Anxiety, Depression and Me

This #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, I wanted to reflect on how anxiety and depression have affected me, in the hope of raising awareness and also standing in solidarity with others.

I have always been a ‘worrier’. Either I worried about homework, exams, what people thought of me, or what I’d said, how someone had taken it, and consequences of everything I did.

As I entered the workplace, it seemed normal. We’re so often under pressure and perhaps we’re working with demanding people who we feel we must please at all costs.

I still have flashbacks to being a press officer at the Department of Health and lying in bed at night worrying about a quote I’d given a journalist, or being on duty overnight or at a weekend, frozen in terror about the next call I’d receive and whether I’d say the right thing. It was not normal or healthy. I realise that now.

It wasn’t until 2013 that I sensed that I needed help – so I’d got through 26 years of adult life managing my strange knife-edge approach to life. And let’s be in no doubt, everyone who suffers from mental ill-health ‘manages’ it – some better than others. I was diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and was referred for CBT.

I know from others who experience anxiety and depression that CBT isn’t for everyone, but no coping mechanism is for everyone. We all have to find our own combination. It’s a bit like the EatWell plate of balanced nutrition. The big takeaways from CBT were that I’m ‘always on duty’ and I catastrophise. I found it really valuable to identify these and learn coping mechanisms. I’ve now got activities that give me ‘flow’ and help me calm the noise in my mind and step back.

Through training as a coach, I’m also able to ask myself what’s real and what I’m creating in my own mind! That doesn’t stop flashbacks to things I said and did over 20 years ago, and how I felt, but I’m better able to ask myself whether it matters and move on.

Last year was difficult in so many ways for so many people. I learned new techniques by doing a Positive Psychology course, helpful to clients as well as myself. I already knew that nature plays a big part in calming my mind and became a lot more appreciative of the small things and found meditation was hugely beneficial.

Towards the end of the Summer, visiting a friend in Somerset, I suddenly noticed that our country walks felt dull – as if they were through an opaque lens. I took little joy in the sights and sounds that would have normally lifted me. I didn’t go for early morning walks, where I normally would have jumped at the chance. I realised that I had no motivation, and felt guilty that I wasn’t more grateful for my life when so many others had struggled so much more.

I made an appointment with the GP. Around the same time, I took a Mental Health First Aid course. I think, looking back, that the stigma around medication for depression might have prevented me from seeking help if I hadn’t done that course.

I had the conversation with the GP about feeling bad about feeling bad. He set me straight and made me realise that if we’re feeling bad/low/stressed/irritable, we’re feeling that – don’t compare it against other people.

I’ve been dithering about writing this, because the last thing I want to do is say ‘what works for me, will work for you’. And I hope that’s not what’s coming across. The point is, that if you feel any of these signals I’ve mentioned here, please talk to someone who will listen and point you in the right direction. I spent too many years denying myself the support I needed, and it’s such a relief to want to get up every day, not worrying about everything I do or say (mostly), and setting myself goals and achieving them. And taking pleasure in the natural world again.

Photo credit: Headgirl Photography

Find meaning after redundancy

It’s hard to take positives from redundancy and I’m as guilty as anyone of throwing around the advice to ‘stay positive’.

Of course you’ll feel wounded, uncertain and afraid. That’s all natural and it’s important to reflect on all those feelings. But look for evidence that they’re grounded in fact. I bet they’re not!

When you look back at everything that’s gone before, you’ll remember times when your work was recognised – you’ll have e-mails thanking you for work, times when your efforts were appreciated and acknowledgments of your skills and talent. Don’t forget when you helped someone out, and showed kindness and generosity. Write them down, put them somewhere and get them out whenever you need a boost to disprove your doubts.

You’re telling yourself that this is a pandemic, a totally new situation, and nothing’s prepared you for this. So look at times when you overcame an unexpected challenge, found a way to deal with uncertainty, or used your resilience to get through a difficult time. Draw on all of that.

