Put the phone down!

I was rather shocked at several recent events to see the extent to which most participants seemed attached (literally!) to their mobile phones.

As the day was starting and speakers had started talking, phones could still be heard ringing, pinging and vibrating.  In many cases, still in their owners’ hands.  In several instances, instead of switching the devices off as soon as people realised they were on, they answered and simply walked out of the room talking, oblivious of the disruption created.  Most were playing with the phone in their hands, looking at it, responding to emails or simply fidgeting.

Now, this is not unheard of and we have all seen it done, in meetings, at the restaurant….  So why was I shocked there?  Because the events in question were, you may have guessed… meditation and wellbeing types of events!  So, of course, I had assumed all present would share in my feeling that on those occasions, mobile devices should hide away silently switched off at the bottoms of bags to better focus on our inner selves!  Well, as I keep repeating my students: never assume!  Who am I to decide everyone has to feel similarly on such an occasion?

But seriously now, doesn’t that raise the question, often raised but rarely acted upon, of how we interact with our mobile devices?  The mobile phone is so easy to have at hand, when do you actually put in down and leave away from you, in another room even?  No, don’t look away, answer that one!  Mobile phones and other devices have so far modified our behaviours (and our brains!) that we now have specialists working on technology addictions.  You can take the London Nightingale Hospital test online to check whether you qualify!  But even if, hopefully, you do not, becoming aware of the way you use your mobile phone could be interesting.

In 2005, research from the University of London showed that texting and emailing throughout the working day can « fog your brain » as much as smoking cannabis, knocking 10 points off your IQ.

So if you value your brain, not to mention your relationships or peace of mind, here are a few pointers:

  • switch off all alerts on your phone;
  • if you are feeling brave, switch off the ringtone, unless you are waiting for a particularly important phone call;
  • only check your phone a few times a day;
  • leave it on a desk, table or in your bag during the day, not in your hand;
  • switch it off and leave it in another room at night;
  • do not take it out on the restaurant table, do not check your phone at dinner time at home or at any other social times.

Oh, did I mention, on the events I mentioned the organisers had to remind the delegates politely but firmly to switch their phones off during meditation times… and the phones did not reappear afterwards.  Everyone seemed calmer, more serene and in no need of a technology fix at all after that.

So… meditate more and put the phone down!

How to avoid frying your brain

So what signs should you be looking for to know if you are entering the “danger” zone of burnout?  Well, it depends where you are along the road that can lead there.  There are several stages:

  1. The “Super driven” zone

Your days are very full, you have been working more 60+ hours a week on a normal basis for many months or even years, you are in constant activity, « hyper » mode, brain always busy, constantly spinning around with ideas even when not working.  You tend to wake up early, even before the alarm rings, your brain already whirling with to-do lists and ideas about work.

  1. The “Losing it” phase

At this stage, the pressure increases, you are starting to feel a bit overwhelmed, possibly frustrated or anxious. You keep pushing, you keep going but you are finding harder to focus, to memorise, to think with clarity.  Your attention span is diminishing and interruptions really irritate you.  You need several cups of coffee to keep going during the day.  You have reached the “emergency” stage: now is the time to react before you hit the wall.

  1. The crisis phase

Reserves are depleted, adrenal exhaustion starts.  You are worn out, drained, but cannot relax or recuperate. You are exhausted all the time, with sleep not providing relief or improvement.  You have officially entered burnout state.

So what could you put in place to avoid getting there?  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Take a break

Our body and mind are not meant to be working non-stop.  Only a few seconds of break can make a big difference on your energy levels come the end of the day.  So, take a break, make a pause, have time off, silent times. Call it anything you want but do it.

Daily Micro-breaks: Several times a day, take a 30 seconds to 2 minutes break, close your eyes, breathe out deeply, let your shoulders down and focus only on your breathing. If you want to make it up to 5+ minutes, excellent, but keep in mind that it is more efficient to have several very short breaks rather than one longer one.

Shut down the electronic devices

Switch everything off at the very least 30 minutes before going to bed.  And have times during the day/week when you are not connected.

