

  • Assess the immediate risk, like do they have a gun or other lethal weapon?
  • Ask if they have a plan, when will they do it, and do they have the means i.e. stockpiled tablets, knife. Ask the person to hand over their weapon/medication. You’d be surprised — this often works!
  • Let them know that you care, that they’re safe with you, but if you become more concerned, you’ll have to call for support i.e. their GP, or emergency services.
  • Reassurance is crucial, as people having suicidal ideation may not have much hope. Clearly state to them that suicidal thoughts are often associated with a treatable mental illness, and if you feel comfortable, you can also offer to help them get the appropriate treatment. You can also tell them that thoughts of suicide are common, and that you don’t have to act on them (MHFA).
  • Tell them that you’ll listen and do so, actively, without judgment, but with compassion. Showing that you’re listening might help them feel less alone.
  • Try not to interrupt or give them reasons why they shouldn’t take their own life i.e. their kids, their partner etc. They often think they’re a burden and feel bad enough, they don’t need further guilt-trips.
  • Ask if there’s someone you can call for them, such as a particular family member.

When someone is suicidal

Don’t leave it til it’s too late —Photo by Nathan Martins on Pexels

Take it seriously but try not to act super shocked, take a deep breath and be yourself.

Try not say:

  • “I understand how you feel” then go off on a tangent with something like “My brother’s best friend’s mum killed herself.” It’s not helpful, and you’re supposed to be listening! You could try “I can’t possibly imagine what you’re going through. Do you want to tell me a bit more?”
  • “You should tell your mum, partner, teacher.” However, you could say “Have you thought about telling ………?”
  • “Call me if you need me.” It’s a bit vague and they actually need you — like now!

And don’t lecture or argue with them, or tell them to “Snap out of it.” It’s how they feel and they’ll clam up if you continue in this way. Try open ended conversation, rather than getting a “yes” or “no” answer, like:

  • What can I do to help?
  • Tell me what’s been going on for you? I’m listening.
  • I’ll call “………..” for you, what do you want me to say?

Well, I could go on forever. Suicide and suicide prevention are such huge topics, and something that many people just don’t understand. I’ll stop here and continue my research, with the aim to put out another post in the run up to 10th September.

Over to you

How do you feel about people who chose to die by suicide? Do you think suicide is selfish, something I wrote about a while ago? Would you feel comfortable asking the question — “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” I’ve had to ask my sons in the past, and the response was devastating, despite all my knowledge and nurse training. I’d love to hear your thoughts, so I look forward to any comments or questions, and constructive criticism.

Nominated for the Outstanding Blogger Award

I’m delighted to accept the nomination for the Outstanding Blogger Award

The Original Outstanding Blogger Award
Awarded by Antonia

A big shout out to the lovely Antonia at Beautyfile who kindly nominated me for the Original Outstanding Blogger Award. This award was created by Colton Beckwith.

As most of you know, I love the Blogger Awards. They’re a lovely way to celebrate our fellow-bloggers and find out a bit more about them.

Antonia is a young and beautiful Lifestyle Blogger who writes about hair and beauty, and health. She also shares tips, reviews, opinions, and her life experiences. If you haven’t already read her blog, you might want to drop by to say hello.

The rules for the awards are:

  1. Provide the link to the creator’s original award post. (very important: see why in step 5)
  2. Answer the questions provided.
  3. Create 7 unique questions.
  4. Nominate 10 bloggers. Ensure that they are aware of their nomination. Neither the award’s creator, nor the blogger that nominated you, can be nominated.
  5. At the end of 2020, every blog that ping-backs the creator’s original post will be entered to win the 2020 Outstanding Blogger Award!

Antonia’s questions

Luckily my sister still loves me

1) What are the best three phrases to describe yourself? Fun-loving empath, supportive and non-judgmental.

2) Has your personality changed since childhood? Perhaps in some ways, but the little devil in me is still there. I’ve always had a very dry and sarcastic humour, and only those that know me understand lol.

3) When you are upset or angry, what’s the worst thing you could do? Haha, that depends on who I’m with.

4) What are you most proud of and why? I so proud of my mum because she raised 4 little horrors on her own, until my amazing step dad came along. So, I’m really proud of them both. But I suppose I’m most proud of my two sons because they’re now amazing you men.

5) What’s the biggest regret of your life and why? Staying longer than I should have, in dreadful relationships. Seriously, why did I put up with three jealous, controlling, narcissistic and spiteful men?