If you’re feeling that this is the moment to change direction and find a job or new career which gives you more fulfilment and plays to values of community and making a social impact, why not consider volunteering? It gives you a chance to put your toe in the water in an area you really care about, may lead to paid work, develops your skills and keeps you busy. Added to which, altruism is proven to benefit physical and mental well-being, so it’s really a win-win.

You can find volunteering opportunities at www.ncvo.org.uk

If you HAVE decided that your current career direction is no longer in line with your values or what gives you meaning in life, there’s a work sheet on my website to help you assess where you might want to make a change. www.cathybrowncoach.com

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Moving on up

It’s an uncomfortable feeling when you realise that what you’ve been doing for twenty to thirty years isn’t your passion.

It’s natural to feel guilt at having ‘wasted’ all that time, and fear of change. Doubt and lack of confidence in your ability creep in, despite the fact you’ve done well and have achieved many, many good things.

The sensation that where you are now doesn’t chime with who you are is incredibly disconcerting and it’s easy to feel that you made a terrible mistake all those years ago. But you’ve just changed, as we all do.

Awareness

The first signs of what I see as the ‘awareness’ stage are sluggishness, lack of motivation, being snippy with colleagues, the sense of ‘what is this all for?’ and looking at other jobs, other people’s jobs and wishing you were doing that – whatever it may be.

It’s likely that you try really hard to push all this away, and keep reminding yourself how hard you worked to get here, and press on. You’ll probably put it down to a blip. It may be, in which case, you’ll get back on track and return to feeling fulfilled by your work.

Shoehorning

If it’s not a blip, now you probably move on to the ‘shoehorning’ stage, looking for jobs that vaguely fit the bill as an escape route. You cast around, seeing roles which might give you that little bit extra that’s missing where you are now.

This turns into a treadmill of signing up on relevant websites for job alerts. You spend half your free time tailoring application forms for vastly different roles, because there’s something you like about that job. You probably get some interviews, and then feel very frustrated at not getting them.

This can (take my word for it) carry on for years. The next phase should really have come before the shoehorning – ‘self-exploration’. I did it the wrong way round, so I really do know that it makes a world of difference. So as soon as you become aware that where you are now feels wrong, take a step back.

Self-exploration

Before starting to look for other jobs, find out about yourself. I knew that my values had completely changed. I wanted to do work to support other people, and get out of an office environment and a leadership role, and no longer felt the drive for promotion. My top strengths align with helping others and being part of a community, so I researched courses and careers which were achievable within my resources.

And everything you’ve done before – every job, task, meeting – wasn’t wasted. All experience, even the negative (often particularly the negative), stands us in good stead and builds us for what comes next.  

We all need meaning, purpose, fulfilment, and it will be unique to each of us. For some it might be about making a lot of money and living a hedonistic lifestyle, while for others it’s more important to feel a sense of community and serving others. Until you really think about your perfect combination, it’s impossible to decide what to do with your life.

I was sceptical about coaching. I dismissed a suggestion that it might be something I could do six years before I actually had coaching sessions and then decided to train as a coach!

I would never have considered paying for it, thinking it was all a bit dubious. It was only through meeting a coach, realising that I needed support, and having sessions myself that I saw how it worked. It not only gave me an opportunity to identify everything that was blocking my progress, but also to see something I wanted to do. It showed me how important it is to reflect on who we are, and what we want to change in our lives. Once we know that, we can identify the best combination of elements for our own meaning and fulfilment. It can take years to work out how to find meaning in life, or months.

It really is the adage ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. Time spent on exploring what’s really important to you as soon as disenchantment sets in will save you pain in the long run. Then hopefully, you can move forward doing what you really love.

Step off the hamster wheel of home-working

Whether you’re working or studying from home, at the moment you’re living in your office, and this is causing productivity over-drive.

I’m hearing the same from parents, non-parents and students that their inner workaholic is emerging day in, day out. There’s a sense of guilt around any down-time.

