How many of your employees understand your vision and strategy, and how many of them are on board?
Getting your people excited about and supportive of your vision means providing a clear picture of where your organisation wants to get to, and what it will look like when it gets there, it means sharing your passion, being transparent about the risks and challenges that may be involved and how you will support your people through this, and most importantly, it is explaining why you believe in your strategy and the successful realisation of your dream.
Communicate your vision: Do place the key vision statement in the office, boardroom, in emails, and within your social spaces, because this keeps the goal fresh in mind when the day-to-day business can too easily distract from what all the work is happening for, but know that getting people on board requires more than this. For people to really understand what you are striving for, and how you are going to achieve this, they need to what success actually looks like, what it means for them, and they need to understand the strategy and collaborate in working towards this objective with you.
Define what success looks like: how will you all know when success is attained, how will all your employees know, and how will it evidence as a success for everyone involved in the effort of creation?
Align individual successes with the global vision of success: When you align the meaning of success, at the company level, with the meaning of success for each individual, in relation to their own goals, you cultivate an environment of motivated and actively committed people, who are invested in your success.
Make your strategy simple: You want everyone to understand the key elements of your strategy. When the plan is simple, easy to understand, and leaves no room for interpretation, this allows everyone to clearly recognise how their role will contribute to implementing and supporting your strategy, fueling a sense of meaning and purpose in their role, and enabling them to make clear distinctions on what are the priorities for their department and where to ensure alignment with other departments.
Make it Measurable: a sound strategy has measurable goalposts so that advancement towards your objective can be monitored along the way. This gives everyone a clear feeling of progress when things are going well. When obstacles do occur and cause a detour from the strategy, or when putting out the daily fires of business-as-usual starts taking over, when the strategy is clear, people are able to quickly identify the detour, the need to let some things go, increase resources or make adaptions, and bring everyone back into alignment with the strategy quickly.
Get your people involved: when you invite input, you incorporate your people, so they are no longer just building your vision, they are building their vision, and as a result, they are more likely to have a stronger active interest in the collective success. When you invite input, your people are more likely to give time to brainstorming ideas to help identify how to align your strategy through the business levels, offering the potential for possibilities that you may not have considered, and sharing perspectives from angles you may not have access to because your company is just too large.
Facilitate Alignment: Too often departments are working to their own agenda, pursuing departmental ideas that they believe will contribute to the global vision, but due to misalignment with other departments, who are working on their own ideas to support the global vision, time is lost, conflicts occur, bottlenecks happen, and the system is simply not as efficient as it could be, and often a source of frustration for many team members, sometimes leading to loss of skilled and valuable employees. Making time to invite people to co-create the process of strategy alignment creates a platform for improved communication and collaboration, a positive working environment, increased feelings of possibility, and improved overall efficiency so that your company works like a polished Rolls Royce engine where all parts and in synch with each other.
How can a coaching psychologist facilitate this process for you?
Step One: Working with the CEO and senior leaders to identify how the vision is clearly communicated, facilitating the creation of a clear, simple, and measurable strategy, and identification who needs to be involved in co-creating and maintaining the alignment of the strategy throughout the company.
Step Two: Coaching your senior leaders and managers on solutions to align and integrate your strategy. This may involve, co-creating a strategy alignment team to work cross-departmentally, and improving management and leadership capabilities, including communicating clear expectations on performance, regularly updating on priorities and goals, inviting direct reports to demonstrate how what they do contributes to the strategy, coaching skills to drive a culture of individuals who take ownership of their role and responsibilities, active listening skills, effective delegation skills, and improvement of organisation and time management. In addition, psycho-education is offered to support psychological well-being, emotional regulation and work-life balance matters, to support the wellness of your people, and to ensure your valuable people stay with you, through the personal and business challenges, to share in realising your collective stories of success.
There are many ways to get through this, and each person has the right to choose their own path. I advocate for the loving path, which means that the way we get through this pandemic is with acceptance, compassion, and kindness.
Through my own social groups, I have experienced a division, a ‘them and us’ mentality that manifests its strongest force through the vaccination debate. I am not going to engage in a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ discussion here, what I am going to do is highlight that there are many ‘them and us’ debates occurring in our world right now; religious divides, race divides, gender divides, academic divides, financial divides, hierarchical divides, health divides, drinking and driving divides, and underlying all of these dividing factors is one common theme: fear.
When I accept my religious truth, when I accept my ethnicity, when I accept my gender, when I accept my level of academia, state of health, financial status and perceived positioning in my world, and when I accept and take ownership for my choices, then I have no fear of judgement because I am okay with me.
