Find calm and focus – 4 steps to overcome stress

Find calm and focus – 4 steps to overcome stress

Walking towards the edge of the Avon viaduct, my easy stroll along the canal has just changed its tune into gripping fear. The calm and focus I had as I walked among the trees, and admired the reflections on the water, has disappeared.

The last time I walked over here, my fear of heights hit me like a sledgehammer and my sister had to take my arm to walk to the other side. I made the mistake of looking down the 100-feet drop. My head swam at the vast gap between me and the ground.

This time I have a bouncy labradoodle, and I know from experience she’ll sense if I become anxious.

Do I turn back?

No. I can do this.

What’s next

Taking a deep breath, I focus on the path ahead and notice how solid the stone feels below my feet. I think about the techniques I’ve learned to help me connect with a resourceful state. I focus on the outcome of reaching the other side smoothly and calmly.

Continuing with the deep breaths… I place one foot in front of the other. Strong, solid, and calm. I repeat these words with each out-breath: strong, solid, and calm. And it has a transformative effect to the extent that I feel meditative and uplifted by cool clear breaths. I notice a slow, steady rhythm to my movement. I even cheerfully say ‘hello’ to a man walking a sheepdog coming the other way.

As I reach the other side and step off the viaduct, I experience a feeling of celebration and courage, as if on a voyage of discovery, and I’m overflowing with positivity. I’m excited by what I’ve discovered on the other side of my fear. No big deal in the whole scheme of things, but I feel like I’ve proved something to myself.

Lessons learned

I find life is like that, too, and I feel enriched through personal growth each time I step out of the other side of challenges which may initially have brought fear. I often take time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and in this case I have the ideal opportunity to test and integrate the learning as I have to make it back the other way across the viaduct again!

Same as before, I bring myself into a resourceful state by focusing on the outcome (not the problem!) and saying the positive mantra in my head. I glide across with ease and grace. What could have been a fight-or-flight adrenaline rush has instead become a confidence boost.

And I’m reminded how much our thoughts and beliefs shape our experiences, something I’ve learned through NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and which has opened up my world to infinite possibilities. My connection to real-life experiences of building resilience, mindful living, connecting with creativity, and living with purpose, have helped to deepen my experiences and my relationships.

4 steps you can follow

If you want to feel more calm, confident, and focused when you’re experiencing fear, here are four simple steps for you to try:

Pause

Slow down your thoughts and body movements and pause in-the-moment so you can take a step back. If your mind is still busy, picture a giant ‘pause’ button in front of you, and imagine clicking on it to completely pause your thoughts and emotions.

Notice

Where is your attention right now? Are you focusing on the fear and what could go wrong? Observe with curiosity; with a ‘beginner’s mind’.  Simply acknowledge what comes up and how you’re experiencing it just now, without judgement or telling yourself off. You might have a mental image, or sounds, or physical feelings and emotions. This is natural, and we’re wired to respond to what our subconscious perceives as a threat. When we understand this, and acknowledge it, we then have a choice as to how we respond. We don’t have to engage with it.

Breathe

When we are having these natural, unconscious reactions to fear, all sorts of things can happen which are not helpful to how we would consciously choose to be. We might notice an increased heart rate, breathing is shallow and faster, we may start to sweat or have cold hands.

The first thing to do to ease this is to take a deep breath. Notice how the cool, clean air feels as you breathe all the way in through your nostrils… and the warm air as you release a relaxing breath all the way out. As you focus on your breathing, notice how your body softens, allow yourself to let go, and the tension starts to drift away. Ideally, do this for at least 2-3 minutes, regularly, for lasting results. 

And if you find it a challenge to be still, moving around can help. Go for a walk, run, dance, do exercise of any kind that suits your fitness level. Or do something creative. The main thing is to change state to a more resourceful and connected way of being.

Focus

Now you’ve cleared some headspace and calmed the fight-or-flight reactions, you can choose what you want to focus on, in line with the outcome you want. And your brain has more capacity for thinking, now that you have more oxygen and fewer stress hormones running around!