I’ve heard this before from part-time home-workers too, though. If they do three days a week from home, it’s never really three days. They feel pulled into calls and meetings which happen to fall outside ‘their days’. They feel guilty about stepping out of the house for a walk, in case they get caught out.

Let’s flip this. When we’re in a workplace, or at college or university, do we spend our whole day glued to our desk? No. We go and make coffee, or stop and chat by colleagues’ desks. We often get out at lunchtime to grab food or have a walk. So what is it about being at home that makes us so guilty about taking breaks, and feel the need to be ‘doing’ relentlessly?

Firstly, we rarely recognise the importance of the ‘water-cooler’ moments. Those human interactions are like mini coaching sessions where we talk through challenges and obstacles, and find ways through them.

It’s far easier at home to not take breaks – unless you’re multi-tasking with home-schooling, which let’s face it, isn’t a break – you’re at your desk, focusing on work, and there’s an underlying sense of guilt that because you’re at home you need to just plough on….forever.

Without colleagues around, it can be easy to slip into an unstructured day, lacking efficiency and focus. This is bound to lead to a sense of panic that we’re going round in circles and not achieving goals.

Some tips

Don’t underestimate keeping in contact with the team. You may have a weekly Zoom meeting, but call people in between. Collaborate. Share successes and challenges like you would in the office or in a student environment.

Pomodoro technique – work on a task for 25 minutes. Take a five minute break. After four cycles of half an hour, take a longer break.

Schedule – stick to a daily schedule. You might set aside two hours first thing for a longer term project, and hour blocks for other tasks. However you plan it, stick to it.

To-do list – set weekly goals and daily goals as you go along.

Eliminate distractions – easier said than done for parents, but schedule more challenging tasks for times when someone else is keeping the children busy. As a general rule, give yourself a quiet environment to concentrate and focus.

Consider at the end of each day what needs to be done the next day. Make it achievable and realistic and write a list. Stick to it, and congratulate yourself when it’s done. Now go and do something that counts as down-time and leave the computer alone! This is your time, and if you wrote your list, achieved what was on it, that’s that work day over and you can focus on yourself. Savour things you enjoy, and really differentiate that time.

Plenty of research shows that homeworking is more productive than working in an office, but only you can make it work for you!

Get in touch if you’d like to talk about what strategies might work best for you. You can book a free, no obligation chat here

www.cathybrowncoach.com

5 tips for bouncing back from redundancy

  1. Know yourself

Understand who you are, and what you want next from life. Assess your strengths using https://www.viacharacter.org/survey/account/register or https://www.strengthsprofile.com/en-gb/products/profiles

What are your values? Have a look at this list, and pick the five that resonate most with you.

By understanding yourself, you can craft a CV in line with your strengths and values which will better communicate who you are.

2. Research

Use what you learn about yourself to identify organisations which will benefit from your strengths, and align with your values. Research by Investors in People this year found that one in four people were actively looking for a new job. Three out of four people felt stressed about work, with 64 per cent reporting that their job had negatively affected their sleep patterns.

Now is the time to find the job that’s right for you – that’s in line with your goals and beliefs.

Look at company websites:

What makes them different?

What products/services do they offer?

Who are their clients?

Where are they based and where do they do business?

What are their values and ethos and do they fit with yours?

You can search www.glassdoor.co.uk for ratings by employees, giving an idea of what it’s like to work in specific companies.

Decide whether if you are really passionate about something you’d take a pay cut to break into it. The conflict between freedom and security is a common one, so it’s up to you whether you want to do something you really love, starting at the bottom, with the very good chance that you’ll progress at speed because you love it!

3. Find a mentor

Identify someone in your field who you admire, and see whether they would support you if you have questions, or get a coach/mentor to help you stick to your goals.

It can be easy to get caught up in a scattergun approach and feel desperate to find any job. This leads to hours spent on application forms and interviews for jobs you really don’t want.

