NO STRESS ZONE.
An uplifting and hopeful memoir and social commentary about how becoming deeply connected to the natural world through bird watching helped teacher and author Joe Harkness to deal with serious mental health issues, and could help many others, too.
As we go through life, we all suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at some time or another. Loss of a loved one. Divorce. Illness. Unemployment. A domineering boss. Co-workers who steal credit for your ideas or work. Money problems. Bullying neighbors. Fear of what the future may bring. Social isolation. The list goes on and on. Although common, events such as these can trigger mental health challenges for anyone.
In fact, mental health issues affect one out of four people every year, as we’ve learned during the month of May, which has been observed as Mental Health Month in the United States since 1949. Yet, despite how common -- how shared -- mental health problems are, the subject still remains taboo. It’s rarely spoken of.
The most common mental health problems are depression and anxiety, which often show up together. As we learn in the book, Bird Therapy (Unbound, 2019: Amazon US / Amazon UK), these two unwelcome guests, along with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, eventually ended up causing Special Educational Needs Coordinator, Joe Harkness, to suffer an emotional breakdown that nearly drove him to suicide in 2013.
The opening paragraph of this book is difficult to read, especially for anyone who has been in a similar situation. But the honesty and vulnerability of the writing resonates deeply and keeps you reading, almost like following a delicate golden thread through a dark labyrinth and out into brilliant light again.
This somber beginning provides the context upon which Mr. Harkness builds his argument that being part of nature in some meaningful way is an essential element in an emotionally healthy life. In Mr. Harkness’s case, birds are his ticket to the outdoors, and birding is the elixir that saves him from his secret anguish. Mr. Harkness shares the (sometimes harsh) reality of his mental health struggles, but we learn how bird watching positively impacts his life, how it provides a special place to where he can escape the maelstrom of modern life, and how it increases his social connectedness by providing the opportunity to meet others with a similar passion for birds. We see how birding heals him.
Although I’m a lifelong birder, I was particularly interested to learn how birding develops mindfulness. Birding is a meditative practice that immediately appeals to all your senses -- listening to bird sounds and songs, looking at their plumage colors and patterns, observing their complex and often subtle behaviors, identifying their habits and habitats -- but weirdly, I’d not made this connection between birding and mindfulness before.
Nonetheless, even if you aren’t a bird watcher (Mr. Harkness didn’t start out a birder, either), you will be captivated by the story, and will find yourself becoming more aware of the birds around you -- their sounds and behaviors and relationships -- and noticing the positive impact that regular bird watching has on your mental health.
Writing this memoir was almost certainly therapeutic. The author is a careful observer and his thoughtful descriptions of his own mental state likely served as a valuable roadmap of his progress towards healing. The author’s lucid prose tracks his recovery, along with his setbacks, and provides encouragement to the reader to discover similar effects for themselves. To ensure that the main points are clear, there is a list of useful tips at the end of each chapter. By following the author’s journey back into the light, you can become conscious of common themes in your own inner conflicts and uncover unexpected connections with countless others who share these same struggles.
The author reaches out to others, too. Throughout the book, Mr. Harkness includes data and responses from an online survey that he conducted on his blog, and interweaves findings from published scientific studies revealing that birding (or even just getting out into nature) is correlated with improved mental health. This observation is not new: it was introduced and popularized by biologist, theorist, and author, Edward O. Wilson in his 1984 book, Biophilia, where he defined the Biophilia Hypothesis as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. More recently, Richard Luov breathed new life into this idea by referring to it as “nature deficit disorder”.
But this book is more than a personal journal and more than just homework. In addition to advice and information for how to deal with mental health issues, it is candid and accessible and, at times, amusing. Fans of Richard Mabey’s popular book, Nature Cure, and Kate Bradbury’s lovely and often introspective The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, will find much to ponder in this memoir. The book also includes exquisitely beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations by artist, Jo Brown.
Although Mr. Harkness (and his birds) are British, mental health issues -- like birds -- respect no boundaries. Whether you enjoying bird watching or wildlife photography or just being in nature, this book provides a useful examination for how these quiet interests can bolster and support your mental and emotional wellbeing. Further, this uplifting and insightful book will provide inspiration and new ideas to mental health professionals and much-needed comfort and hope to everyone struggling with mental health issues.
