Celebrating two years…

 

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I received a lovely notification from WordPress today, wishing me a ‘Happy Anniversary’: it’s my 2 year WordPress blog-anniversary, and I’m delighted to be able to share it with you. I just wanted to take the opportunity to thank you all for being part of my journey over the past two years, or for however long you have been following along, even if you have only just joined me. I appreciate each and every one of you, for after all the art of blogging is as much in the reading as it is in the writing, and you all make it worthwhile.
It may be a modest achievement to have reached this stage, but I also want to encourage each and every one of you to recognise your own achievements without comparison to those seemingly ‘greater’ achievements of those around you.
For me blogging is not about numbers of ‘likes’ or followers, although it gives me a boost each time I see your lovely comments and contributions. It is about making a difference and putting something of worth back into the world so that I might help or encourage even one person, because each of you are so valuable in and of yourselves. For me, in a sense, my humble blog is quite an accomplishment, because I started it at a time when I was struggling massively with my health and in particular complex-PTSD, depression and anxiety…I wrote and threw myself into creative pursuits, partly because creativity is essential to who I am, but also as a way to help conquer my health battles.
Blogging has also given me a creative outlet and has provided me with insights into some of your wonderful worlds. Isn’t it amazing to be able to catch a glimpse of real lives unfolding in other parts of the world in a variety of cultures, and yet lives that share the same deep and common thread of humanity? Thank you.
As I have continued on this journey, I feel I have found not only an outlet for myself, but the gift of being able to form connections and deepen my understanding of myself in this world, to use my painful experiences hopefully to help someone else and in doing so to feel more purposeful through life, to share with you the joys, and simple wonders of life as it happens to be, and of course, to express my Gratitude and to share my faith.
So, ‘don’t despise the day of small beginnings’ if you are starting something new, or if something you are putting your heart into seems to be taking time. Things will blossom in their time.
For now, thank you dear readers / blogging friends, and thank you WordPress for the many doors you open to make life online a little more wonderful. xx

‘Social media influencers’ …is it time for a new wave?

So, not too long ago, I discovered the term ‘social media influencers’…I had been aware of the work of such people, but wasn’t as yet ‘au fait’ with the terminology.

As mentioned in a previous post, my generation was the last generation to grow up with technology such as the Internet, but also be able to remember a time when it wasn’t a thing in mainstream society. I see myself as very fortunate in this regard, for the perspective it gives me and others – we are kind of caught between the old and the new….although that isn’t necessarily a matter of age or life stage so much as being able to interact with changing developments, while being able to analyse the potential effects of them in a wider sense as well. Those of an ‘older generation’ may find it hard to engage with technological and societal changes and may have no idea what their children and grand children are talking about when it comes to new opportunities that they see for themselves. They may not consider a ‘proper job’ to be anything less than something you have trained for professionally or academically for a number of years, gained a qualification in and can thereby contribute to society in a 9 to 5 world. This could include being skilled through an apprenticeship, ‘on the job’ training and such like, but to them a ‘real job’ has nothing to do with social media. Let me clarify, that with regards to this perspective, I have a ‘real job’ and have never earned an income from social media, and I don’t earn a penny from anything I write on this blog, although I see the potential in exploring avenues elsewhere for my photography that might free up a bit of extra time so that I have more flexibility with the types and ways I work. I love my job, but it is more analytical and I do write a lot as part of my role, but it is business writing. That is only one part of me, and I therefore find outlets from my creative side which is a huge part of who I am through writing my novel, writing my blog, photography projects, arts, crafts, adult colouring, music, (easy) jewellery / bead making and other similar projects on the side, all of which I do as hobbies. 

The generation coming after me is unlikely to remember what it was like to not have social media and technology as a central part of their lives. People now joke that babies come out of the womb knowing how to use a smart phone! It may sound ridiculous but by the time a child is a toddler, they may be more efficient at using social media than their grandparents! The ‘GenZ’ generation as it has come to be known as, unlike the ‘Millenial’ generation to which I was born into in terms of time frame, not necessarily values overall, is exposed from day 1 as it were to a world where technology is most of what they know. As such, many younger people see their lives and their future opportunities as coming from online ventures. And many are making money – A LOT of money from the myriad of opportunities available to them online. There are bloggers, and some of you – older and younger – may be part of the community that does manage to make an income from your online blogs, and I’d be very interested to hear about your experiences and journey if you’d like – there are ‘YouTubers’ and Instagrammers and a whole host of other people using a myriad of platforms to make a name for themselves, their brand, or their message. 