Know your limits

Listen to yourself, get to know yourself, your needs, limits and rhythms: do you know how much sleep you need and at what time?  Do you know when you work at your best?

Try listening to how you are feeling walking, working, cooking, eating…

Be more mindful

As often as possible, try to do one thing at a time.  All the studies show that multitasking is very inefficient and will only deplete your energy.

Have a walk outside at lunch time and take time to notice how you feel, how you breathe, how fast or slow you are walking, what is around you.  Enjoy that ray of sunshine, find something beautiful to look at!

Spend time doing something you love

What is it that makes you tick, refreshes your mind, makes you laugh and feel great?  What about having more of that?

So, what about getting started?  And of course, as always, watch those long hours at work!

Burnout, what do you mean burnout?

Often, when I mention that I am a burnout expert, people will ask: “Burnout, what do you mean exactly by burnout?  Is that when I feel a bit tired at the end of the day?”.  And each time I feel like answering: “Hell, no!  It is so much more than that!”  And hell it is if you get there.

Burnout is not depression (although it may lead you to it if left untreated), it is not mid-life crisis, it is not nervous breakdown. Burnout is a long-term extreme physical, mental and emotional fatigue caused by excessive and prolonged overload.  You have been through too much for too long.  One day, your body switches the “off” button.  In most cases, you collapse in a heap or find you are physically unable get up in the morning. All those who go through burnout have one thing in common: they have been doing too much for too long, usually under a large amount of stress.

As far as stress is concerned, the danger is you may not recognize that as stress.  In fact, it may feel like “positive” stress to you: you love what you are doing and want it to be perfect for instance, so you do even more of it. But our body does not differentiate between “negative” and “positive” stress.  It reacts in exactly the same way: a surge of adrenalin, then cortisol, both produced by our adrenal glands. These hormones are very useful to our body and we could not function without them but they are not meant to be produced continually.  Problematic stress starts when the body is under too much of the stress hormones for too long.  Cortisol especially decreases the feeling of pain so when you reach that stage, you may not even feel that you are under pressure any more.  The adrenal glands are under too much pressure to perform.  They end up being depleted and unable to function anymore.  Hence the collapse, the burnout, the adrenal fatigue.  The power goes off.

It is not all gloom and doom: knowing about this process beforehand is key to not going there!  Then it is all about learning to know yourself and your limits, to perform at your best without losing it all.

Because, once you collapse and go into “real” burnout, you need about 12 months to recover (if properly looked after), feeling unable to do anything at all, not working, not being able to take care of the children, not even thinking clearly, you are physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted all the time.  In the first months, you can barely get out of bed.

Next time, I will tell you about signs to look for and how to avoid getting there in the first place. So, in the meantime, keep an eye on those extra hours of work!

Relax in the doing

As I was driving on the motorway the other day, overtaking a huge lorry with my little car, I suddenly realised I was very tense on the stirring wheel and my body was leaning forward as if trying to overtake the lorry with my body and not with my car!  As I noticed, I laughed at myself and rectified my position, leaning back, breathing normally and relaxing my hands, arms and shoulders.  And, guess what, I overtook the lorry just as well!

Have you noticed how much we tend to do that?  We are putting a lot of energy and physical tension into something that does not need it. We are getting tense as we are waiting for our computer to start or respond, we are tensing our back muscles, our shoulders and neck as we are working at our desk, our whole body tenses up as we are waiting for something to happen…  Just like when we were children and our jaw was absent-mindedly munching away as we were cutting something with scissors.  Maybe for instance, we are waiting in a queue and our body is getting all rigid.  We do need some energy in our muscles to be standing up without falling on the floor but do we need that much? If we make a habit of using twice as much energy as we need in everything we do, how much is going to be left at the end of the day?  Not to mention the build-up of tensions that can lead to actual physical pain if we do this constantly!

Absent-mindedness is the key word here I think.  What we need is to be a bit more aware of what we are doing. If we sense how tense our body or part of our body is and the amount of actual tension or energy we would actually need to do what we are doing, it is then easier to try and relax those muscles.  Hence the “relax in the doing”.  I like that expression as it is easy to keep in mind and remind ourselves several times a day.