When I accept that I cannot control the choices other people make, that may or may not have consequences for me or my loved ones, then, although I may at times feel angry, I can choose to release my anger, because I cannot control others or what has been, and I cannot make a judgement on the choices made by each individual, because I do not their story; the reasons behind the choices made. Should understanding on individual choices be brought to light, I may develop a new perspective that alters my judgement and dissolves my anger, or not.
When I accept the beliefs of others, even when they contradict my own, then I am at peace with my soul. I cannot change the beliefs of others. I can offer inspiration and a positive influence to invite them to expand or change a point of view, but ultimately that choice, is theirs.
When I embrace my fears and work on myself to manage them, and seek to let go of that which I cannot control, while creating positive solutions, in alignment with my heart-centred values, on what I can control or influence, then I empower myself. From a place of personal power, fear diminishes and life moves on with new possibility and potential to co-create and grow in the areas of my life, my soul and my world, that I want to nurture and give life to.
People have a right to feel afraid; there are very real situations that impact health, life and quality of life. People have a right to feel angry: the lives of many have been turned upside down and thrown into uncertainty. Some have experienced great losses and for others that loss may be still to come. Some fear having a virus, some fear losing loved ones, some fear losing quality of life, some fear relationships crumbling, some fear losing their homes or jobs, some fear vaccines, some fear government agendas, and some fear the unknown. Some of these fears my manifest as truth and some may not. However, regardless of what happens, of what is truth, what is fear actually doing to effect change or influence the outcome? When we let go of what we cannot control and give energy to influencing a positive outcome in areas that matter to us, we may let fear walk beside us and along our path, because we acknowledge it is real and serving as a warning to pay attention, but we do allow it to consume us, limit, restrict or confine us, we keep walking on, living our lives.
The fear of our present climate has created fuel for more people to develop anxiety and depression, to turn against each other; to project anger, hate, and distrust, and to lose sight of hope, possibility, potential, opportunity and the blessing and gifts that can be born through tragedy, change and loss. I write this as a mother who lost a child and who knows the pain of tragedy and that blessings can follow when we choose bravery over fear. We cannot control life and death, but we can choose to live despite our fears and our differences. From this moment, we hold the power to decide that whatever we are going through, whatever we feel, however life has affected us, with whatever we fear, and from where we are at right now, that we have the power to choose to respond with love, or not to. I like to think that with a global tragedy affecting so many at the same time, that the best we can do is use this an opportunity to grow our love, and learn to live in our world with more understanding, acceptance, compassion, and kindness, for ourselves, and each other.
What does responding with love look like?
From a place of depression: If you can, responding with love means taking small gentle steps each day to do something that contributes to your health and happiness. This may be a creative activity, walking in nature, meeting a friend in person or online, cooking something you love, watching a comedy that has the potential to make you laugh, having a warm bath and playing feel good music and no matter what, ensuring you get enough good quality sleep, which is essential to healing and recovery. Once some positive feelings begin to emerge, you may be able to start seeing some hope. If you cannot help yourself, then asking for help is an act of love.
From a place of anger: If you are feeling angry about something that has happened, about what someone has done to you, about choices others have made or might make, about a loss, or because you feel afraid, uncertain or out of control, responding with loves means first deciding how you want to manage the feeling of anger that you are experiencing? A loving response is to go for a workout, sing, shout (but not at someone), or throw feathers fiercely. Once the intensity of the anger has passed, it is deciding, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond to the anger trigger? If someone has done something to hurt you or has betrayed you, you may want to assert how you feel, ask for an apology, ask for something you want or need? You might not get it, but asking is an act of love and empowerment that also gives the other person a chance to respond in a positive way. If you don’t get what you want, as a person choosing to live from love, how do you want to respond? You can stay angry, you can seek revenge, you can take legal action as an act of self-empowerment, you can move on, and you choose better quality people to be in your life, and you can choose to let your anger go, because holding on to anger only hurts you and affects people around you, and it changes nothing; we cannot change the past and we cannot force others to change. Releasing anger and choosing to move on sets you free and allows your life to move on in new and more peaceful waters.
From a place of uncertainty: it is recognising that this uncertainty is nothing new, because nothing is certain, it never was; some things only appeared that way, like a job contract. If you are triggered by current uncertainty, you were probably triggered by past uncertainty, and you got through that, so you have a track record of surviving feelings of fear about uncertainty.
From a place of being traumatised it is understanding that something outside of your control happened and it has created a response in your brain that has activated your threat response causing you to feel continued anxiety, tension or panic. A loving response is to first of all be gentle, do things to calm and relax your body, so that you body can start to get the message that it is safe now. Then, it is working through your thought processes, to dismantle false beliefs, fear beliefs and distorted beliefs, and start to form a way of thinking that helps you to reclaim your power and reclaim your life. This is described in how we can respond to fear and anxiety below.