Joe Harkness has written his Bird Therapy blog for the last three years. His writing has appeared in Birdwatch magazine and in the literary journal, The Curlew, amongst others. Mr. Harkness recorded three ‘Tweets of the Day’ for BBC Radio 4. He works as a Special Educational Needs Coordinator and has worked with vulnerable groups for nine years. He lives in Norfolk.
There's a clear connection between the way your brain thinks and the way your body feels. Just like you can use your body to reduce your psychological distress, you can also use your mind to improve your body.
Simply changing the way you think and taking charge of what occupies your mind, can improve your physical health and well-being. While positive thinking won't cure everything, a healthy mindset is a key component to a healthy body.
Here are seven ways you can use your mind to promote physical health:
1. Make Your Treatments More Effective By Expecting Them to Work
Countless studies show the placebo effect influences the effectiveness of treatment. If someone tells you a pill will cure your headache, you're likely to find the treatment helpful--even if the pill was a sugar pill.
Whether you're trying physical therapy for a bad knee, or you're seeing a chiropractor for pain in your back, your belief that those treatments will work may be more effective than the treatment themselves. So before you undergo any kind of treatment, think about all the reasons the treatment is likely to help.
2. Sleep Better By Writing in a Gratitude Journal
If you're struggling with insomnia, a gratitude journal might be the best cure. Several studies have linked gratitude to better quality and longer lasting sleep. Identify three things you're grateful for and write them in a gratitude journal before you go to bed. Conjuring up feelings of thankfulness right before you fall asleep will increase the chances you'll get a good night's rest.
3. Live Longer By Focusing On Your Purpose in Life
Feeling like you have a sense of purpose could actually increase the length of your life. Studies consistently show people who believe their lives are meaningful are more likely to live healthier, longer lives.
Whether your work gives you a purpose, or you find meaning as a volunteer, make sure whatever you're doing matters. Feeling like you have a reason to get out of bed every day might be the secret to longevity.
4. Be Optimistic and Boost Your Immunity
Several studies have shown that optimistic people are less likely to get sick. For decades, many researchers thought the boost in immunity stemmed from the fact that optimistic people were more likely to take care of their health.
But, more recent studies have shown that a hopeful outlook is actually what influences immunity. Looking on the bright side makes you less likely to get a cold or infection because optimism keeps your immune system performing at its peak.
5. Slow Aging with Meditation
Meditation provides a generous buffer against the harmful effects stress can have on the body. Numerous studies have shown meditation slows the rate of cellular aging.
Not only might meditation help you stay looking youthful, but it could help you ward off age-related disease. Researchers suspect teaching children to meditate could provide lifelong benefits. But no matter what age you are, it's never too late to gain some health benefits from meditation.
6. Build Muscle by Imagining Yourself Working Out
What if you could get buff by imagining yourself lifting weights? Well, researchers have found that mental imagery can help you gain muscle without lifting a finger.
One study in particular found that people who imagined themselves working out were able to gain 24% more muscle strength. People who actually lifted weights saw better results, but the research shows mental training can provide some serious changes to muscle mass.
7. Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease by Laughing
If you want to build a healthier heart, think about something funny. Research shows laughter decreases stress hormones, increases 'good' cholesterol, and reduces artery inflammation.
Perhaps laughter really is the best medicine. And the best news is, the positive effects of laughter last 24 hours.
The Power of Your Mind
Your mind can be your best asset or your worst enemy. Learn how to train your brain to help your body perform at its peak.
Everyone has the ability to build mental strength. With practice, mental exercises could be the key to living a longer, happier life.
Some aspects of healthy living just get easier with time. Meal prepping on Sundays, waking up early to exercise, avoiding single-use plastic—I've found it can all become second nature with enough practice and repetition.
I've always been daunted by one part of wellness, though, no matter how often I try to whittle away at it: meditation.
The benefits of the practice are what kept me in hot pursuit of it. Nearly every night for the past year or so, you could find me in my bed militantly repeating a mantra in an effort to quell anxiety, increase compassion, and refine my focus. And every night, after a few minutes of futile attempts to reel in my mind, I inevitably opened my eyes frustrated.
The point of meditating before bed was to let go of negative thoughts and worries from the day, but sometimes it left me even more stressed. I had the sneaking suspicion that I was somehow doing it "wrong." I expected to start craving these nightly meditations after a while, but closing my eyes and coming back to the breath just remained another task on my to-do list.