So, next time you are waiting impatiently and finding yourself tensing up, think about it: how much energy do you actually need?  Breathe, relax and realise how much more energy you are actually saving for later, a good way to stay bright and alert until the end of the day!

Busy brain v. Clear mind

Have you noticed how when we are doing so much, rushing around, we make more mistakes?   We may not notice it but when we do too much, our brain tires.  We think our brain can function constantly at 100 % but it needs a variation of rhythm to be at its best.  We talk about “brain fog”.  I don’t know about you but for me, it definitely feels like there is more fog inside than neurons!

So what to do to avoid the hasty, unfocussed mistakes?

Take breaks

I have already given you a lot of ideas on this point previously.  Even a one-minute break can make a big difference to a tired brain.  So, just pause, close your eyes and breathe calmly for a minute.  Or you can go outside for a short while and breathe deeply!  Have a glass of water, or my favourite, a cup of tea.  As a French person living in England, I have noticed how the Brits seem to solve everything with a cup of tea.  Well, I’m all for it!  A little break, warmth and quiet, a little chat if you are with someone, and off you go again!

Slow down

Try doing things at a slower pace instead of more quickly to get it all done.  You will achieve more in the end because everything you do will be of better quality.

Delete: what can you take off your diary?

Sometimes it is just a question of looking at the planning and actually taking things off.  It is easier than you think!  Just ask yourself: what will happen if I do not do this or if I do not go there?

Learn to refocus

A nice Sophrology exercise to help focus.  Close your eyes, breathe deeply and calmly.  Then imagine a very simple object as if it were in front of you, something that does not carry any emotional weight for you or is not attached to a memory, just a simple, bland, “neutral” object.  And examine it in your mind’s eye as if you were seeing it for the first time, as if with mild curiosity.  Imagine its aspect, shape, colour, texture, weight, etc.  Then, try to focus on it and only on it for a few seconds.  When you have finished, let the idea of the object go, breathe out, rub your hands and open your eyes.

The next time you need focus, close your eyes, imagine your object again for a short moment and when you feel more focused, let it go and open your eyes.  You will then be able to transfer that focus onto your work.

Take off

And what about switching off completely for a day or even half a day: go on a spa day or go for a walk in nature, forget about everything.  This will create mental space, clarity and more serenity.  It will allow your brain to recharge and be ready to go again later.  Our better ideas come in those moments. We step back and look at the bigger picture.

Remember, it is when you have less time that you need to take some to do nothing, pause, rest to recharge and renew and be able afterwards to think afresh.

And if you need more advice, what don’t you book a session?

Switching off

Imagine: 4 weeks with no internet connection, no mobile phone connection, a landline that barely functions and sometimes not at all, far away from the crowd, with just silence and nature around… And I am wondering here what your first reaction is reading those few lines: horror, longing? Do you think you would love it or hate it?  Have you maybe already tried it?

I try to have that for at least a couple of weeks every year and I find it keeps me sane! Last year though I did not have much of a chance to do it so I thought I would take double dose this year!  And the last 12 months had been particularly full-on, busy, buzzy in every way, in a very good but full way.  So at the beginning of August, I retired to my usual hide-out in the French countryside, an isolated family house, far away from any kind of civilisation (the nearest shop is 10 miles away), with only fields and more fields in the distance. Now, it is so isolated that there is absolutely no mobile connection and no internet connection possible.  And as we had terrible thunderstorms for a few days, we were even without light and landline phone for 48 hours.  It gave me time to rest (I slept about 11 hours per night most of the time!) and time to think…

The first thing I noticed was my state of mind and I was so intrigued I kept track for the first few days.   On day 1, as I was still traveling there but my mobile phone had already let me down (a bad case of English phone resisting the French network), I found myself fidgeting, my heartbeat was quick, my head was still buzzing at 200 miles an hour with lots of ideas and reminders to myself of things to do.  I kept looking at French mobile phone users with a strange mixture of scorn and envy. And as I was not busy myself with my own phone or laptop, I noticed that a vast majority of people were.  Now, I know that and can see it around me anywhere, whether I am in London or in Paris but suddenly paying attention to it was strange and I realise we do look a bit weird all lost in our little world.