From a place of fear or anxiety: It is asking yourself are you actually safe right now (Safe means that your life is not in immediate danger?) If you are not safe, do whatever you can to get to safety. If you feel unsafe but actually you are safe, recognise this and it may bring your anxiety down a level. The next step is to address where you feel insecure, and where you have fear, worry or doubt? Now place each item in a mental box, so that the overwhelm can begin to be managed, by addressing one issue at a time. From a place of wanting to respond with love (care, kindness, compassion, understanding, acceptance and healthy encouragement), consider one challenge at a time and ask: Is this a fact, a fear or a feeling? Is this actually happening or what might happen? If this happens, what positive things could I do for myself, another, or my world?
If we respond to how the pandemic has affected us, however it has, from wherever we are at, and with however we are feeling, with love, by accepting what is, accepting how we feel, and choosing to work on our thought processes and own emotional management responses in kind and positive ways, through self-help practices and or with professional support, our love will enable us to come through this time together. If we move through this pandemic with love, as our collective conscious response, we shall succeed in creating a new normal where the world we live in is a place of greater love. We have the power to create this and this pandemic has provided a perfect opportunity to really challenge us to raise our game; to raise our hearts. When trauma and tragedy enter our lives, we have the power to turn them into blessings that help create move love in the world. This is our power. This power belongs to you.
Written by Antonia Behan © Copyright September 2021
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc, MICF PCC, MBPsS.
Trauma informed adult and adolescent coaching and therapy
Based in Sotogrande, Spain.
The pandemic has left many thinking they can no longer plan for or control life, with feelings of being helpless or powerless to forces beyond our control. There has been a surge in fear and worry thoughts about health, mortality, loved ones and finances, and, as a consequence of the global trauma-inducing event, there has also been an increase in those suffering from anxiety and depression. In a world that has become even more uncertain, what can we do and how can we respond when so many fundamental aspects of our lives have been affected?
Establish Routine Joy and Happiness: Some things have changed, some remain the same, and some are the same, but different. When we returned from our different levels of confinement, to resume our daily routine, and it was the same as it was before, this helped to restore feelings of security and eased some anxiety; it was one step towards balance restoration. When we returned to our daily routine, but it was not all the same; if certain elements of joy and pleasure have still not yet been re-established, such as: returning to work, but not yet able to meet up on Friday as a group of twenty in the bar, or children returning to lessons in the classroom, but not yet able to mix with friends in break times, and parents dropping kids off at school, but not yet able to spark up conversations with other parents outside the school gates; these pleasure related losses that have not yet been re-established, can prevent a person from feeling that sense of balance begin to return. This is because re-establishing apparent routine alone is not enough to help restore balance, what is needed is those elements of pleasure within the routine. By recognising this and identifying the losses, it becomes possible to consider where pleasure can be included within the current reality, to enable new feelings of joy and happiness to grow.
Re-Vision: The pandemic has forced change upon many, and with this comes the opportunity, or necessity, to re-vision our personal and professional lives. This is not an act of giving in, it is a choice to adapt and change because, in reality, this is the only healthy option. When we open our minds to wonderment and ask: ‘what is possible?’, and indeed, ‘what could become something even better than I imagined in the pre-pandemic reality?’, it is possible to awaken new possibilities and potential. To help you reassess where you are heading and what you most want to focus on now, identifying your priority values is key.
FREE WORKSHEET: Please download your free values worksheet to help you identify what really matters to you the most right now in the different areas of your life.
Reclaim Your Power: Being forced into home confinement, understandably created feelings of being trapped, powerless, helpless, scared, worried, angry, and stressed, and for some, worrying it could happen again fuels the residual energies of that confinement. When things have happened to us that have caused harm, impacted fundamental human rights, basic needs, and the factors that help us maintain well-being, it can feel that power has been stripped from us.
We can reclaim our power by processing what has happened: acknowledging the feelings and emotions we have about what happened; getting angry, acknowledging anxiety, accepting loss, even the most painful loss, such as losing loved ones, and then, from a place of accepting what we feel, make a clear decision about what we are going to do next. When we make a choice about what we want, and take action in the name of what we want, we demonstrate that, although we may have been affected by the trauma we have been through, we have not been victimised, limited, restrained, or diminished. And, when we make these choices in alignment with our most important values, and those values are heart-centered, then we move forward with the power of love awakened from within, often with even greater ferocity than before, to keep growing our lives.
Ask yourself, ‘how do you want your love to move your world?’