The meditation technique that changed my relationship to the practice.
A few weeks ago, in the thick of my mindfulness rut, I journeyed to Costa Rica for a week of doing nothing but yoga, breathwork, and—you guessed it—meditation.
Expecting to meet the same kind of resistance in the jungle that I did in my Manhattan apartment, I figured I could just pretend to meditate during longer sits. (Nothing I hadn't done before!) But on day two, a strange thing happened: Our leaders Erica Matluck, N.D., FNP, and Paul Kuhn, who put on healing retreats focused on the seven chakras called Seven Senses, told the group to essentially forget everything we knew about meditation.
For that day, which was spent in silence (no talking, no eye contact, no writing, no reading—no looking outside of yourself as a distraction), we were to leave our mantras and body scans at the door. These, too, Matluck, a naturopath and seasoned integrative medicine practitioner, explained, could be a way to turn the attention away from the self.
Instead, we were told to breathe normally and simply notice the physical sensation underneath the nostril, above the upper lip. That was it. The only directive.
Just like that, we were off. With nothing but a curtain of palm trees as a distraction, I was fully prepared to become restless and frustrated after a few minutes. But 10 minutes passed, and I was still content sitting with that feeling under my nose. Then 20, then 30. We were invited to stay for another 30-minute sit. And, much to my own surprise, I did.
Instead of forcing my breath to be rhythmic, I allowed it to do whatever it wanted. Instead of clutching onto a mantra (and cursing myself when it escaped from my grip), I politely paid attention to the super-subtle sensations on that one area. It felt so much more gentle, so much less rigid, than what I thought meditation was supposed to be. It wasn't a task but a delight—to catch my thoughts wandering and then happily return them to the moment at hand.
It's the first time that I didn't want a meditation to end.
Afterward, Kuhn, a sound healer, told us that this study in sensation was a reminder that physical feelings—like thoughts—are fleeting.
This lesson from Matluck and Kuhn, one of what felt like hundreds I picked up that week, really brought home the idea that thoughts don't need to carry so much weight and power. Instead, we can choose to let them pass over us like a tickle on the skin.
Stress is part of our everyday lives. We can either control it or let it control us. The difference between those two situations is how we manage our “alarm” and our reactions to the daily stressors we face.
As the global head of sales hit the stage, he cracked. He looked out at the audience of colleagues and saw nothing but failure in his people. All his brain could focus on was their missed opportunities, laziness, and a collective bad year. Without thinking he said, “You are simply the worst team I have every worked with.”
For more than fifteen minutes he continued ranting before transitioning into an update of the quarter’s results. No one stopped him. When the CEO assessed the damage after the meeting, he fired his sales chief. At the exit interview, the head of sales didn’t even realize he had done something wrong. I wish it weren’t, but this is a true story.
When stress hijacks your brain, we get stuck on the short loop. The alarm, the tiny region called the amygdala which keeps us alert and out of danger, can misfire after exposure to too much stress. You lead. You manage. You innovate. You solve people problems. You save the day. To say you are exposed to stress is like saying London or Seattle get some rain.
Some days, you crash. Other days, your people call you a grumpy bear. Occasionally, after months of deadlines, events, and emergencies you melt down. Hopefully we don’t melt down on stage or in front of our teams, but it happens and we are not, in fact, crazy when we do.
The answer to stress at work is not actually as complicated as it might seem. While our brains still have some of the same regions as the dinosaurs, we also have evolved to the level of mental capacity where we can intentionally change the way we manage complex and complicated stimuli.
Stress is actually not a bad thing. When treated as a sign that something needs our attention, it can be monitored the way we measure marketing leads or key performance indicators. It can keep us sharp and teach us what we really care about. But to most of us, it feels bad. We avoid stress. We ignore stress. That’s when it bites us.
The first step is to making friends with your “alarm” is to recognize that we are always experiencing some level of stress. When you are sleeping, your alarm is still on. That’s why you wake up before your clock rings. When you get excited and feel jazzed, that’s still stress; it’s just pleasurable stress. When you stop suddenly, avoiding a biker you almost hit with your car, that’s your alarm keeping you out of trouble.