On day 2, as I was settling in and getting used to doing nothing (not something I am very familiar with), I noticed my brain calming down, I generally felt calmer and more peaceful. I was more aware of my surroundings, taking things at a slower pace.  It still felt strange not to be reaching for the mobile phone or the computer to check something. As my mind was calming down, plenty of interesting ideas were coming up, very creative thoughts, good business ideas, answers to things I had been reflecting on for months.

On day 3, everything was calming down, I was not feeling the need to use any electronic device anymore. And when the landline went down that day, it felt like a relief.  Nobody could find me!

From day 4, I just felt free as a bird, with a very calm mind. I realised I was more tired than I had first thought and let time and rest do their work.

Now, of course, I know all that and I teach all that constantly and I do make a point of taking breaks regularly. It is simply the only way to have a properly functioning brain and body.  But for some reason, this time was even more significant than others. Maybe because of its length.  And what I learnt in the process was not just confirmation of what I already knew but also that to let our true power, our true self appear, we need to take a step back regularly and just take time.

Taking time out is the key to letting ideas emerge, being creative, finding answers to important questions, making the right decision, writing or creating something. You need space and time for that, you need calm and to be able to get in touch with what is deep down inside.  You cannot do that in the chaos of a busy schedule, squeezed in between 2 appointments.

I now feel stronger, more empowered, more at peace with myself, with a calm and clear mind, I feel I know what I want and I am going out there to get it!

Sleeping Tips

As promised last month, here are a few practical tips if sleep is eluding you.

If you wake up during the night and feel restless: instead of tossing and turning, drink water or herbal tea, walk calmly, breathe, read or write.  Do NOT watch TV or turn on the computer.  Be aware of the signs of sleep coming back and go straight to bed. If you feel better staying in bed, take the opportunity to try some relaxation, meditation or Sophrology exercises.

If need be, make a list of everything you have to do the following day before going to bed so that you are certain you will not forget anything and feel calmer.

If too many ideas go round in your mind, imagine you are putting them in a box where they won’t bother you and you can find them again the following day if you need them.

 

Tips for the day to prepare for a better night’s sleep

Take several one-minute breaks each day: close your eyes, breathe out loudly, let your shoulders down, unclench your jaw, feel your feet on the floor.

If you have too much on your mind or something is bothering you: stand up, take a cushion, close your eyes, imagine you are putting all the annoying ideas in the cushion, and breathe out loudly while throwing it on the floor.  Repeat 3 times and listen to how you are feeling.

Concentrate on your 5 senses: on your food when you eat, on what you can see, smell or hear during the day, especially if it makes you feel good!

 

Tips for the night if you wake up and cannot go back to sleep

All these exercises are to be done lying in bed, as soon as you realise you are waking up and feel too awake. Try them all, choose those you like and work with one or a combination.

Count up to 3 as you breathe in, count up to 4 as you breathe out, count up to 3 while you gently hold your breath, your lungs empty.  Repeat as much as you can and make it as regular as possible.  Do not force your breathing; find a rhythm that works comfortably for you.

Breathe in and gently contract all your muscles from head to toe very gently then breathe out loudly and let go and relax. Do it 3 times and listen to how you are feeling.

As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing in a calming word like “peace”, “calm” or “quiet”.

Repetition and regularity are of the essence for these tips to work.  Trying them once half-heartedly will not be enough.  But if you do need more help on sleep, remember that sleep specialists and sophrologists are there for you and do contact me if you want to know where the nearest one to you is.

Sweet dreams!

Sleeping better

Difficulties sleeping?  Tossing and turning?  Anxiety or ideas going round in circles and preventing you from sleeping?  Finding it hard to concentrate on work the next morning and wishing you were feeling energetic and refreshed?

Sleeping is switching off

First, it is important to understand how sleep works in order to make sense of those “gaps” during the night when sleep is eluding you.  We all sleep in sleeping cycles of about 1h30 –going first into deep sleep and then into light sleep and dreaming before starting another cycle again.  We may wake up in between 2 cycles. If we wake up fully and have difficulties sleeping, we may find it hard to fall back to sleep before the next cycle, therefore spending the next hour and a half or so awake.