When you affirm this, own this, and act upon it, with all the love in your heart, you reclaim your power to be and create as you choose in this world. Do this with love, and you emerge from the darkness, the trauma, and the tragedy with the power to affect great and positive change in your life and the lives of others.
This global pandemic has been and continues to be a challenge for most people; from travel restrictions and cancelled holidays, to loss of income, the tragic and devastating loss of loved ones and the development of new or pre-existing mental health related problems, including anxiety and depression. The initial shock felt at the start of the Covid 19 pandemic was a normal reaction to a global health scare; we didn’t know what was happening, what narrative to believe, and those in positions of authority, in most cases, reacted in a manner that served to evoke more fear and confusion. People felt afraid, out of control, restricted, trapped, and concerned or worried about loved ones, food supply, finances and general health and safety.
While the fears and worries prevail, some people have been able to adapt to what is happening by accepting the unknown, accepting what is out of our control, and implementing adaptive choices based on what is within our control, including: moving work online, creating wine and tapas meet ups in video chat rooms, deeply cleaning the house, enjoying time for baking, re-connecting with family members and making healthy choices in response to the information presented. Some of these people adapted by seeking meaning in suffering and chose to see the pandemic through a positive perspective; they were able to allow the pandemic to provide an opportunity to recognise or reassert what truly matters, and make quality of life adjustments accordingly.
However, not everyone has been able to adapt or cope in a healthy way with how they have been feeling, because they have not been aware of healthy coping strategies, because the pandemic forced them into terrifying situations where they were not safe and unable to escape, or because the pandemic has traumatised them. When the initial shock activated the central nervous system, causing a fight, flight or freeze response, instead of experiencing the natural rebalancing effects of the autonomic nervous system, which automatically kicks in to process fear and shock, restore stability to heart rate, breathing, and feeling safe, and enabling a return to rational thinking, which would allow a person to make healthy choices to support emotional wellness, if they wish to, some people have remained in a highly activated state, causing them feel that they are not safe, and to suffer intense and overwhelming emotional distress, intense anxiety and strong feelings of depression that they can no longer cope with.
This highly activated state was made worse by the minute-to-minute updates about the situation, portrayed through dramatic and fearmongering communication styles from the media, fuelling people’s fears of a highly contagious virus that may affect them or loved ones, fears of a conspiracy to remove human rights and freedoms, fears of forced untested vaccinations, or fears about being in a pandemic situation forever. Due to remaining in a highly activated state, some of these people have developed symptoms of acute stress or post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to feeling continually anxious and afraid, and without the ability to restore balance or calm, these people have needed to find external sources to help them cope with the intensity of their thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some turned to a glass or few of wine every evening to provide short term relief from anxiety or a low mood, others have chosen food, drugs, painkillers or addictive or obsessive behaviours to distract from how they are feeling. For many, even when the pandemic passes and COVID 19 becomes similar to an annual flu season, those who have been traumatised will continue to experience anxiety and depression until they learn how to heal and restore their inner calm.
This picture is nothing new; the pandemic has simply brought to our attention the very real suffering so many experience as a result of trauma inducing events. What we can take from this pandemic is that it has brought to the table an opportunity for long overdue conversations with those may be suffering. Having these conversations needs to happen in a safe place to ensure people are not re-traumatised or triggered into states they cannot control. The following points outline how to create a safe space to address mental health related matters at work:
Create a safe space: In the context of mental health, a safe space means an environment that allows a person to manage their emotional distress in an effective way. This may involve providing a physical space where people can go for a quiet moment to restore emotional balance and distract from negative and fear thoughts. It also means providing ‘safe people’ to hold a trauma informed space of compassion, empathy and kindness, where a person feels safe to open up, share their struggles and work on solutions.
Provide safe support people: A person who is safe is trauma-informed, which means they know how to create a safe place, foster trust, empower the person they are supporting, and are accepting, compassionate and able to support emotional regulation, which means the facilitator needs to be able to self-regulate and have a good level of emotional intelligence. You may have a mental health first aider or HR person with specialised training who would be suitable for this role, you may wish to bring in a trauma-informed therapist or psychologist to facilitate employee psychological well-being and mental health, or you may wish to form a mental health policy that provides the fees for an employee to attend a certain number or private and confidential therapy sessions outside of the office.
Establish psychological safety: Because trauma inducing events can activate the central nervous system to behave as if a real danger is present, even when the danger or perceived danger has passed, traumatised people continue to experience the sensations of being in danger, under attack, or in the fear scenario even when it is safe. By encouraging the development of positive coping skills, this solutions-focused attitude helps to activate the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for logic and reason, which can enable a person to begin to recognise that there is no actual real danger right now, in this moment, rather there is a ‘what if’ fear, which is an entirely different story. When a person can logically assert that they are safe right now, this can help reduce symptoms of emotional distress and sometimes help restore some sense of calm.