Second, separate the areas of your life where you feel stressed and those where you feel relaxed. To truly make stress valuable, we have to differentiate when it is running the show rather than our clear thinking determining how we behave. A simple exercise to do this is to measure your stress level during transitions of your day. Ten is the highest stress you ever feel, like when your child is hurt or you get rear ended. One is what it feels like to wake up from a good nap. You can’t have no stress because then you would be dead. Keep a simple list of the time and your stress level in the notes section of your phone. You will observe where and when you feel stress and that awareness is priceless.
Finally, with an acceptance that stress is a good thing and a record of stress in our lives, we can start to plan our days based on what we care about most. At work, to prevent melt downs, you have to have casual time to reflect or get to know colleagues. You have to have breaks in between meetings. If everything is pressure, eventually your brain will let you know it needs a break. Developing a rhythm at work where stress is always valuable takes time and perhaps a change of mindset, but I promise it is the core of what makes great work possible.
A quick concluding story to make the point. Three years ago I was traveling around the country speaking and coaching. I worked every day. I logged 40,000 miles a year on my car. I started measuring my stress and planning the amount of stress I would take on each day, and I am now 40 pounds lighter. I work harder than ever, but in a way that takes care of my brain and body as I do. We can all learn to make friends with stress; and, we are all capable of new levels of health and happiness at work.
Source -Thought leaders llc
Source of Image TheDyslexicBook.com
Recently, an article in Miller-McCune caught my attention. It mentioned several research studies related to the positive impact of nature on the human condition. Having plants, going for a walk in the park, or even looking at a landscape poster could produce psychological benefits, reduce stress, and improve concentration. Click here for the Miller-McCune article: Nature is Good.
So, I decided to take a closer look at the research and see what might be helpful relative to our often stressful experience of living and working in the city. Though it is not related to mindfulness, this topic seemed interesting and particularly timely as we start sloughing off the heavy coat of winter and welcome the coming of spring.
This post addresses the physical presence of plants at work, home, or even in the hospital. Later posts will address the research related to (1) simply looking at nature (even a photo or painting); and (2) being in nature, like a stroll through a park or garden. Maybe I'll even work-in a reference to the growing field of eco-psychology...
Plants in Your Space
Based on several experimental studies, the presence of potted plants has been found to be helpful in many different settings including work, school, and hospitals. In particular, plants have been shown to...
Not bad, huh?! Feeling good around plants is probably not surprising. After all, we surround ourselves with plants during celebrations and tragedies (i.e., weddings and funerals, respectively). We also set aisde "sacred" green space for parks and community gardens in our cities and communities.
Limitations of the Research
Before we get ahead of ourselves and start replacing the carpet with trays of wheat grass, it's important to know one major limitation of the research. Most of the studies on the effects of houseplants have compared the presence of plants to their absence. While this is the epitome of a well-designed experiment, there might be other factors associated with the presence of plants--but not the plants themselves--that account for the more favorable results. For example, the improvement could be due to distraction, novelty, caring for something, perceived control, or improved air quality. Thus, we might get similar results under different circumstances, such as replacing the plants with a dartboard, photos, Sea Monkeys, or an air purifier. So, it's important to keep in mind that other additions to your space might also be helpful.
What house plants were used in these studies?
Several different species of plants have been included in these studies. Based on my examinaton of the research, a few plants seem to be used more consistently, including
Other plants have included the following
(Personally, I was happy to find that some plants didn't make the list, like ferns and those ficus trees. It's not that they can't be helpful--I just can't seem to grow them! As their leaves droop and scatter all over the floor, so goes my self-esteem.)
Relative to a barren environment, the research suggests that having plants around you is a good thing for your health and productivity. So, if you're feeling stressed or inefficient at work, get a plant. You might just feel better.
I'd like to give a "Tip of the Hat" to Drs. Seong-Hyun Park and Richard Mattson from the Department of Horticulture, Forestry, and Recreation Resources at Kansas State University. They've been quite helpful in providing reprints and answering my naive questions in preparation for writing this post. Also, I'd like to thank the website, Plants for People (it's not as cheezy as it sounds). With offices in 3 European countries, Plants for People is an "international initiative, spreading knowledge about the benefits of plants in a working environment." The site provides abstracts and full-length research articles, which I reviewed for this post. Click here for the site: Plants for People.
It’s usually not a surprise when someone says that the holidays are a difficult time for many people. The pressure we experience to be happy, shop until we drop, decorate our homes, bake goodies and more, all makes it hard to not feel overwhelmed.