Advertisers and big businesses have seized upon this potential and ‘social media influencers’ – those, particularly young people, who have a significant ‘following’ are prime investments as it were for companies to draw in more customers. Influencers may be setting new trends and those who follow and look up to them will want to emulate them. 

In my experience, and correct me if I’m wrong, social media influencers tend to be particularly dominant in the fields of beauty, make up, fashion, gaming, health and fitness, diet, food, wellness, and in providing opinions on merchandise of various sorts. Maybe even travel, but I find that probably beauty and fashion and lifestyle are more predominantly represented – what are your thoughts? 

The potential to influence others is massive…incredible really. This can be reflected partially in the hefty figures that represent their takings from 4, 5 and even 6 figure sums. Influencers shape trends, and reach sometimes millions of ‘viewers’. Yet, are they using their platforms effectively for what can really influence the generations to come? 

Fashion and beauty trends come and go. Products, likewise gain and lose popularity over time. So while for a short time this influence has an impact on their audience, and their pockets and their own lifestyles, which I don’t have a problem with, does not influence also bring with it responsibility? I have seldom seen young people who are prominent in social media, in terms of being influencers, using their platforms for issues of humanitarian concerns and social justice. Yet, what a platform they have! Occasionally, I have seen people reflect upon a tragedy or situation in world events, but very rarely and usually as part of a ‘trend’ so that they are also seen to be involved. I haven’t been exposed to much of what seems to be part and parcel of their central work or message. And that’s a real shame and a wasted opportunity. I have seen ‘Youtubers’ who are in this ‘mid-generation’ using their voice to raise awareness of social issues and personal struggles, not in a self indulgent way but as advocates for change. I am a bit of an ‘oldie’ when it comes to changing trends, so please do educate me if I have got this all wrong. I know a lot of young people are very vocal about climate change and sustainable living but I don’t know if they are the ones with these massive platforms…?

But if what I have perceived is an accurate reflection of the times then surely there is a need for a ‘new wave’ of social media influencers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they should leave their passions for beauty and health and other such things, but to use their platforms to also advocate for change in terms of the myriad of problems facing society today: if you are a health vlogger, and talk a lot about diet and fitness, could you also use your platform to encourage individuals and industries to care for the homeless and those without food, similarly could fashion influencers reach out to those who have nothing to wear, literally, not figuratively? Could those who speak about home and lifestyle and living their ‘best life’ raise awareness or use their connections with followers and businesses to improve the welfare of the most hurt, marginalised and distressed children in society? And what can we do, even those of us who have a limited sphere of influence like myself, and who have no connections with industries, and who receive no payment for what we do online, can we also use what voice we do have for the benefit of humanity and not merely the outward and fleeting trends that are popular for a moment and then gone the next? 

As always, I love to hear your thoughts…. xx

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The times, they are a-changing…

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Well today, the day after the United Kingdom held its European Parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced her resignation, to be effective as of  Friday June 7th, two weeks from now.  She spoke of how she tried her best for the country she loves, and how she was motivated by her public duty and her democratic obligations to the will of the people, speaking specifically about the referendum vote three years ago that resulted in a simple majority to leave the European Union…or ‘Brexit’ as it has come to be known.

Most people feel disaffected with politics, although there has been expressions of sympathy towards Mrs May who was choked with emotion at the end of her resignation speech.

We face new challenges going forwards, and who knows what the rest of the world thinks of the United Kingdom in this respect. Yet, whatever our political opinions, persuasions or if we choose not to get involved at times, the Christian’s responsibility, regardless of personalities, politics or any other such thing, is to pray.

We are admonished in 1 Timothy 2:

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all people, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all…

Do you notice your dreams coming true? ….