You could bring a specific goal to mind, or simply imagine being peaceful and positive, or calm and focused. Notice what words come to mind for you.

Tune in to your senses

And now vividly imagine that as if it’s already happening, for example:

  • See an image in your mind’s eye; the colours, shapes, light, and shade. What can you see happening around you, and in the distance?
  • Hear any sounds, and their tone, pitch, rhythm.
  • And what are you saying to yourself?
  • Notice sensations in your body, what success feels like, any emotions that you’re experiencing now you’ve achieved your outcome.

What you focus on you get more of. What do you want to create more of in your work and home life?

Keep practising and, over time, you will form new habits and patterns of thinking to bring about more of the results you want.

Reflections

Bring to mind something you are holding some fear about at the moment, or where you find your mind is busy when you think about it. Go through the four steps above and notice the impact of taking a few minutes to reset.

If you like, you can go through this by listening to a guided meditation with me.

This blog was originally published in September 2019, and features in my book ‘Roots for Growth’ with the title ‘The other side of fear’.

Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

Phenomenal Woman – speaking up and standing out

A few days ago I embarked on an adventure in a lovely little place in the heart of Cheshire, on a course called ‘Phenomenal Woman’. This was ‘take two’ as I had been too unwell to go in March, when I had originally booked. I wasn’t even sure until a couple of days before if I’d be able to make it this time. However, I was determined, and I’m so glad I did!

In this blog I will share the magic of what happened when this unique group of women came together with Catherine Sandland from White Hart Training. It was a course in public speaking and the stories of resilience I heard will stay with me for a long time.

The start of the story

I have a variety of experience in public speaking and it’s something I enjoy very much, especially since I found that when I share my story it encourages other people to do the same. And storytelling is so natural to humans, it has connected us through the ages.

My main reason for going was to gain expertise in crafting a talk that would have even more impact, and also to deal with the emotions that I see in the audience in-the-moment, which happens every time when I tell the full story of my life.

We gathered in a bright, welcoming, and stylish venue called the Joshua Tree. It’s a centre built and run by an amazing charity who support families affected by children’s cancers. Talk about a sense of perspective – and what a friendly and supportive team.

We each took our seats to get started, and Catherine started to tell us stories to give context for what we were about to experience. Suddenly I had one of those moments when I just knew I was in exactly the right place at the right time, as if it was already laid out on a path for me.

What I learned

I could write a whole blog about the valuable things I learned and experienced. For now, I want to focus on a couple of things which were significant for me.

1. Structure

I’m fairly experienced and confident speaking to groups. But I realised that I have mostly developed what I do and how I do it by trial and error. I have also watched and listened to people who are great at public speaking. However, there’s nothing like immersing yourself with an expert. I gained huge insights from the guidance on structuring a talk. The icing on the cake was the specific feedback from the trainers and from each other.

It was helpful to learn engaging ways of hooking the audience into the story. Then structuring what follows helps to focus on valuable messages and flow. Most importantly, these techniques are tried-and-tested, and are based on the quality of talks like you see in TEDx events. I now feel I can stand up alongside accomplished speakers, as well as continuing to develop and polish my skills.

2. Settling the audience and bringing them with you

I mentioned that I have found it a challenge (until now) noticing people’s emotions when I talk about a devastating moment in my life. My husband Alan was diagnosed with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) just 3 days before we got married. I’m sure you can imagine that an audience will have a range of reactions. Some of them are pretty emotional.

I learned that I had been dropping that bombshell (my words for it!) too early in the talk. People had barely settled in and then I gave them something significant to process! Instead, I enjoyed telling a sensory-rich story about when I arrived at Linlithgow Palace. I spoke about my long bridal gown with the velvet bodice. I felt like Mary Queen of Scots as she swished along the ancient flagstones hundreds of years before. Then I spoke about the two nights of celebrations we had planned – and boy did we celebrate!

And when it got to the moment of explaining the diagnosis and the effect it had, I was ready.

I took my time.

I paused and breathed to give the audience time to process what I had said.

What difference did it make?