For those dealing with mental health issues, it can feel like the holidays are another obstacle to navigate. We have less daylight, which means we may wake up and go to work or school in the dark and return the same way. Our memories and associations for this time of year aren’t always of candy canes and happiness; they can be filled with loss, anxiety and stress.
Here are some tips to help navigate the holidays:
• Get up and get outside. No matter what the weather looks like, getting outside helps your mood. It releases positive chemicals like endorphins into your system that increase your sense of well-being. A walk, a run or even making snow angels can all give you a lift.
• Find some way to give to others. Give to a food pantry, buy a coat for a child, rake leaves for an elderly neighbor. Taking your mind off yourself and doing something for someone else gives us a feeling of accomplishment.
• Start a new tradition. You don’t have to do the same thing every year, or even see the same people. It’s OK to take a drive to the coast or go out for lunch rather than cook. We often tend to repeat the same patterns, even when they don’t work for us.
• Be honest. If you are struggling, tell your close friends or family how you are feeling about the season and how it is hard for you. It may not change the holidays themselves, but it might ease your mind that you do not have to the happiest person in the room.
For those of you who are happy and love the holidays, I encourage you to pay attention to those around you. Take the holidays as an opportunity to support your friends, family and community. Invite them over, lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on, acknowledge the fact that they may be struggling. Be the light that pushes back the darkness, if only a little. Now that's a holiday gift.
If you are looking for resources to get educated about mental health, Samaritan Health Services offers Mental Health First Aid, an eight-hour training that introduces participants to the risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, helps build an understanding of the importance of early intervention and explains how to help someone who is in crisis or experiencing a mental health challenge.
Mental Health First Aid uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to assess a mental health crisis, select interventions and provide initial help, and connect people to professional, peer, social and self-help car
Stress is bad for you, in fact, some studies claim that high stress can be just as damaging as smoking five cigarettes a day. While that may sound like an exaggeration, or the case of someone who has an unbearably high amount of stress, the point remains the same: stress is really damaging for your health. What most people don’t know is that stress, in reasonable amounts, can also help you get things done and even help you battle some illnesses and stressors.
Check out these 5 health benefits that a little stress can provide:
Warding Off Colds And Infections
Have you ever had a big test coming and felt like you were going to be sick, but then your body surprised you by holding off the disease until you were free of responsibilities? Crazy, but true.
Newidea.com reports that this is due to your body working overtime to avoid illnesses while you’re preoccupied with something. In times like these, your body releases cortisol which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent that protects you for short periods of time.
Speeding Up Recovery After Surgery
Surgeries are always stressful, which can be a good thing, helping you heal faster and more efficiently. This stress prepares your brain for the changes that are about to happen in your body, prompting a release of immune cells in your bloodstream and redirecting them to the areas where they’re most needed.
Bond With Those Around You
Short term levels of stress boost the amount of oxytocin (the bonding hormone) your body produces. This might be a reason why very stressful moments tend to bring you closer to people, creating a bond that wouldn’t have been developed in another scenario.
Enhances Short Term Memory
Stressful situations can make your brain act like a super brain, remembering things more clearly and leaving you on top of your game when performing a demanding task. This is due to a rush of hormones to your prefrontal cortex, that boost your problem solving skills.
Boosts Your Resilience
While stressful situations are awful while you’re going through them, after some time has passed and you’ve gained some perspective you can look back and see that the stress helped you grow and become a better person, stronger and better equipped to deal with stress in the future.
Ahhh, the monumental first date! The adrenaline leading up to this highly anticipated encounter is both exciting and nerve-wracking. But for some of us, sweaty palms, a racing mind, and tattered nerves get in the way of a good impression. Even if you don’t have social anxiety, first dates are fraught with restlessness in a not-so-exciting way. While it’s normal for emotions to run high while anticipating a new date, it’s also important to be skilled at taming your nerves once they begin to get unruly.
After all, you want that cute guy to get to know the best you, not an anxiety-ridden you.
I’ve been there—seriously. But, thanks to my work as a psychotherapist, I have discovered five strategies that have changed the way I approach first dates, banishing those jitters for good.