6) If you ever win a lottery for 1 million dollars, what’s the first thing you’d do? I’d treat my parents to whatever they wanted or needed. They don’t want for a lot but they deserve so much more.

7) If you’d go for a world tour, which destination would you go first and why? I think I’d start in all the cold countries like Iceland (I’d love to camp in an igloo) Sweden and Norway. Then I’d work my way round to hotter climates, say Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

8) What is the foremost thing you’d teach your child as a life lesson and why? Don’t lie to mama, don’t steal and never cheat. They knew that if they told me the truth, no matter what, I’d be able to help them.

My questions to anyone who would like to participate

Use the questions set by Antonia, above.

My nominees

Not only are we all experiencing difficulties during these strange times, I’ve had some physical and mental health setbacks of my own lately. And just as I thought I was on the mend, I’ve now got flu, which has just about knocked me out.

So, this time, rather than looking out for some of my favourite new bloggers, I’m inviting everyone who wants to, to participate. If you want to get found and also to find some new bloggers, this is an ideal opportunity to tell us all a little bit more about you.

Over to you

Any questions?

What do you all think about the Blogger Awards? Love ’em or hate ’em, and why? As always, I look forward to any comments or questions, and constructive criticism is welcome.

How breathing exercises improve your mood

Simple breathing exercises to help improve your mood

Benefits of deep breathing
Simple breathing exercises improve your mood — Image by Pexels

Does your body automatically clench when you’re under stress or angry, and you just want to be able to relax? Have you thought about using simple breathing exercises to help improve your mood? Yes, just breathing. As simple as that. No need for any specialised equipment or even a yoga mat.

In my previous article Want to address and reduce your stress I wrote about how breathing can reduce your stress. In fact, because I believe in it so passionately, I’ve mentioned breathing exercises in many posts. Not only is it free and also comparably easy to practice, it’s readily available to us all.

Of course, I’ve had people frown or tut when I mention that simple breathing exercises help improve your mood. I’ve heard it said “It doesn’t work for me,” or “Nope, I’ve tried that and didn’t get any benefit from it.” And, “If I hear about breathing exercises one more time, I’m going to punch the hell out of someone.” And that’s okay.

Because I already know the evidence-based exercises and the benefits, and I’ve used various breathing techniques successfully for years. These have helped me to relax when my shoulders are up round my neck. They’ve calmed me down before I’ve swung for the fourth idiot who’s bashed my ankle bone with their bloody shopping trolley. But I suppose the best thing is that breathing exercises have stopped me going into full panic mode, many times over.

Breathing in the news

James Nestor's Breath; The new science of a lost art
James Nestor’s Breath. NB: I have no affiliate with James or his book-sellers

There were Facebook invites to a free 30 breathing session to help people breathe through Covid. I read that Wellness guru, ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof’s app encourages quick, deep breathing followed by long periods of holding your breath. I saw James Nestor’s book Breathe: The new science of a lost art, being discussed on morning t.v. earlier this week.

Now breathing isn’t exactly new, I know. Buddhists, native Americans and Hindus, together with ancient Chinese scholars believed that proper breathing was essential to good health. However, what’s new is that Western science is now proving that almost everything can be improved by correct breathing techniques. Stress reduction, emotion control, better moods, insomnia, and improved attention—can all be gained by certain breathing techniques.

Breathing techniques influence both physiological factors (by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system) and psychological factors (by diverting attention from thoughts).

How do breathing techniques work

Simple breathing exercises to improve your mood.
Simple breathing exercises improve your mood Photo by Pexels

Before understanding physiological benefits of deep breathing, we have to understand how our bodies responds to stress. Like many of us have experienced, when we’re angry, upset, worried, or anxious, we can feel it. Our heart starts to beat faster, we might feel dizzy, and blood rushes toward our heart and your brain.

According to Dr. Tania Elliott, the system responsible for this is your sympathetic nervous system, better known as your “fight or flight response.” She goes on to say, “Evolutionarily, we’d only develop this stress response if we were being attacked. But what’s happened over time is that we’re experiencing so much chronic, low-level stress each day. Because of that, we now have this low-level activation of the stress response all the time.”

There are certain stressors that might not seem hugely overwhelming on their own; i.e. long hours or whining colleagues. There are also those major sources of stress, like separation, divorce, or job loss. So, when our sympathetic nervous system fills up with all that cortisol and adrenaline, we don’t feel so great.