Know how to manage an emotional crisis: If someone is emotionally distressed or having an anxiety attack, the five senses exercise is one simple, non-invasive and effective technique that can be offered to help bring a person back into the present moment, where they can be reminded that they are safe right now. Ask the person to do the following five things, connecting with each sense in turn:
Be clear on what is suitable office based mental health support?
It is important to understand that as a manager or colleague you are not expected to be a psychologist or therapist, but there are some practices that you can provide that offer effective support and aid in the reduction of symptoms of anxiety, stress, fear and depression.
Help them to restore routine: Creating a sense of routine can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression because routines help to provide a sense of structure and security where you know what to expect, which can be useful for times of uncertainty or with feelings of being out of control. Creating a routine might include beginning with the same morning routine upon waking, taking set tea and lunch breaks through the day, scheduling time to be alone, putting a workout in the diary, finishing work at the same time and not taking work home, and making a note each day about what you feel grateful for.
Help reduce pressure: What can you do to reduce the pressure your employee is feeling? Is there a project someone else can do right now? What can be delegated or delayed for a short time? What part of their workload can you take on for a short-time? What low priority items can be let go? And what can you say to let this person know that their mental health challenges are not causing their job to be at risk, but that you will support them in healing and returning to wellness, as much as you can in your professional capacity.
Remind them of their accomplishments: When we experience intense emotions, it is common for the brain to turn to negative thinking, with feelings of guilt, shame and hopelessness. However, these negative thoughts are often cognitive distortions and not actual facts or truth. By challenging negative and fear thoughts, a person can be helped in restoring balance. One way to do this in a work environment is to remind the person of their accomplishments, and it doesn’t matter if they are small, because many small ones collaborate to create a new feeling of positivity and competence.
Encourage them to seek professional support: Have a few contact numbers of psychologists, therapists and psychiatrists that they can choose to contact, and remind them that asking for help is an act of vulnerability that takes great strength, and it is a choice to self-love, because you care enough to want to feel better.
To be a heart centred leader is to consciously live from the values of love. This means to live and lead with acceptance, appreciation, authenticity, compassion, empathy, honesty, gratitude, kindness and respect, and to be sincerely passionate about empowering the growth and development of others.
The benefits to you when you lead from the heart far outweigh the strength building challenges you will be invited to face through transition. This is not for the faint hearted, leading from the heart is for those who really care, those who want to make an inspired positive difference and who are willing to dare to be vulnerable to make this happen, and it is for those who may not necessarily believe they have the strength to stand strong in their beliefs and values right now, but who suspect they may have this quiet inner light waiting to be given a chance to shine.
If you have read this far, then you are likely to be someone who is inspired by the possibility and the challenge of leading from the heart. If you are someone who wants more; a better quality of life, improved relationships, a feeling of core mental and emotional strength, and to be an inspired facilitator to the emerging talent and potential of yourself and others, then I invite you to consider how your are already leading from the heart and where you can grow yourself and your people. Ask yourself, how well do you:
To lead from the heart is to walk your talk in alignment with your values, creating a ripple effect that inspires and empowers others to walk the path to living in a field of greater love and harmony.
Facilitator in Leading from the Heart
Coaching and Therapy for Adults and Adolescents
BSc Psychology (Hons) MBPsS
MSc Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Psychological Practice
Qualified Professional Coach MICF PCC
Certified CBT practitioner
Private office in Pueblo Nuevo (Beside Sotogrande)
Also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and online via Zoom or Doxy.
I work with individuals and organisations to facilitate leadership from the heart, partnering with you to identify and integrate your heart-centred values, to develop the behaviour qualities that reflect these values, and become a source of inspiration for your family, pupils, community and workforce, while empowering you to develop a greater sense of peace, freedom, happiness, harmony, and ultimately success where is matters most to you.
Get in touch:
As we scale the peak and cross the platform from where we were to where we are going, unable to see what the new planes will bring in the new world, and uncertain of the new horizones we shall meet, what can we do in this moment while we face uncertainty and the great unknown?
We can bring ourselves into this present moment, which for now requires a complete surrender of what we knew. As central governments decide, albeit with our influence, the course of our journey ahead (no, we are not powerless, and yes we have influence) and while in this present moment we are bombarded with confusing and contradictory information forcing us to admit that in reality, we do not know the truth about what is and we cannot know the truth about what is, and that it is hard to know who or what to believe, what we can do in this time of surrender, is start to listen to and trust our inner compass.