It’s important to be focused and set yourself achievable goals to get what you want. Having someone to give you that helping hand may feel like an investment you can’t afford, but will save you pain in the long run.

4. Be bold

Don’t be afraid to approach people and ask for advice and support. Millions of people have been in your situation, and even the most successful people have suffered setbacks. The worst that can happen is that they say no.

In my first job, I decided that I wanted to shift into PR. I was reading a book about PR and wrote to the author asking his advice on how to get into the industry. He replied saying his nephew was setting up a PR agency and would need help. I wrote to him, started working as the office assistant, and gradually learned the ropes and progressed to client work.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

5. Stay positive

This has happened due to circumstances beyond your control. It has nothing to do with you. I know it can lead to a sense of not being good enough, but I refer you back to tip 1. Look at your strengths. Remind yourself of your achievements. Accept compliments and praise, and see this as the start of a new chapter.

As I have said, millions of us have been through it, and I suspect most of us would say that despite the sense of loss and anxiety, it has been for the best and the start of something exciting and new.

Lockdown career change

According to research by Totaljobs, two thirds of people have been considering a career change during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is no surprise. With home-working and no commuting becoming the norm, many have realised that work can be pretty flexible (whatever their company might have said previously!)

Taking that a step further, a lot of people have seized the opportunity to learn new skills and prepare themselves for a new career, realising that what they were doing wasn’t in tune with who they were.

It’s a precarious time, and however much we refer to the next stage as the ‘new normal’, there’s nothing normal about it. There will continue to be uncertainty for a while yet, so it’s worth proceeding with what I like to call enthusiastic caution.

For those who are deciding to really shake things up and make a total change – set up a business, or re-train later in life – change is absolutely feasible.

What’s important is to identify your values and be sure that the next step of your journey will give you the fulfilment you’re looking for. Investigate your strengths and how they can be put to best use in your new career.

If you’ve still got a job, it’s a good idea to overlap with what you’re currently doing – now probably isn’t the best time to jump straight out of the frying pan – and do some research into who you are, and where you want to be.

It’s possible to make a change at any stage of life, but you need a plan in place to support you in reaching your goals.

I’ve developed a worksheet here for anyone considering making a change, to help you assess where you are now, and hopefully give some clues as to where to go next.

And all the best for whatever you decide to do!

Finding Freedom at Fifty

If you dread work, sit in meetings wondering if this is all there is, and don’t enjoy being there, isn’t this a good time to look at how you could improve your well-being?

There are plenty of reasons why finding a new career or lifestyle as you approach 50 might seem an unattainable dream. Perhaps it feels as though it’s only younger people or braver people who do that.

Many of us are of a generation which has adopted a life story: that we are destined for a career for life. In fact, as we age our values will change, as will our personal circumstances. It takes a bit of exploration to establish who we are now and what’s going to be best for us, but it is possible.

Perhaps you’d like the choice of where and when you work. Maybe your career is now completely out of step with who you have become. What are your strengths, and are you playing to them?

Nobody is pretending it’s easy, and I wouldn’t advocate making the leap without a plan.

It’s important to examine what you want in terms of financial reward and how you’d like your days to look. What have you loved doing before which could help you really engage with work and life to the full?

Once you have your vision for a more fulfilling future, plan a roadmap. You might be in a position to set up a business. Or perhaps you need the stepping stone of a part-time job to give you time to do that. Can you re-train while working in the job you’re doing? Do you want to reduce your hours and move to home-working, or continue to do so after lockdown ends?

Whatever your circumstances, you don’t have to stay stuck in the rut. You can find more balance and do what you love. 

Remembering your ‘why’

I’m a firm believer in talking through your problems. Something I’m noticing though, particularly working with business owners, is that social media is creating a bubble of introspection. Nobody wants to speak to friends or family about their troubles, partly because they have to create an image of invulnerability, but also because people aren’t really interested.