And this is where the deep breathing comes in

Deep breathing leaves you feeling relaxed
Deep breathing leaves you feeling relaxed — Photo by Pexels.com

To help explain how your body’s relaxation response can oppose its stress response, Esther Sternberg, uses a car metaphor. “If you want to “reduce” your stress response, in which you directly combat the stressor, that’s like “taking your foot off the gas.” Instead, Sternberg recommends stopping this response — i.e., putting your foot on the brakes — as it’s much more efficient.

“A much more effective and quicker way of interrupting that stress response is to turn on the vagus nerve, which in turn powers up the parasympathetic nervous system. Deep-breathing turns on the vagus nerve enough that it acts as a brake on the stress response.”

The vagus nerve, along with stimulating your body’s relaxation response, can inhibit inflammation, slow down your heart, and even help you make memories.

Elliott writes, “Some EEGs have actually shown that deep breathing can lead to an increase in alpha brain-waves. These are typically present when you’re feeling relaxed, like when you’re meditating or even daydreaming.

Breathing exercises

Deep breathing can do a lot — Image by vipassana @ Pixabay

But deep breathing can do more than just stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system in the midst of a stressful moment. It can prevent your stress response from overacting in the first place.

When starting out, put aside two minutes, once or twice a day, to slow down your breath. In for four counts, out for eight counts.

Also, be aware that there are different exercises for different purposes. Wim Hof suggests, breathing more quickly to stimulate your nervous system. However, others believe that breathing more slowly helps to calm us down. This is why slow, deep nose breathing is good for anxiety.

Dr. Andrew Weil teaches the popular 4-7-8 breathing technique, which he believes can help with the following:

  • reducing anxiety
  • helping a person get to sleep
  • managing cravings
  • controlling or reducing anger responses

Weil says “Before starting the breathing pattern, adopt a comfortable sitting position. (For me this is sitting upright, palms on your lap, and legs uncrossed.) Place the tip of the tongue on the tissue right behind the top front teeth.

To use the 4-7-8 technique, focus on the following breathing pattern:

  • empty the lungs of air – by exhaling through your mouth, as far as you can
  • breathe in quietly through the nose for 4 seconds
  • hold the breath for a count of 7 seconds
  • exhale forcefully through the mouth, pursing the lips and making a “whoosh” sound, for 8 seconds
  • repeat the cycle up to 4 times

My go-to breathing exercise

ready to teach evidence-based diaphragmatic exercises
Instructor ready to teach evidence-based diaphragmatic exercises

Evidence-based breathing technique like Slow Diaphragmatic Breathing:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor, legs uncrossed. You can lie down if you wish.
  2. Place your unclenched palms comfortably on your belly.
  3. Breathe in slowly and calmly. Fill up the belly with a normal breath. Try not to breathe in too heavily. Your hands should move up when you breathe in, as if you are filling up a balloon. Avoid lifting the shoulders as you inhale; rather, breathe into the stomach.
  4. Breathe out slowly to the count of “5”. Try to slow down the rate of the exhale. After the exhale, hold for 2-3 seconds before inhaling again.
  5. Work to continue to slow down the pace of the breath.
  6. Practice this for about 10 minutes.

This works best if you practice at least twice each day for 10 minutes each time. Try to find a regular time to practice this every day. The more you practice, the easier you’ll find it to use when you most need it.

Because all these breathing techniques are evidence-based, and safe and easy to use, scientific validation might result in their being more frequently recommended and practiced. Of course, they’re not an “all singing, all dancing” cure for everything, but don’t be surprised if your GP starts offering you breathing therapy any times soon.

I’m currently laid up on my sofa with flu, but I still practice my breathing exercises, and they’ve certainly helped me breathe easier today.

Over to you

Any questions

I’m an advocate for anything that helps reduce some of my pains, relieves my anxiety, de-stresses me, and improves my mood. Breathing exercises are my first go-to treatment in my mental health toolbox. What’s your experience? Did breathing exercises help you in any way? Have you practiced a breathing technique 2-3 times a day for up to six months? I’m looking forward to any comments, your questions and any constructive criticism.

Caz

Want to address and reduce your stress

Easy ways to address and reduce your stress

Easy ways to address and reduce your stress ___ Image by Pixabay

Are you prone to high levels of stress, and need simple strategies to help address and reduce it? I’m guessing that, like many of us, you get stressed to the max sometimes. Honestly,I know I get stressed out really quickly, so I feel for you if you do too.