We do not all need the same amount of sleep. Light sleepers may feel perfectly refreshed with only 5 hours of sleep, heavy sleepers may need 10!

So how do you know if you are sleeping enough?  A good indication is if you feel tired during the day.  Then you are probably not getting enough sleep.

Your sleeping environment

If sleeping is a problem, you may want to check your sleeping environment first:

  • avoid light and noise in the bedroom, even the smallest standby light or alarm clock fluorescent numbers is too much,
  • all electrical devices (radio-alarm clock, mobile phone…) are to be avoided but if you cannot, put them at least one meter away from your head,
  • choose a good mattress and a nice sleeping environment,
  • the room needs to be not too hot and well aired,
  • NO screen (TV, PC) in the bedroom (if you cannot avoid one, cover it during the night and switch it off completely),
  • avoid watching TV or using a computer or any kind of screen for at least ½ hour before going to bed,
  • go to bed at regular times as much as possible and establish a bed time routine,
  • be ready to go to bed when sleep comes: when you feel your eyes itching, closing, feeling heavy…, go!
  • eat not too late, not too much (avoid meat, alcohol and cigarettes at night),
  • if you do sports, avoid it late in the evening,
  • take a warm shower or bath, but not too hot (it would raise the body temperature too much, sleep only happens when your body temperature decreases slightly), add lavender essential oil to it to calm you down if need be.

More tips on sleeping better next month!   Good night, sleep tight!

Florence Parot

Balancing your professional life and your private life

Over the last century, our life time has expanded and our working hours decreased.  Do you, like me, wonder where all that “free time” has gone?  Do you often feel overloaded, overwhelmed, rushing under the pressure of getting it all done?  Our timetables are so full even the most adept organisers among us sometimes feel there is simply too much to be done and, have you noticed what generally comes out of the window first: our personal time!

Where are you going?

The first step is to look at your current life balance and write down how much time you dedicate each week to work (including work you may be bringing back home, work-related emails and phone calls from home…), home, family, friends, hobbies, me time, TV, internet, sports…  Be honest with yourself and look at it carefully.  How does the result make you feel?

Then ask yourself:

What makes me feel great?  What brings me joy?  Where do I take my energy from?

What is vital/important/not very important/a waste of time/draining?

Where do I really make a difference and where can I delegate?

What can I simply not do (learn to say no!)/do less often/do differently?

If this were my last day and I were looking back on my life, what would I want my life contribution to have been?

Some “first aid” solutions

The idea is to put first on the agenda what is very important for you, what brings you joy.  You will feel better and with more energy for the rest. Favour high-quality relationships, honour your well-being, physical, mental and spiritual and do not forget to enjoy life!

One step further, the “deeper” strategies

But what if, you will ask me, I am already doing all these things and I still feel overwhelmed?  Well, here is a secret: do less and you will be able to do more, slow down and you will arrive first.  Intrigued?

Our biggest mistake is to overwork, to pile up chore after chore, task after task and to never stop.  Our bodies are not meant to function that way for too long a time.  Our attention span, concentration level, energy level all need refreshing.  We need to stop in order to be able to function efficiently.

At the end of the day or at the end of the week, we are exhausted; we have forgotten to take a break.  Waste of time?  Quite the contrary, big mistake!  Only a few seconds of break can make a big difference on your energy levels at the end of the day.  Learning to rest and relax is essential, life does not require all our resources all of the time, it is dangerous!  The first step in going forward is to stop.

Take a break: Sophrology “quick fixes” to use during the day: how a 1 minute break can recharge you for the rest of the day

Take micro-breaks during the day: for 30 seconds, close your eyes, breathe out deeply, let your shoulders down, unclench your jaw, feel your feet on the floor and listen only to your breathing. Then open your eyes and go on with what you have to do. The secret is to do it several times a day, every day.

Weekly rest: one day a week, give yourself a day off everything. Do not plan anything and do whatever you feel like doing on that day.  Whatever you do that day, do it as simply and slowly as possible. Treat yourself to freedom!  No work, no meetings, no friends over, have a lie in, maybe a slow motion bath, a quiet cup of tea, a good book or soft music, a gentle stroll, no TV, no phone, no computer… Breathe! Take time to daydream or to do absolutely nothing.

