Updated: May 17
Today I am having a wobble. It started at 3.30 am when I woke up and my brain switched on, and once it had, it was very difficult to switch it off again and I lay awake for a couple of hours – thinking. Of course, I finally drifted off to sleep when my alarm was primed to go off – which didn’t help my mood either.
We all have these days when the thinking mind takes over and our little (or big) inner critics sense the unease and rally together for a full onslaught. These days see us second guessing everything we do. Productivity invariably dips as we chew our fingernails over decisions or go into hyper worry about whatever is uppermost in our mind that day.
Realistically from yesterday to today very little has changed, I suspect that will be true for most of you also, and yet those few hours difference can send us into a totally different dimension of feeling. Yesterday, I was quite relaxed and calm, with everything progressing to plan. Yet fewer than twelve hours later, with no material change, I am in full wobble mode about “the future”. Which is rather an enormous subject to get ones’ knickers in a knot about and so abstract and vague to be impossible to actually tackle it, in any meaningful way. I once read a beautiful quote from The Dalai Lama “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” And I know that, I really do, and I’ve still got that nagging churning in the pit of my stomach. I have a way to go, to reach the zen levels of the Dalai Lama it seems.
I often look to analyse what is causing these wobbles (they show up from time to time), I like answers. And there is practical benefit in doing this in some circumstances. Have you heard of H.A.L.T? You may have come across it, as I did, from a training and information session about wellbeing in the workplace. It’s an excellent place to start when you feel a wobble unfolding, for if the root cause of this particular wobble is due to external factors and if you can identify these, you have the opportunity to stage an intervention and put your wobble in a dark room for a lie down, whilst you get on with your day.
H is for hungry and this a whopper for me. If I’m hungry I am difficult to be around. I lose focus, I am irritable, often angry with no real cause. I snap (ok, ok bark) and I feel so sorry for myself. Everything is harder and seems bleaker. It took me a long time to figure out that I need to eat regularly – the size of the meal is usually irrelevant, it’s the frequency that’s vital. Good habits to get into include always eating breakfast (in fact all meals – skipping any meal is an issue). You may think you don’t have time and getting started on / carrying on with, your day is more pressing – you will get more done. However, you will be more accurate and motivated if you do make the time. Fact. If you notice you tend to slump between meals, then think about introducing some healthy snacks to break up the day. I was brought up in the era of snacking being a “bad” thing. It’s been the best and easiest change I made to my regime and for me, it actually led to better weight management, not a huge piling on of the pounds as I had feared.
A is for Angry – make the distinction between I am angry and I am hungry, which may be making me angry (or hangry as it is lovingly referred to in my house). For hangry, see H! Anger is a common feeling that many people do not feel comfortable experience or sitting with. It can therefore pop up in other situations. How many times have we all vented our frustration at some poor individual, who had nothing to do with the cause of our anger in the first place? Anger, like any other emotion needs to be felt to allow you to move through it. Ignoring it delays the inevitable. A good dollop of introspection here – what am I angry about? What steps do I want to take to process this anger? What effect is this anger having on my day/ my relationships / my work / my project/ my meeting?
L is for Lonely. Humans have a huge need for connection, even raving introverts like myself. Especially in these times where our usual social networks are at best disrupted, at worst decimated, this connectivity becomes so much more crucial. Our ability to touch and hug others is vastly reduced and with that our access to an easy stress buster. Hugs have even been shown to boost your immunity and have positive effects on your blood pressure and heart rate. So, while you are working from home, home schooling and just trying to hold it all together, take a break and seek out a hug. I find a cat works just as well and I am sure you will all have your own pet views here! It goes beyond the physical too – pick up the phone people – have a conversation with a friend. Remember the coffee and cake meet ups and the quick pint in the pub? Whilst these are suspended it becomes easy to withdraw from our communities of support. Reduce the potential for loneliness by utilising all the tech we are getting savvy with, and if the idea of one more Zoom is going to tip you into A=Anger, then a good old phone call is heaven!
T is for Tired. Ha! I genuinely just had this moment …
I just have to remind myself here of the genuine usefulness of this check in. Of course I’m tired, I woke up at 3.30. Could this possibly be having an impact on how I am feeling today? I would surmise likely…
Back to you then.. we all recognise that a lack of sleep is going to physically impact us, if not immediately, then certainly over time and my experience is it shows up in mood many times too. In some instances, our sleep is beholden to something beyond our control – baby, puppy or someone or something else that needs our care in the night. However, even then we can help ourselves to a greater or lesser extent. I find routine my saviour, I have a bedtime and there or thereabouts I’m off weekdays, weekends it doesn’t matter and the same for the other end, I get up roughly the same time daily. It therefore naturally follows that I plan in the optimum sleep for me, which will vary from person to person, some need more and others work better with less; if you don’t know what works best for you then experiment for a few days at a time. Other tricks include NO SCREENS for an hour before bed… I’m sure you have heard it, I am sure you ignore it. If going cold turkey fills you with anxiety try cutting back, but in the interim turn on a blue light filter from a set time in the evening. The blue light inhibits your body’s ability to secrete melatonin, a hormone that influences our circadian rhythms. Keep your bedroom cool, it sounds counterintuitive, but it really does help you to fall asleep faster and sleep better overall. And I’m sorry, I need to say it, alcohol – it does affect your sleep! I don’t purport to be an expert – have a web browse www.drinkaware.co.uk is just one example where the science is explained.
What I have found to be the benefit of H.A.L.T is that often I can pin my wobble on one of these things, or at least recognise its influence. As a result, the likelihood of catastrophising that I am in some way broken or failing is hugely reduced. It also allows me to let it go more easily, if I am not flailing my own back for feeling this way, if I am able to label it as, in this instance, tired; then it becomes just that. I’m tired, no big deal and I will feel better tomorrow; I can move through it and I am not going to obsess about it. Give H.A.L.T and go.
We have other resources available to us in the event of a wobble, we just need to remember to get them out from our toolbox and actually use them in the moment and with a degree of regularity! I am that person- the one that will meditate, practice yoga, be mindful in the allotment, take a walk in nature, regularly exercise, moderate my alcohol intake, eat a rainbow (as in fruit and vegetables from each colour group) and follow my sleep routines, and as a combined effort they culminate in a saner, calmer, more confident and peaceful me. And then I think “yay, I’m nailing this! I don’t need to do this stuff anymore” and I stop meditating (always the first to go I note), I have “oh just another glass” etcetera, until such time that I notice that I’m not feeling so tip top anymore and I find myself rifling back through my tool bag and resurrecting them. Honestly, I am not perfect here, I don’t believe anyone who says they are; I know I never will be perfect and I’m alright with that. Through practice, some have habit formed and stuck, and I know that this is the trick – practice, practice – make it habitual, make it the normal.
There are some days when we have considered H.A.L.T and when we have raided the toolbox and we remain discombobulated. This is then the big gun in wobble navigation… ready? Don’t “do” anything, just “be” with it. Sit with it, acknowledge that today is a wobble, name how crap it feels. What fears is it bringing? What emotions are you feeling? Have you seen the animated film Inside Out? (watch it immediately for a masterclass in FEELING). There are times when you have to make room on your sofa and invite all the feelings and emotions you have been fighting and pushing away, to come and get under the blanket with you and be seen and heard. They need to be acknowledged and by ignoring them, they just cry louder. Be kind to them, give them a biscuit, have one for yourself while you are there. Go ahead and have a wobble, this too shall pass.