Okay, let’s take a look at ‘what stress means’, what causes it, and the signs and symptoms. We’ll also explore tools that can help us understand how we experience stress and how to address our stress levels. Then we’ll delve into some simple evidence-based techniques to alleviate some of our stress.

What is stress?

Need ways to address and reduce your stress?
Need ways to address and reduce your stress? — Photo by Pexels.com

Stress is the degree to which you feel overwhelmed or unable to cope as a result of unmanageable pressures. Moreover, stress, at the most basic level, is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. What contributes to stress can vary hugely from person to person. It also differs according to our social and economic circumstances, the environment we live in and our genetic makeup (Mentalhealth.org).

Stress isn’t always bad, and in small doses, it can help you perform under pressure and motivate you to do your best. But when you’re constantly running in emergency mode, your mind and body pay the price.

If you find yourself feeling frazzled and overwhelmed by stress, it’s time to take action to bring your nervous system back into balance. You can protect yourself—and improve how you think and feel—by learning how to recognize the signs and symptoms of chronic stress and taking steps to reduce its harmful effects.

What causes stress?

Understanding what causes of stress
Understanding what causes of stress -Photo by Gustavo Fring on Pexels.com

Understanding what causes us stress and taking action to manage our stress levels is a key part of looking after our wellbeing. Take a look at MHFA’s Stress Container, an interactive tool that can help us understand how we experience stress and how to address our stress levels.

Some people (me included) are unlucky and have a high vulnerability to stress. Is it ‘nature’ (genetic) or ‘nurture’ (learnt behaviours) that causes stress? To be honest, it doesn’t really matter where it came from, it’s knowing what to do about it that’s important.

Different types of stressors

Moving house can be a huge stressor
Moving house can be a huge stressor –
Image by Bigstock

We all experience many and varied stressors at certain times in our lives and some stressors might include:

  1. The ones that we choose, like moving house, getting married or organising a family holiday.
  2. Although we love our family and friends, these relationships can also place us under a great deal of stress at times.
  3. Work stress is a common problem and can include things like workload, flexibility and relationships within the workplace.
  4. Financial stress including mortgage, bills and supporting our families, or even unemployment, job loss and redundancy.
  5. Environmental stress; including what we see in the news, our neighbours, or even the weather.
  6. Self-imposed stress such as negative attitudes and lifestyle choices like gambling, drugs or alcohol, alcohol that add to our stress

Stress bucket

If our stress bucket gets too full we can suffer from mental ill health. Certain life events such as unemployment, divorce, bereavement, or chronic illness can cause our buckets to overflow quite quickly. But sometimes, even small life stressors can build and accumulate also causing our buckets to fill.

When we have stressors we perceive we can’t cope with, our bucket becomes full and it starts to overflow. The Stress bucket reflects our capacity to cope with stress, and the water level is the stress load. The more demands or stressors in our life, the higher the water level and we start to feel stressed.

There are ways however, to reduce our stress and let the water flow out of our buckets. We can make better choices, problem solve, or ask for support. And you can grow the size of your bucket by developing resilience, and skills levels in coping with stress, to stop it overflowing.

For someone like me, with high vulnerability to stress, my bucket will fill up and overflow quite quickly. However, I can use my coping and problem-solving skills to reduce the amount of water (stress) in my bucket, stopping it for overflowing.

For someone who has low vulnerability to stress, their bucket never seems to overflow. You know — that person who never flaps, always remains calm and tells you to “chill out” or “relax”.

Signs and symptoms of stress overload

The most dangerous thing about stress is how easily it can creep up on you. You get used to it. It starts to feel familiar, even normal. You don’t notice how much it’s affecting you, even as it takes a heavy toll.