I invite you to connect with your inner compass, and delve deep into where you core values rest in this moment: what is this time teaching you and what matters most to you? What is this time teaching you about what mattered to you about how your life was, and how the world was? What is this time teaching you about who you want to be and how you want to live and how you want to see our world evolve?
Now, in solitude, which may be peaceful, chaotic, fearsome, overwhelming, emotional, stressful, calm or exciting; whatever it feels like for you, and perhaps a rollercoaster of all of this, in this time of change and opportunity for reflection, what core values; the things that really matter to you, do you want to see integrated more into how you live, what you do and how our world evolves?
Write these down, write down why they matter; why these values matter to you and what will having them and living them give you and mean for you and your world, and our world?
Then, in clear recognition of what truly matters to you, for you and your world, I invite you to draw closer to your heart and listen to you heart speak about those values that matter most to your heart, and ask, why do these values matter, and what would your world look like and feel like and sound like with these heart centred values lived?
Now that a picture is forming about how to live from these heart-centred values, I ask you to make a commitment to action: what can you do to live more from the values of the heart, your heart, and what will you do to evidence this, and when will you do this, and how will you know when this is done?
We are crossing a bridge of opportunity for change, some may take it, some may not, but the opportunity is here for those who want to take it and to evolve. I feel it, I feel I am walking in the footsteps of a dawn to a new world, and as I walk, consciously from the eve of what was into this new dawn, mindful of what I am letting go of, what no longer matters, and what I cannot bring with me because I recognise that I need let some things go, for my peace and happiness; the values I wish to grow in my new dawn, I am mindfully considering what vision do I want craft in the skies of the new landscape that is birthing, and how much do I want to contribute to that vision. I understand, through the laws of co-creation, that the vision in my mind, the vision of peace, happiness and harmony, can only come about if I walk with peace, in happiness and in harmony, conscioulsy, day to day, while contributing, in action to these values on a personal, local and globale scale in my own small way.
This is a call first to reflection and then to action. Your reflection, on the values of your heart, and your action, on the values of your heart are important right now.
I know when you and I listen to the voice of love, my voice, your voice, our voices, that even if our voices sing with shades of different colours, we can and shall make rainbows together in the skies of a new paradise.
Antonia Behan BSc, MSc,MBPsS MICF PCC
Providing coaching and therapy for adults and adolecents
Suddenly the world changed; overnight adolescents were isolated from their friends, moved to on-line learning, not allowed to leave their homes and told that a dangerous virus was circulating and that it could kill their vulnerable loved ones if they did not socially distance. Some teenagers have responded well; they are able to accept the situation, they do not feel afraid, they are relieved to be away from the stress of school, they have found online learning different but okay, and are happy to be home with family and feeling generally more relaxed and doing what is asked to take care of vulnerable loved ones. Other teenagers miss their friends, they feel lonely and isolated, they struggle with on-line learning and find it difficult to focus, and without their daily routine, these factors of change have created anxiety in those who were not anxious and heightened anxiety in those who are.
Without coping strategies to deal with what is happening and the unknown road ahead, some adolescents are at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety, anxiety disorders and depression, and may attempt to cope using unhealthy tools, such as alcohol or drugs, they may try to take control buy diving deeper into obsessive behaviours and addictive habits, they may seek to self-soothe by over-eating, or try to control anxiety through starvation. When we cannot change the situation, we can empower teenagers with healthy coping skills to manage what is happening and how they are feeling.
The first and most important item is family communication. Adolescents need emotion-focused communication, which means parents are open in expressing how they feel about what is happening. This helps a teenager feel better able to express their own feelings, and when feelings and emotions are open and seen, then coping strategies can be explored. Problems occur when parents keep their feelings to themselves, even when this is believed to help their teenager. What can happen is that a teenager sees that a parent is not able to engage in an emotion-focused conversation and then feels they need to protect that parent from emotion, and so the teenager keeps their feelings to themselves and tries to cope alone.
When communication is opened up, the conversation can move into deeper understanding about what is happening, how people are feeling about what is happening, and why they are feeling what they feel. It may be that a teenager is stressed because they cannot focus with online learning, which may contribute to fear-based thoughts about exam performance or university placement. The reason this teenager cannot focus is because their fear-based thoughts activate the amygdala in the brain, which causes the fight or flight response to be triggered, making it very difficult to concentrate or apply logic or focus. When this happens, it is possible to learn techniques to counter the fear-response to evoke calm which in turn will allow the prefrontal cortex area of the brain to function better, which aids focus and attention, while reducing the activity of the amygdala. A teenager may be worried that people they love may die, they may be experiencing distressing feelings and overwhelming worry, and they become obsessed about disinfecting things so that they don’t transmit anything to their parents or grandparents. This could develop into an anxiety disorder, which causes prolonged distress. Exploring together how you feel about what is happening, talking about death or fear of death, normalising it as part of our lives and how we cope with this, and identifying what your teenager needs to feel supported and this how support can be given, can go a long way towards easing anxiety and cultivating feelings of calm and security.