The difference was remarkable. I really got into my stride, and enjoyed delivering the talk even more than usual. And the applause, tears, and hugs afterwards helped me to confidently integrate my new skills and experiences. It meant a lot that a few of the women in the group told me what had been going on for them at the point that they were emotional, which was a deeply moving combination of their experiences and them relating to mine. This sharing was a precious gift.

I’m now excited about developing more opportunities to speak at events, conferences, and webinars. I have a transferable way of crafting and delivering a variety of talks. It’s a great platform for sharing my messages around resilience, mindfulness, and NLP. It will be useful in my role as an ambassador for Women’s Enterprise Scotland, as well as being a great complement to being an author.

I learned loads from listening to each phenomenal woman telling their stories of resilience, wisdom, passion, and purpose. We are all connected in our willingness to stand up and speak out. And I feel there will be a lasting bond between us after what we have shared.

A phenomenal ending

Catherine closed the event with a beautiful reading of the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou. I thought it was a perfect choice as we each prepared to embark on the new beginnings this will bring. The emotion in the room was palpable and we agreed to stay in touch.

Thank you to Catherine Sandland, Ashley Costello, and Sue France for this incredible experience and the feedback, support, and encouragement. You were all phenomenal too!

PS – the next course is in March if you are interested to find out more!

What happened in the silence in between

What happened in the silence in between

I began this year with great gusto, buzzing with a sense of adventure and with all sorts of things planned. The kind of self development I found was quite different from what I’d been seeking, but probably even more valuable.

Planting Seeds in the New Year

January lived up to all my expectations with an uplifting workshop on ‘Planting Seeds’ with a group of wonderful women who I’m also fortunate to call friends. We talked about setting intentions, set them down on paper in a variety of creative ways, and coached and encouraged each other to bring it to life.

I like to join in with these things too, when we are working in a small group, so I drew a big globe and plotted on the map where I was planning to go this year, with playful illustrations of what I would do when I got there. First up was India at the end of January, which was a fantastic experience once again and I wrote about it in my blog about Feeling at home wherever you are.

Things changed

And then I caught another virus straight after I got home and was stopped in my tracks again. Little did I know that I would still have chronic fatigue months later. I haven’t even been able to write, as I can’t seem to find the words.

It can be hard to stay connected and motivated when my mind and body is running on empty, and I have often felt frustrated at ‘sitting around doing nothing’.

And yet, that’s not really true. It’s a story I’ve been telling myself at times, being naturally fed up as it’s been 3 years now, on and off, since I first became ill. When I read this quote from Mozart recently, I felt a warmth spreading from my core…

“The music is not in the notes, but the silence in between.” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Inwardly I said a big “YES” and breathed a sigh of relief.

In the time that it has been necessary to rest and apparently ‘do very little’ I have also been doing profound inner work, as I feel a deeper layer of myself has begun to emerge. Despite not being at my best at times (nowhere near it!), I hold a solid belief that this is part of my path which will fundamentally influence the way I live and the type of work I do in future. And that is important to take my time over.

Here are some examples of what’s been happening in the ‘silence in between’…

Personal Reflection

I have taken time to notice how I think, and what patterns and words I use relating to my health, becoming aware of what helps and what holds me back, consciously accepting and letting go of how I wish things were. For example I have been very aware of my tendency to focus on others over my self, and my habit of finding a silver lining in everything, which I now understand can be detrimental over the long term. I have invested in coaching and holistic therapies which have been a lifeline when I have felt adrift at times. I have had lots of lovely messages and offers of support from friends too, but I have just not been well enough to make plans, far less meeting up.

Self Development: Learning how the mind, body, and nervous system works

Studying the science has greatly helped me to understand why I have been so unwell and not hold blame or shame, or feeling I ‘should’ be better by now. I have also read incredibly insightful books including ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk and ‘No Bad Parts’ by Richard Schwartz on the fascinating topic of Internal Family Systems (IFS). I have done some deep work to embrace difficult emotions and welcomed aspects of myself which have long been buried or ‘exiled’ as Schwartz calls it.