When I was a little girl, I had a vast and vivid imagination. If it was a rainy day and I didn’t have anyone to play with, I would create stories in my mind and go on imaginary adventures. When I was in primary school I had a dream that when I grew up I would be an artist, a painter or a cartoonist…this gradually progressed to me wanting to be a writer (as well as all of the above 🙂 ), and I busied myself with creating short stories. When I was in primary school at around 8 or 9 years of age, my class was asked to write a short story. I was an avid reader as a child and drew inspiration from a book I was reading and a television programme that I watched. Inspired by these wonderful imaginary worlds, I created a story all of my own and enjoyed doing so. It turned out that my teacher enjoyed my story too, so much so that she complimented me on writing to the level of a first or second year high school student – which when you are 8 years old is a massive compliment because high school students are so far removed from our little childhood world that they seem almost like adults! For those who have different terms in your education system, the equivalent would be a student aged between 11 to 13 years old. My teacher gathered the class to sit in a semi circle on the floor around her as she sat on a chair. You can imagine the scene, a group of kids sitting cross legged looking up at their teacher, so glad that their maths time is over and they can enjoy being read to! This was the normal way we’d sit when the teacher would read to us as a class from some fiction book. Only this day, she chose to read my story to the class instead! I was a humble, quiet child, but I was so happy on the inside, and it is a pleasant childhood memory that I am glad to have. 

As I moved schools at age 9 and went to a new primary school I found things difficult for a while and leaving all that was familiar to me behind I became a lot quieter having lost my close friendships and finding myself as the new person and having to start all over again. Being a visible minority also made it harder for me but eventually I found my fit and was respected amongst my peer group. I continued to enjoy reading and writing and although I was always in the top groups for other subjects such as maths, it was a lot harder work for me and I struggled and remember tears being shed over fractions and long division. I could get very good marks, but not without the struggle and tears and a bit of stress. English however, that was a dream to me. I enjoyed writing poetry, prose, short fiction as a child and all but the poetry has continued into adulthood. 

With my move to secondary school aged 11 years old came another big step out of my comfort zone as I had to go to a school outside of the catchment area of my primary school because a family member was already there, and this meant leaving behind classmates once again. As you’ll know by now if you’re a regular (and much appreciated 🙂 ) visitor to my blog, this was a traumatic time for me, and I was bullied physically, verbally, mentally, socially and emotionally by my peers as well as being unfairly treated by a couple of teachers. This totally scrambled my mind and my emotions and has left me with a lot to work on well into adulthood, but by the grace of God, He Is bringing out things from it for His Glory, and my restoration and for the good of other people. 

Writing became important to me on a much deeper level. I was alone, scarred, scared, terrified, shy and friendless and felt I had no one to turn to, other than my family, but even then I couldn’t articulate the enormity of what I was going through so I became quite withdrawn. I was inspired by reading Ann Frank’s diary ‘whom’ she named ‘Kitty’ and as a child in school I poured out my heart to my ‘only friend’ at the time, a notebook of my own ‘whom’ I also named as a friend to comfort myself that I had ‘someone’ to turn to. My short stories turned from imaginary worlds to exploring ideas of people like me who were bullied for their appearance or something ‘different’ or seemingly undesirable about them, how it felt and also touching upon mental health, depression and suicide, although I wouldn’t really know what to call it all at the time. 

I devoured books. I shone in my English classes, although a quiet student, partly because of my nature and also because I was traumatised and ‘stuck’ and not as comfortable with myself, and often hating myself for being so ‘repulsive’ which actually wasn’t true but it was a result of the emotional and psychological scars from the cruel treatment I experienced. Yet my passion for literature, and to be a writer only grew. I read classics and I found myself imagining being like one of the female writers of times past, pouring out her soul onto paper as it were, because without doing so she couldn’t function, and literally for a while I felt I had to write to live. I excelled in writing and gained academic recognition in high school and went on to study English Literature in University for my undergraduate degree, along with Politics. I then went on to study a Masters course in Gender Studies, Human Rights and International Development and won the prize for the best written dissertation on my chosen subject of human trafficking. This came after a time when my dream to get into the postgraduate creative writing course in my university burst and my application was rejected due to the high quality of the many candidates who applied. Basically, they were telling me I wasn’t ‘good enough’. And that did discourage me for a while. 