01. Go Easy on the Adult Beverages
I am the first to admit that when I have a few drinks, I say things I would not normally say. This is the by-product of alcohol, my friends. For better or for worse, it messes with our internal “decision-making filter,” which is not something you want to happen on the first date. As tempting as it is to placate your nerves with a glass of wine (or three) at your apartment before heading out, consider the repercussions of doing so. You run the risk of being tipsy or drunk on your date (a major turnoff, according to men), revealing too much too soon, getting physical before you’re actually ready, and losing the ability to assess whether this guy is an actual match. If you are going to drink before your date even arrives, limit yourself to one beverage.
02. Plan a Low-Stress Date
It can feel really intimidating to sit across a table from someone you don’t know, especially if you struggle with anxiety. Consider meeting on different territory that you would both enjoy. Whether you grab a coffee, walk around a museum, or meet up at a dog park, everything depends on your personal comfort level—which can make a helluva difference when it comes to the quality of the conversation.
Pick a date location that allows you to feel engaged by your surroundings. The more a person is “in their element,” the more authentic they feel. I love choosing a fun activity such as miniature golf or bowling. I’m not particularly good at either, but both offer great amusement and tons of conversation points.
03. Challenge Your Inner Critic
We all have an inner critic. It’s that nagging voice that expresses disapproval, criticism, and judgment of our actions. You may recognize it as the voice that says, “You sound dumb. You look horrible! You’ll probably be alone forever.” It’s basically first date kryptonite.
In order to challenge our critic, we have to first understand its role. Believe it or not, it’s a part of you that is trying to help. It doesn’t want you to get hurt, so it criticizes you to keep you from being vulnerable. Not the greatest approach, I know.
Challenge your critic by acknowledging its presence. Thank it for showing up and trying to help. Then set a boundary by saying to yourself, “Stop speaking to me that way. I know you’re trying to help, but you’re making me feel terrible.” Practice this over and over until it becomes a habitual response.
04. Stop Future Tripping
Future tripping, or in fancy terms anticipated anxiety, is part of being human. When we future trip, we visualize the imagined future and anticipate an outcome. It is a common unconscious habit that most people use to combat anxiety about the unknown. It gives us a (false) sense of control by making us think that by anticipating our future, we will be prepared for the worst. It’s a very logical process of trying to protect ourself from getting hurt.
Needless to say, the potential for a new relationship or romance brings on the future tripping in full force. Here’s what it looks like in action:
Leading up to your first date you’re already trying on his last name, obsessing about having a second date, and fantasizing about your future together. Or, on the flip side, you’re thinking about all the ways this date could go wrong, and you ruminate on negative scenarios in your mind. When you notice your thoughts going into the future, say to yourself, “I’m future tripping,” and come back to what’s happening right in front of you. Breathe in, breathe out.
05. Be the Chooser, Not the Chosen
If there is one thing I want to convey to all my single ladies, it’s this: Stop being reactive to situations, and start leading them. Rather than working from a mindset that asks, “How can I get him to like me?” shift into a mindset that asks, “How can he get me to like him?” Take the focus off of yourself, and pay attention to how he makes you feel.
If you find yourself focusing on what your date is thinking about you and whether he likes you, hit the pause button and shift your attention. While it’s perfectly normal to wonder if he’s into you, come back to the question of whether you’re into him.
Far too often, women feel the need to play a certain role in order to be desired and loved. Frankly, it’s exhausting to act like anyone other than who you are. It is also a complete waste of time. How can you find your true match if you’re busy being a chameleon?
Individuals with a toxic disposition usually defy all kinds of logic. Some of them may be genuinely unaware of the negative impact that they may have on people in and around them. There may be some who seem to derive a sadist kind of pleasure and satisfaction by creating chaos around and pushing the wrong buttons in people. Irrespective which of the ways they resort to, they certainly create unnecessary strife, complexity, and above all stress.
Research has established that stress has a negative and lasting impression on the brains of individuals. If an individual is exposed to even a couple of days of stress, it leads to the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus being compromised. Hippocampus is a crucial segment of the brain that is responsible for memory and reasoning. Studies have revealed that if an individual undergoes weeks of stress, it may cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites. Neuronal dendrites are small arms which the brain cells use to communicate with one another. If an individual undergoes weeks and months of stress, it can lead to permanent damage of neurons. Stress can be an alarming threat to your success story, especially if it gets out of control. It makes both your brain and performance suffer.