Some techniques to ease fear-based thoughts and anxiety include: breathing or muscle relaxation techniques, talking through worries and moving into solutions, identifying fears and applying logic and reason to formulate a more realistic point of view, modifying extreme and obsessive behaviours to create healthier patterns of behaviour, identifying healthy actions to manage the situation, learning to let go of what cannot be controlled and focus on what can with a healthy approach, engaging in activities that boost serotonin, endorphins and dopamine; hormones which generate positive feelings, and looking at ways to turn a difficult situation into a time of opportunity and possibility.
If you would like to explore how to support your teenager in managing anxiety, please get in touch:
Coaching Psychologist BSc MSc MBPsS MICF PCC
0034 620 741 361
Private office near Sotogrande, with consultations also available at Ocean Clinic Gibraltar and Atlantic Clinic Nueva Andalucia. Online sessions available via Zoom, Skype or Doxy.
Dalton L, Rapa E and Stein A (2020) Protecting the psychological health of children through effective communication about COVID-19, The Lancet: Child and Adolescent Health
Grubic N, Badovinac S, Johri A (2020) Student mental health in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: A call for further research and immediate solutions. International journal of social psychiatry https://doi.org/10.1177/0020764020925108
A gentle soul entered my life not so long ago. Through the days and weeks of her emerging I carried her and nurtured her and felt my love for her grow. I had dreams of my little girl; I saw her gifted to me from the angels who blessed her soul with love, and I understood that my angel would touch hearts, and that she would teach me to open my heart to greater love. I did not imagine how she would weave her magic, or that she would return to the angels so soon; a life lived only in my womb for 37 weeks, and who has touched my heart forever.
There has been felt by those close by a harmonic resonance in the meaning of her presence; to heal and to love. My little Angel touched hearts and opened family and friends to deeper heart connection; she was able to share her spiritual gifts without setting foot in this world and this is how I know for sure she truly is an Angel.
I have listened to many who have offered love and support say that ‘I have no words’ and ‘I do not know what to say’ and this is okay. Sometimes there are no words to say. This can lead to a divide, separation and isolation, because in fear of not knowing what to say or do, some shy away from tragedy and loss, when what is needed to support healing is connection, acknowledgement, acceptance and love. Others simply embrace the truth and accept the silence. Silent presence can be a powerful support.
Death is part of life; it touches us all. I wonder how life would be if we felt more confident about how we embrace death, loss and the pain of a broken heart. I wonder if we understood it was okay to say: ‘I am sorry for your loss’ and then return to silence, or to talk about the weather, the events of the day and the next, that in doing so we demonstrate transcendence of the fear of facing pain and give recognition to the strength to address and accept reality, and that in owning our strength we empower the grieving to grow their own.
I wish to honour the gift of my angel through dedication to loving more. This means striving to live with greater understanding, empathy and compassion, deeper acceptance, forgiveness and peace, the dedication to conscious creation of radiant happiness, joy and fulfilment, and to encourage deeply heart-felt meaning making in all who suffer tragedy, loss and the pain of grief.
What I am learning from this loss is that life brings beautiful blessings in ways we cannot imagine, and when we accept, no matter how much the suffering, the beauty we seek and discover gives us strength and illuminates the path ahead to a life of greater meaning, purpose and heart-centred living.
The pain and suffering does not end, that is not the goal. Pain and suffering, death and loss, tragedy and heart-break are part of our world. We can avoid and escape them, and turn to unhealthy, negative and destructive means of coping, or we can accept and embrace reality, find meaning, seek the gifts and blessings, and grow our hearts and minds to empower the evolution of love and beauty in the future. I believe this is what our world needs now: greater love, and my little Angels has fuelled me with more light to strive for this within myself and in empowering others with the growth of their strength.
Some of you reading this will have known of my Angel, and watched her grow with me over recent months. Do not be afraid to speak of her, her name was Isabella-Rose. Do not be afraid to open your heart or say what you feel like saying. Do not feel the need to avoid her to protect me from my pain, because I can hold my pain and I do not need it to be taken away, because I know time will help me heal, and this is how it must be: the pain is making me stronger.
I am not alone in grief. Death touches us all. This is not written for my loss, but for our loss; past, present and future, so as to encourage the opening of hearts, the sharing of words, and the development of strength to accept reality, to give it meaning, and to inspire and empower our ongoing journey’s to greater love and connection.