Holidays: Of course, do not forget to go on holidays and make sure that at least once or twice a year you get at least 3 days in a row of complete break, in a calm and agreeable place, with fresh air, nice surrounding, silence and peace with not mobile, laptop… Why not even try a silent retreat for a few days?

Get to know yourself, your needs, limits and rhythms: how to use time and not let it use you

Know yourself: do you know how much sleep you need and at what time?  Do you know your own limits? Do you know when you work at your best?

Several times a day, listen to how you are feeling, to your body, your breathing and take it into account.  You can for instance listen to how you are breathing and feeling when driving, when arriving home, when cooking dinner…

Live a mindful life: how not to multi-task and still get it all done

Try concentrating on just one thing at a time, whenever you can. Try it first for instance washing the dishes, drinking a cup of tea or eating. You can even practice mindfulness when the phone rings:  breathe in and out and then answer (with a smile!).

This is very different from living in the short-term which is a kind of constant emergency. It is being present completely to what you are doing.  You will then be able to use your full focus and be more effective in what you are doing, with much less energy wasted going from one thing to another.  In the end, most things will get done quicker and, guess what, you will have more time… to relax!

The aim of course is to live as much as possible in mindfulness, but do not put too much pressure on yourself, start small, try it on something easy and build from there!

Do not forget to enjoy life along the way!

Florence Parot

The perfect stress-free day

Imagine if you could easily and painlessly transform a full day of work into a peaceful experience, without having to wait for a day off… How would you like that?  What would it feel like?

So, in the real world, how does that work?

Starting the day: The alarm clock goes.  Breathe deeply, stretch fully, take time to wake up and off you go.  Breakfast?  Indeed!  But even if you only drink an orange juice or a cup of tea, let’s make it into a moment that counts: first sit down (it is not going to take you longer!) and whatever you are having, taste it, savour it, enjoy it!

Transport: driving or taking public transport?  Can you believe that you can actually use that time to relax?  Waiting for the train?  Waiting at the traffic light?  Use any waiting time during your day as compulsory relaxation time!  That can be at the coffee machine, or waiting for you computer to start.  Breathe, bring your shoulders down, check there are no tensions here and there in your body and if there are, try and let go of them.  Not really into any kind of breathing techniques?  Just try and breathe a bit more slowly and deeply. Do not try too hard, keep it comfortable.

At work: take a break before you are tired. You will restore your energy much quicker and be effective and feel alert much longer.  Here are a few ideas:

  • sitting down, close your eyes, unclench your jaws, relax your shoulders, concentrate on the contact of your feet with the floor and breathe out loudly ;
  • Several times during the day, check in: “am I breathing?”  Yes, I know you are!  But how?  How does it feel?  Do you like it or do you want to change anything?

The secret is in taking very short breaks several times during the day (30 seconds can be enough, no excuses not to do it!).  It can make a real difference in the long term on your energy levels.

In a meeting, on the phone, you can breathe, nice and slow.  It will take you the extra mile. On the phone, if you are smiling, it will not only help the quality of your conversation but also how you feel.

Back home: if your mind is still at work, here is another simple exercise for you.  Sit down, close your eyes and see yourself leaving work and closing firmly the door behind you.   Then see yourself in front of your home door; you can feel how you are dressed, how you are standing.  Get in the way you usually get in, inserting the key, ringing the door bell…   You get in and stop on the door step and you have a look at what you see inside, the corridor, the room…   Get inside and choose a place in the house which you particularly like, settle in. Then, let the images go and listen to how you are feeling.  Breathe out, rub your hands and open your eyes.  Ready for the end of the day?

Once fully at home, use the time when you are cooking dinner, eating or anything else to be fully focused on that and only that.  One thing at a time.

Going to bed: allow for at least 30 minutes to unwind without any screen or any work-related activity before going to bed.  Do something you enjoy, something calm that will gently lead you towards a better sleep.

Enjoy!

Florence Parot