Yet, glancing back to my late teenage years, just before I embarked upon University I was at an age, 17 to be exact, when I like my peers was looking to the future and wondering what we’d become. I had worked hard in school to gain good grades and do well, and tried so hard to ‘get away’ from the emotional and psychological trauma and distress buried deep within….yet I was still so broken despite things looking positive outwardly to some extent. People told me later that in my final year of school they admired me, wanted to be me or were jealous of me – quelle surprise! If only they knew the troubled soul beneath the surface, surely they would change their mind. I was admired physically as well which was confusing to me after being taunted mercilessly for being repulsive in my earlier high school years, and having equated my self worth with their comments and feeling worthless. I had fought hard internally to get to where I was and yet the emotional pain was severe and I hid it well.  It didn’t just go away but actually became more apparent later in adulthood, when it all came to the surface and ‘exploded’ in I guess a cathartic way in breaking down, the pain couldn’t stay stuffed within anymore, but I had to face it to begin to heal. 

Aged 17 I was still passionate about literature and passionate about becoming a writer. It was also a form of escapism for me. When you’ve been made to feel like you are ‘nothing’ sometimes you turn to the imaginary world to dream of some kind of success or the person you’ll eventually become…only on the hard rugged road of real life it is seldom that easy unless you are particularly fortunate to tread a gentle and happy path. I was broken and I wanted to write…but not only did I want to write novels, I wanted to write ‘self help’ or ‘self care’ and spiritual books…because I wanted to help other people. I was *so* broken that even though I wanted to be able to help others, I could not reach out because I barely had the strength to get through my own emotional pain and that was so demoralising and frustrating for me….was it all for nothing? I wanted to help….even ‘just’ one person, because I was one person, and I needed help. 

Someone did stop to help me, to tell me about the Lord Jesus, and I just couldn’t fathom why someone was being genuinely kind to me, and I didn’t feel worthy of kindness because I was so hurt. I was like a wounded little bird tied up in chains unable to escape the inner pain and mental fear – fear was something that everyone who came across me would notice – I was sweet, and kind and gentle and creative, pretty and loving, but I was consumed with fear and unable to break free, barely able to make eye contact or hold my head up. 

More than someone stopping to tell me about Jesus, I came over time to know that Jesus Christ, The Good Shepherd of the sheep, as the parable says left the 99 sheep that were safe to come to look for the one that was lost – and that one was me. Perhaps today, you identify and see that it is you. He didn’t merely come to rescue me but to lay down His Life to Save, Forgive, Cleanse, Heal and Restore me, and give me hope in this life and an eternal life of pure love in His Kingdom to come. Glory. Self help and human advice can only go so far, the love and restoration that Jesus has for us is so very real, and it may take time as you cry out to God asking why did you allow me to feel such pain, but He suffered the most to set us free. 

When I was saved, God led me to lay down my writing and my dreams of being a writer as an idol. This was not an easy process, and I didn’t accept it easily until finally I did. I surrendered, and I wasn’t able to write for a long while. And all the while He was changing me from the inside out. I had started writing a fantasy adventure novel maybe the year or a few months before I was saved. And so I had to give this up. But God in His great love and wisdom had better plans. I used to imagine becoming a well known and respected writer, and opening up a box of my very own published works and being able to dedicate them to family and friends and share them with people. Was this the illusion, the escape, the reclusive ‘fame’ even that I sought? Yet over time, God changed me to want to do everything for His Glory alone because of the greatness of His Sacrifice of Pure Love for me. We all are sinners in need of a Saviour, no matter how ‘good’ we think we are, and I thought in my foolishness that I was good, until God showed me my heart and convicted me so that my very ‘bones cried out’ for mercy. Only the righteous blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse us and forgive us for all sin, He had to endure the cross, and suffer the wrath of the Father so that we, the guilty, could go free….and be considered blameless and righteous ….and only because of Him. And after some time I gradually began to write again. There were people and friends in my life who were doing well with their writing and getting published, and I was struggling with life and a whole host of things going on that I was just trying to survive and so much felt utterly broken so I was pretty dejected and I guess in my heart my dreams were broken, and I didn’t feel like I mattered so much…it often feels like that when we are going through particularly intense hard times while those around us seem to be blossoming with the happiness of life and good circumstances and blessings. Yet God does not have favourites and that was a painful lesson for me to walk through as I felt that I wasn’t among them. 