It is relatively easier to identify the sources of stress at work most of the times. Stress is likely to harm you the most when the sources of stress are unexpected. According to the research conducted at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany by the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology, if an individual is exposed to certain stimuli that evoke strong negative emotions, it is similar to the exposure that you get while dealing with toxic individuals. Be it cruelty, negativity, the victim syndrome, or just plain form of craziness, people who are toxic drives your brain into a stressed-out state. Such a state needs to be averted at all costs.
How well an individual is able to manage his or her emotions and stay calm under extreme pressure has a direct connection to your performance. Research has discovered that around 90% of individuals who are top performers are seen to be excellent at managing their emotions during times of stress and can stay in control and remain calm. One of the greatest gifts of such individuals is their ability to neutralise toxic individuals. They are seen to possess well-honed coping strategies which they seem to employ to keep toxic individuals at bay.
Listed below are some of the best strategies that successful individuals employ while dealing with toxic people. To deal effectively with toxic people, you need to adopt an approach that enables you to control what you can and eliminate what you cannot. However, the most significant thing to remember is that you are certainly in control of far more that what you are aware. Let’s take a look at some of these effective strategies.
Set Your Limits and Distance Yourself When Necessary
Toxic individuals have a very common trait that they tend to wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions to the issues. They seek support from people to join them in their wallowing so that they can feel better about themselves. Most of the times, people feel pressured to listen to complaining individuals, as they do not wish to appear rude or callous. However, there is a very fine line lending someone a sympathetic ear and getting caught up in their negative emotional spiral. One of the ways in which you can avoid this is by setting your own limits. Distance yourself if required from such individuals. One of the great ways to set limits is to ask the individuals who wallow how they intend to fix the issue at hand. This will either quieten them down or it may redirect the conversation to a productive direction.
Choose Your Battles Wisely
Individuals who are successful know the importance of living and fighting for another day, especially when the opponent is a toxic individual. If you are unable to keep your emotions in check during a conflict, it will lead you to dig your heels in and fight an unnecessary battle which will leave you severely damaged. It is only when you can read and respond to your emotions, that you can select your battles wisely and decide to stand your ground when the time is apt.
Distance Yourself Emotionally from Toxic Individuals
Toxic people are quite adept at driving you crazy, as their behaviour is unpredictable and irrational. You need to be well aware of the fact that their behaviour defies all reasoning. So avoid responding to them emotionally and getting drawn into their drama. The more an individual displays an irrational and off base demeanour, the easier it should be for you to distance yourself from them. More than physically, you need to distance yourself mentally from them. Respond only to the facts and not their emotional chaos.
Have an Awareness of Their Emotions
To distance yourself emotionally from toxic individuals, it needs a certain amount of awareness. If you do not have the awareness when it is taking place, you won’t be able to stop them from pushing your buttons. There may be times when you find yourself in circumstances where probably you may need to regroup and select the best way forward. It is absolutely fine, and you should not worry about buying some time for yourself to deal with this right. To straighten them out, it is better you give yourself some much needed time to plan the best way forward.
Consciously and Proactively Establish Boundaries
This is mostly a sensitive spot where people tend to find themselves falling short. They feel that since they work closely with a toxic individual, they do not have a way to control the chaos. However, it’s far from being true. Once you can find your way to rise above a person, you will find their behaviour to be entirely predictable and easier to comprehend. This will help you think rationally when and where you need to put up with them and when you need not. For instance, even if you are working with a colleague who is toxic, day in and out on a project team, it does not mean that you need to have a personal one-on-one kind of interaction with him or her. In fact, you need to especially build a boundary consciously and proactively. If you allow things to take place naturally, you may find yourself embroiled continuously in challenging conversations. On the other hand, if you set boundaries and decide when and where you will interact with such a person, it is possible for you to control a lot of chaos. The trick up your sleeve here is to stick to your guns and maintain your boundaries when the person tries to encroach upon them, as they will for sure.
Be the Master of Your Own Happiness
When you give the reigns of your sense of satisfaction and pleasure to the opinions of other people, you no longer remain the master of your own happiness. People who are emotionally intelligent do not let themselves to be affected by anyone’s snide comments or opinions when they are feeling right about something that they have done. If you do so, you are giving away the control to such individuals. While it is practically impossible to switch off your reactions to the opinion that others hold of you, you can always take such reaction with a pinch of salt. If you pick up this attitude, then irrespective of what toxic people do or think, your self-worth is bound to emerge from within. You know for a fact that no matter what people consider you at any particular moment, you will never be as bad or as good as they say you are.
Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems
When you tend to focus only on the problems that you are facing, you generate and prolong stress and negative emotions within you. In context of toxic people if you continue to focus on the fact how difficult and crazy they are, you will be handing them the power to control you. Hence, you should stop focussing on how difficult the individual is and instead focus on how you shall handle them. By taking this approach, you place yourself in control, and it will automatically reduce the amount of stress that you experience while dealing with them.
Refrain from Giving them ‘Another Chance’
People who are emotionally intelligent are quick at forgiving. However, that does not necessarily mean that they forget as well. While it is okay to forgive and let go of what has happened so that you may move on, it does not indicate that you give the wrongdoer another chance. Avoid being bogged down by other’s mistakes. In fact, let them go quickly and yet be assertive in protecting yourself from future harm.
Refrain from Negative Self Talk
It is normal for you to sometimes absorb the negativity of toxic people. While there is nothing wrong in feeling bad about how someone is treating you, your self-talk can either amplify the negativity or it may help you to move on. Any kind of negative self-talk is unnecessary, unrealistic, and self-defeating. It takes you into a downward emotional spiral which makes snapping out of it difficult for you. Hence, you must avoid negative self-talk at all costs.
Limit Your Caffeine Intake
Whenever you drink coffee, the caffeine in it triggers the release of adrenaline. The source of either fight or flight emerges from adrenaline, which is the source. It a natural survival mechanism which compels you to either run for the hills or stand up and fight whenever faced with a threat. This flight or fight attitude stems from the thought that such behaviour will evoke a faster response compared to rational thinking. This attitude may serve you if you are being chased by a bear. But it is certainly not a great attitude when you are caught by surprise in the hallway by an angry colleague.
Try and Get Some Good Sleep
The importance of sleep in increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels is quite significant. Whenever you sleep, it is recharging time for your brain in the literal sense. It shuffles through the memories of the day and either store or discards them so that you can get up clear-headed and alert. When you do not get enough or the right kind of sleep, it reduces your level of self-control, memory, and attention. It raises the stress hormone levels automatically even without the presence of a stressor. On the contrary, if you get a good night’s sleep, it makes you creative, proactive in your approach towards toxic individuals, keeps you more positive, and gives you the perspective that you need to deal with them effectively.
Avoid Tackling Everything Yourself
No matter how tempting it may seem, it is highly ineffective if you attempt to tackle everything by yourself. To deal with toxic individuals, you need to be aware of the weaknesses in your approach towards them. You should tap into your support system to gain a better perspective on a toxic individual. We all have some of those individuals at work or outside work that you can depend on, and they are ready to offer help as well in difficult times. You need to identify such individuals around and make an effort to seek their assistance and insight when you need it the most. It may be as simple as explaining the situation to them, which may lead to an altogether fresh perspective. Most of the times, other people can see a solution to a problem that you can’t, because they are not emotionally involved in the situation.
Before you implement the above-mentioned strategies, you need to adopt healthy stress relieving techniques to deal with difficult people. It will train your brain to tackle stress much more effectively and decrease the likelihood of side effects.
Exercise is great for mental health; Research has shown that it can lower stress, improve mood and even decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. But new research finds that a group exercise class may be even better for your mental wellbeing than a solo sweat session.
A small study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association found that people who took group exercise classes reported less stress and more physical, emotional and mental health benefits than those who exercised alone or did not hit the gym at all, suggesting that a social atmosphere may compound the already numerous benefits of physical activity.
At the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, 69 people in their first or second year of medical school—typically a very stressful time—were recruited for the study. One group of students did at least one 30-minute core training class together each week; another exercised alone or with one or two other people at least twice a week; and a third didn't engage in any physical activity beyond walking or biking for transportation. Students were allowed to choose their own group.
The students took surveys about their stress levels every four weeks and periodically filled out additional surveys about their physical, emotional and mental well being. After 12 weeks, the researchers determined that those taking the group core training class were seeing the best results.
The study has some limitations. It's possible that people who chose the core training group already knew they liked group exercise, and thus saw benefits. But the research suggests that the virtues of fitness classes go far beyond working up a sweat. In addition to a community vibe, the researchers note that the music and choreography used in group classes may boost mood.
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