That’s why it’s really important to be aware of the common warning signs and symptoms of stress overload. Do you know anything about cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural symptoms of stress can can warn us that we’re becoming or are already stressed out? Let’s take a look:

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Poor judgment
  • Seeing only the negative
  • Anxious or racing thoughts
  • Constant worrying

Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Loneliness and isolation

Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Nausea, dizziness
  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate
  • Loss of sex drive

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities
  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax

Coping strategies

Kick back an relax
Kick back and relax – Image by Pixabay

I often have to remind myself to use some of the evidence-based coping strategies I used to teach patients. Like this one:

  • let the shoulders drop (I’ve just realised right now, they’re up around my ears and they ache like hell)
  • unclench my teeth and relax my jaw
  • stop frowning (I do that when I’m concentrating)
  • unclench my hands (my balled fists look ready to punch someone)
  • get up, away from my laptop, stretch and pace the floor for a bit to loosen my limbs and knotted muscles
  • breathe (I tend to hold my breath when I concentrating too) slowly – out for the count of 6, then in for 6, for about 30 seconds
  • do some mindfulness for anything between 3 minutes (for a quick de-stressor) and 15 minutes (totally de-stressed). I get it; some people just aren’t into mindfulness, and that’s okay. Perhaps you can simply ‘be’.

I’ve just done all the above, and feel a bit better, despite having ‘flu’. If you’re prone to stress, you could try this coping strategy. The body can’t possibly be tense and relaxed at the same time so, it makes sense that if you’re relaxed – your stress levels will lessen.

You can use this strategy anytime, anywhere; say in your GP surgery, the dentist or on public transport etc. Sit (if possible) on a chair with a back on it, place your feet flat on the floor (no crossed legs – this creates tension in your muscles), rest your palms on your thighs, let your shoulders drop and ……………. de-stress.

I can’t say it enough, when learning any new skills/coping techniques, it takes practice. Practice the above technique over and over, and you’ll be able to summon it quickly when you actually need it.

More stress reducing activities

I loved having fun with family and 
friends - a great stress reliever
I loved having fun with family and
friends – a great stress reliever

There are many ways of reducing your stress levels, quickly and easily, some of which might be:

  1. Staying in contact with family and friends, even when you don’t feel like it. Whether you want to offload or listen to someone else offload, just hearing another voice or seeing someone smile, can help.
  2. Exercise is known to relieve stress and to help your mood/mental state. A light jog, or even a casual stroll in your local park will still help. Remember how action comes and motivation follows.
  3. Visit free places like museums, galleries, forests and lakes. These can offer a safe haven and positive distraction, while inspiring your creativity and reducing tension.
  4. Stop multitasking. No wonder we’re all super-stressed. I see family or friends replying to text messages, watching TV and simultaneously talking on the phone! Furthermore, multitasking isn’t only totally inefficient, it’s also linked to the increased production of stress hormones that can send your body into panic mode!
  5. Invite your girlfriends round, put facemasks on, sit back and relax for 10-15 minutes to look and feel rejuvenated. You might end up laughing hysterically at each other and that, together with the social connection, is always good for stress reduction.
  6. Organize ‘time to worry. Worry can occur at any point in the day and release stress hormones that can cause anxiety and lower our immune systems. So schedule a 10-15 minute worry window in your day, where you can write down your worries, work through them and problem-solve.
  7. Turn up the music and dance! This can help forget your worries for a while, build self-esteem, lift your mood and reduce anxiety.
  8. Smell flowers or lemons — yes, they’re also known for their mood enhancing properties.
  9. Cuddling up and stroking a pet also has anxiety reducing benefits, through the release of oxytocin in your brain, and make you feel cared for, helping to boost your self esteem.
  10. Having a hot shower or bath relaxes your muscles, enabling you to unwind and help prepare you for a good night sleep too.

Last thoughts

Of course, there any many other ways to address and reduce your stress, and perhaps you have your favourites, which is great. However, if you’ve tried and found that something doesn’t work, yet work for you, don’t give up — keep trying to find something, and you will start to feel better.

Just remember, thoughts, feelings and your body, you might remember from previous posts, are all interconnected. So, if you feel better in one of these areas, you’ll feel better in the others too.

Like I mentioned in one of my recent posts, I’ve had both physical and mental setbacks, and I really thought I was on the mend. However, only this morning I’ve woken to a terribly high temperature, sore throat, aches and pains and headaches. I think it’s maybe a flu bug but I will have it checked out online or by phone to my GP.

AArrrrgghhh! I hate feeling so unwell and not being able to do basic things like walk from the sofa to the kitchen without feeling faint. Moreover, it’s taken me all day (lol) to write this post but I was determined to get it out today. Now I’m stressed out!

Over to you

Any questions

Are you feeling stressed to the max? I’d love to know what’s in your Stress Bucket right now? I’d love to know how you de-stress too. Any hints or tips for our blogging pals? I look forward to any comments and question, and please feel free to constructively criticise other aspect of my blog.

Caz 🙂