I am very happy to announce that I have just opened 'The Coaching Studio' in a very private office location on the edge of Sotogrande. Designed as a relaxing and supportive coaching and therapy space for adults and teenagers, as well as a comfy and professional creative and development space for group workshops.
Yes I said the 'C' word, and it's still October!! Let's face it, Christmas is not about celebrating one day of the year, it is a lengthy process of preparation that can involve all kinds of stressors and worries that may fuel anxiety in some. But let's not assume the worse, because equally so, and it can be a time of preparation for a beautiful heart-felt reunion of loved ones. For most people, the truth is somewhere along that perceptual spectrum.
This article explores how we can each take ownership of family harmony at Christmas and offers a simple and effective process that you can try at home to raise the bar on harmony. We begin to address harmony by considering what it means?
Q:What does 'Harmony in your family' mean to you?
Feeling Perplexed? Noticing your thoughts taking a few moments to clarify? If you are nodding, this is because it may well be the first time you have asked yourself the question in a long time, perhaps it is the first time ever? So let's take a moment to reflect and really consider the meaning of 'Harmony?'.
Harmony is being in agreement, a pleasing arrangement, acceptance of differences and people living in peace. Would you agree, or add anything to this? Now, with the meaning of harmony in mind, how do you rate your family harmony generally? (On a % scale, 100% being total harmony). Write this number down on a piece of paper to identify your place on the harmony spectrum!
Now, ask yourself, what would be different if you were at 100%? What would be different about how people think, behave and communicate? How would things look to a fly on the wall? What would be different about how it feels to be in the home with each other? Take a few moments to make some notes or have some thoughts about this.
When we consider the changes that may occur if a state of harmony were achieved, we begin to recognise what is needed to make the changes. These opportunities for growing towards greater harmony may require clearer expectations and boundaries for children and teenagers, it may be that positive ways of communicating need to be better modeled, or that techniques for managing powerful emotions and changing hormones be learnt. It is possible that personal beliefs would benefit from being enhanced in a positive direction, self-esteem developed, confidence cultivated, assertiveness embraced, the ability to say 'no' strengthened,and the recognition of the importance of letting go of trying to control embraced, and in the space created, a new acceptance of what cannot be changed or controlled and a new system integrated, a system based on positive values, upheld by a new boundary framework enforced with positive reinforcement and clear consequences that are religiously maintained to facilitate positive behaviour change and the potential for a stronger sense of security, trust and respect to be developed. It may be that allocated time is made to talk to each other, to be together doing something fun, together, and more often. It may be that responsibilities need to be defined and needs and wants requested. And, it may be that everything is actually going pretty well, it's juts that the pressure is on, and the family just needs a conscious decision to work on proper relaxation and making moments of peace to raise the feeling of harmony through a deeper sense of peace.
What resonates with you in these words? What do you believe would support you in growing towards family harmony? And, what is actually within your control to have impact on today?
Your Power to Create Family Harmony: It is for certain that within your control is the ability to make choices about your own thoughts, actions and reactions. It is within your control to ask for your needs and wants to be met and to ask others about what they need and want from you. It is within your control to modify how you communicate with yourself; how much more you speak from a place of loving kindness to your own mind. It is within your power to set boundaries on behaviour; what is acceptable and what is not acceptable and how will you respond when the line is crossed, while honoring your own values and the values you wish to integrate within your family and home?It is within your power to manage your own emotional reactions. And yes, after a long day, with not enough sleep, hormonal mayhem, too much to do and urgent homework assignments or full costumes due in the morning!!, managing emotions may seem impossible and it may well be, so relax, give yourself a break, embrace acceptance, love, understanding and reality! It's okay, you are only human and sometimes it's just hard.
Take a moment to consider your teenage children, the newness of hormones and overwhelming emotions, the urgency to be acceptance and included, the pressure to be online 24/7, to succeed, attain, achieve, and liked, and ask yourself: 'How could compassion support me and my family?' Accept that you are a human being and when you 'loose it', forgive yourself. All we can do, is try and try again; failure is an inevitable part of success and a value from which we can learn greatly. Focus on where it is realistic to make changes, and then, when the bigger challenges arrive, you will, as a consequence of practice, become better able to manage.
Now, take a breath, release the pressure, there is no pressure. In reality, change takes time, for you and for your family members. Release expectations, set only clear intentions and realistic actions, and try. Reward yourself and others for the small steps; in time they will become celebrations of a mountain peak attained; a mountain built on love, compassion, respect, acceptance, understanding, wisdom, strength, forgiveness and any other values you choose to build your family on.
You have the power to facilitate greater harmony for yourself, your family and your world.