Reading about nature, flowing with the seasons, ancient traditions, and modern philosophy has been a mind-opening adventure. And I’m certainly not done yet.

Modelling how other people have recovered

Online and in a variety of books, there are accounts of people who have recovered fully from chronic fatigue and post-viral symptoms. These publications highlight how they think, what they believe, and what they do to make progress. I am taking small steps forward from what I have learned, and although it will take time, I am feeling a renewed sense of hope.

Seeing clients again

I have loved opening up my diary to see clients, just a few at a time and I am very careful about giving the experience and quality of attention they have come to expect, as well as managing my health and energy levels.

Other opportunities for learning and self development

As well as being one of the most challenging periods in my life, this has been (and still is) an opportunity to re-evaluate and open up to a new level of awareness. I have invested in self development. I have enjoyed getting to know myself in my 50th year, and although it has not been at all what I expected it has been so enriching and enlightening.

So, there you go… I seem to have gone from being stuck for words to pouring out several hundred of them in one go! It feels good to connect in this way again, although now I am ready for a long rest!

I will be opening up for another couple of one-to-one clients in August, either for Executive Coaching or Personal Development coaching, so please feel free to book a discovery call if you think you’d like to snap up one of the slots.

In the meantime, I am wondering what this blog has opened up for you? Are you curious about your own development and the ‘silence in between’?

Au revoir for now, and I hope it won’t be too long til I am back posting again!

How to feel at home wherever you are

How to feel at home wherever you are

Adventures in India

I stopped in my tracks as I reached the top step of the open-air restaurant.

I was captivated by the view of the warm terracotta roof tiles and palm trees framing the pale blue sky and the vast Arabian Sea, where fishermen worked for hours every day to bring in their catch.

We had just finished yoga on the beach at sunrise (Cherai Beach in Kerala, India), and I was feeling invigorated by the grace and flow from moving my body , the sounds within and around me as we chanted, and how present I felt in my body and mind. My heart was also pumping from the ride home on the bikes which Carolyn and I hired to get us back and forth from yoga.

A-ha moments

This was how we started each day on the 8-day NLP Intensive run by Sue Knight and Ramesh Prasad, and I found that I had many a-ha moments outside the training room as well as within it.

I’ve found it fascinating how moving, stretching, and focusing on my body in this way reinforced and enhanced the changes in my mind, and how at home I felt from the moment I arrived.

Some of this was because I have been there before, but it’s more than that…

There was a moment last time when I squeezed a juicy piece of lemon into my tea, and I later anchored* that moment. Right then, I realised that I can feel at home wherever I am. And I smiled and re-connected with that when I had my first cup of tea this time in the garden at Blue Waters hotel, where we had the course.

If you’ve ever read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, you’ll be familiar with the concept of seeking and travelling a long way to then discover that what you were looking for was right under your nose! It was a bit like that, AND I was glad I had such an adventure far away from home to discover it (and re-discover it this time).

Stretching my comfort zone

‘Comfort’ was a theme that came up quite a bit before and during this programme, in how I acted and how I spoke about my learning outcomes. Sue challenged me on it – and I’m glad she did – because it had become a blind spot for me in various aspects of life. Perhaps (at least partly) because of living in limbo with the pandemic, and especially having long-covid on-and-off for over two years, I found ways to just accept things as they were at the time (settle, maybe?).

It feels important to challenge and update my beliefs around my health, as well as what I’m capable of as a professional. I have become a little too comfortable with my natural style which is soft and gentle. It does work well and my clients find they can go deep with exploring and understanding themselves… However, I can flex my coaching muscles and benefit clients by being more provocative and challenging, at times!

I believe that where there is discomfort, there is learning, and I have felt the benefit through this training programme, once again.

“I am STRONG”

One of the a-ha moments was when I noticed a tangible, visceral shift from believing “I am resilient” to “I am STRONG”. This feels so different for me, because resilience implies that there are things to be resilient against. Being strong is about a way of being in the world, from the inside-out, and is not dependent on a set of external conditions. It’s about getting myself – and any stories I might be telling myself – out of the way.