Some clients feel that the perception of their lifestyle is such that people think they’re lucky and shouldn’t be moaning. Others understandably don’t want to unload onto their nearest and dearest because that time is all too precious. Their time with a coach means they can get out all the niggles and frustrations and reach solutions for themselves.

The reality for most small business owners is that while they seemingly have a great life, working to their own tune, the pressure can be overwhelming. The finances, new business development, keeping on top of the latest social media innovations, and scanning their industry to keep ahead of the game – all these pressures can reach boiling point and it becomes all too easy to forget why they did this in the first place.

Too many clients are telling me that they’ve been on the verge of cracking. In general, they are taking on too much, and not making time for real life. There’s a sense that they must constantly come up with their next project, often to the detriment of what needs doing now.

We achieve more, better, by doing less. Take one client, who was overloaded with business – great on the one hand, but much of it was demanding and tedious and unrewarding. We’ve done an audit of all her areas of work, and she has delegated elements, dropped elements, and held onto the parts that she really loves. She’s now got time for her family and the work she is doing is fulfilling and enjoyable. Added to which, she identified activities which relax her and is taking the time to do those, giving her a much-needed ‘mindfulness zone’.

Coaching provides the confidential space to be authentic – get things out of your system that you would like to talk about with friends except it would probably ruin a good night out. Coaching is effective because you’re given the time to speak, and by hearing these issues out loud you very often answer your own questions.

Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Having to maintain the stoic business person mask is really exhausting, so consider coaching as a way to take stock, and remember that you’re doing what you do to enjoy it and create a great life.

Client experiences

“My goal working with Cathy was to maintain a good work life balance, not to feel guilty when I’m taking time out for me, and  to maintain a calmer persona under pressure. I’d had reservations that it wouldn’t have any positive change, and I’d be throwing away money I didn’t really have spare for coaching at the time. But it’s turned out to be the opposite and is worth every penny of investment in myself. I would say to anyone considering working with Cathy, do it! Investment in ourselves is the greatest investment we will make.”
Kerry, Business Owner, Travel Industry
“I have been working with Cathy for a number of months now and it has helped me enormously. I have found greater clarity in my thinking and established some goals and changes to the way I work. As a result, I am feeling more relaxed but I have also achieved more in my work. Cathy has helped me to recognise and deal with my self-sabotaging negativity and to stop taking on more than I can cope with (most of the time). Cathy is very soothing and thoughtful, and gives me a lot of space to explore the issues I want to.”
Stephanie, Publisher

www.cathybrowncoach.com

cathy@cathybrowncoach.com

Career vs Calling

I never thought about what I wanted to do as a job, or a career. I know many young people are completely certain what they want to do with their lives, but it seems that too many are expected to decide, or know far too early, or at all.

A career is right for some people. They are academic, or have particular interests, and a trajectory and a plan. 

Being forced to devise a plan is just not right for everyone. I look back at my career and it looks like a series of stepping stones, without having looked at the other bank when I set out. I would take one step, savour the view for a little while, and then notice the next stone and hop onto it.

You can get through your whole life not really knowing what’s right, so you should at least be able to try out everything you like the look of. I know I’ve been fortunate working for part of my career in Government communication where you could jump from one department to another and work in very different and interesting areas.

There is really no reason why a student at 16 should decide what they will do forever. I’m eternally grateful that my parents suggested I did a bi-lingual secretarial course. It set me up to be able to temp in my college holidays and then have the basic business nous to get out and work in any area. I then did a Business Studies HND, again giving me practical transferable skills.

A calling can find you at any time. For many it needs a bit of experimentation. I feel as though I found a few callings, which became a career for a while, but I’ve now found my true calling in coaching which will be my career in retirement.

Pressuring anyone to decide on a career before they really know is unhelpful. Young people should be nurtured to make the decision about what feels best for them at that moment – whether it be university, a vocational course, a gap year or going straight into work. We can go back to education at any age, and perhaps it makes more sense to do it when we really know what we love?