This has been a revelation for me, and I am now exploring what that means in my life as it is now. And the more I pay attention to it and say it to myself, the stronger I feel.

That’s the beauty of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): it’s about studying subjective experience, learning and doing ‘what works’… and sustaining it, too. Through almost 100 days of training (so far!) I have gained a treasure trove of skills and techniques.

And, most of all, I have found a way home to myself.

“Wherever you go, there you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn

How to feel at home wherever you are

I couldn’t possibly do justice to this in a short paragraph, however here are the key components I have discovered which help me to feel at home, wherever I am in the world…

Be curious about people you meet, customs, food, and culture. Ask questions – most people love talking about themselves and where they come from, and enjoy welcoming people from other places, especially when they can learn from each other and form a bond in the process.

Notice what you have in common. The first time I was in India I noticed very quickly that the people I was with had all travelled a distance to be there too. So we were all fellow travellers! I find that a useful metaphor for life in general.

Tune in to your senses. You are probably starting to notice that I say this a lot. And it works! Right now I’m imagining the sand under my feet, the rustling of the palms above my head, and the vibrant flowers which seem to inspire a colourful palette for everything from clothes to buses to road signs! It can be very grounding and calming, and brings you to the present moment when you go through the senses one by one. When you are connecting with people, notice their expressions, what makes them laugh, and tune in to that (in a very genuine way).

Talking about humour, it’s a wonderful way to break the ice and get rid of any tension or formality. I can think of many examples of potentially daunting experiences which ended up being highlights because of the laughter and banter in the room!

Most of all, trust your instincts and remember the people who are great at this. If I ever feel like a fish out of water, for example in a state of confusion when travelling, I think about intrepid explorers who have far less information and resources than I do. And I also think “What would they do?” and “How would they be?”

*Anchoring is a technique where we can bring about a desired state – or way of being – by choice. For example you might want to bring about calmness, playfulness, or confidence, by choosing and activating a signal to ‘switch it on’. It really works!

Our regular driver Baiju who patiently drove us all over the place
Metaphors can change your life

Metaphors can change your life

​Working with metaphors has been life-changing for me, and for many people I have worked with.

A metaphor is a way of expressing something that conveys a variety of meaningful attributes, in the form of something else.

You might hear people say things like…

“It’s as if I’m on a treadmill and I can’t keep up”

“I went for a walk to blow away the cobwebs”

“You’re a star”

None of these are literal statements – not usually anyway! – but they mean something beyond the surface structure of the words to the person who’s saying them. In other words, what we mean goes deeper than what we say, and a metaphor is a sign that there is more to discover in the unconscious aspects of our experience.

Where it gets really interesting, I find, is when the person is having some kind of embodied experience in the form of a metaphor, for example…

“I can see red mist, I’m so angry”

“There’s a tightness in my throat when I talk about it”

“I just know. I can feel it in my gut… heavy like a stone”

“I can feel a buzz of positive energy”

Or it could be pointing emphatically to a particular point in the space around them, a or sound (like ‘whoosh’ or ‘bang’).

Again, none of these are literal but there is clearly some deeper meaning, and other insights to be found if we have a chance to explore.

Understanding your metaphors can create profound shifts, often bringing about new metaphors which change the whole outlook.

In the photo on this post, I show an example of a metaphor I held at the start of my transformational journey with #NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) – a scraggy old onion with lots of layers to peel back and discover. Through NLP tools and techniques, this then transformed into a beautiful lotus flower, with the petals gracefully unfolding with ease, representing the thinking and beliefs I now hold about how I learn and develop at my best.

And once you begin to understand metaphors you begin to develop a landscape of understanding, how things connect and relate to each other, and find solutions and choices you never even knew existed!

You can probably tell I’m passionate about this… I could go on for hours, but I won’t!

If you are interested to explore your personal metaphors, and the resources and insights they hold for you, then please get in touch for a chat! I offer Personal Coaching, Executive Coaching and development programmes, and various events throughout the year.

#metaphors #cleanlanguage #linguistics #NLP #coaching