So, fast forward a few years, and now we have this term ‘Millenials’. According to my age group, I come within this category of being a ‘Millenial’ although I’m not sure how fond I am of terms that lump people together in such a way, as I am able to connect with people from across the generations, younger to older. As a millennial, in terms of the time frame I grew up in, I am towards the middle and older end of the spectrum as I can actually remember a time before mobile phones did anything more than call and text, and before the internet was much of a thing. The internet was around when I was in school but it was only just gaining in popularity and people were still getting to know what it was all about. I realise some of the younger readers won’t be able to imagine such a ‘land before time’ ….a time before the internet, would they even know what a ‘dial up modem’ is (anyone remember those?).

As such, when I dreamt of being a writer, my dreams were written with pen and ink on paper, were treasured in notebooks and drawers (yes, I did not have a laptop as a child or teenager…can you imagine? 🙂 ) and my inspiration was drawn from the Brontes, Jane Austen, ‘Jo’ from ‘Little Women’ who had to write in solitude and courage in the hope that one day their dream to share their heart and writings with another human being might actually come to fruition once they had found favour in the publishing world – which of course was not an easy journey. 

Which brings me once more to the title of this blog post: “Do you notice your dreams coming true?”. As human beings, because we are on a journey through life, we are often so caught up in what happened before and thinking about what is to come that we seldom truly appreciate where we are right now, and the dreams we once had that are coming to fruition ….no matter how seemingly ‘small’ or ‘inconsequential’ they might seem to others. Someone might have the dream to walk again if that has been a challenge in their life…so while those around them might be dancing, running and leaping and may not even know how big a ‘step’ they have taken if they finally do accomplish their dream, it doesn’t make the fruition of their dream any less special, beautiful or significant. 

Once upon a time, I dreamed of being able to write to help somebody….even one person…because one person matters. I could barely find a way through my own pain so I didn’t know how this would come to pass. I dreamed of someone, somewhere being able to read my words and be touched by them…and even though I’m a ‘Millennial’ I dreamed these dreams before the days of the internet and blogging were common place and as part of our daily lives as they are now. 

In the past few days a friend of mine who has gone through a lot of difficult things in their life, who has accomplished much, and is yet working through the effects of their earlier life experiences, gave me the gift of sharing that they had read my blog and had been impacted by it, had appreciated my writing and had found help in their own life and would continue to read it. Now this is no small thing, for it really is the fulfilment of a dream I had many years ago…to write, and to help, even one person. 

I have been working on a novel for a number of years, and write for the glory of God and not my own ambition anymore. For when you are known and loved and noticed by your Creator, you don’t strive after recognition or validation by people in the same way anymore. You are freer to live out your dreams for the right reasons. So I will keep writing, and keep praying that I do all that I do because He Is Great and merciful, and the Love of my life, and so Worthy of honour, and glory and praise. I will keep writing and leave the rest with Him, whether or not people see what I create, that is in His Hands….Hands that were pierced for me, that hold me through all of life and eternity, Hands that I can fully put my trust in. 

What are your dreams? While you continue to plan for your future goals, is there anything you need to take the time to stop and think about and appreciate today? Max Ehrmann in his beautiful prose-poem, Desiderata, wisely advises to ‘enjoy your achievements as well as your plans’. Sometimes we come to things after a lot of struggle and difficulty ….it is worthwhile taking the time not to compare, but to appreciate and be thankful for the unfolding of our own life story, and what we have managed by grace to achieve. I’d love to hear what dreams you have noticed are coming to pass in your own life. xx 

 

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How to deal gracefully with content ‘copycatting’ …

All original content on this blog is copyright (c) including written material, photographs, illustrations, etc. Where I have used images from WordPress library or Google Images or any other source these have been referenced, and adult colouring books are copyright material of their authors and creators which have also been referenced. 

Have you ever worked really hard on something, spent time thinking about it, maybe planning and reworking it, digging deep within you and drawing upon personal experiences that perhaps have taken great strength for you to overcome? Have you written something from your heart, or worked on a photography project, or created some original content, only to see something very similar posted by someone else shortly after you?

Anil Gupta offers some helpful advice and tips regarding addressing the situation where your original content is copied: https://www.shoutmeloud.com/what-to-do-when-people-copies-your-blog-content.html

It can be frustrating, especially if you yourself are careful and work hard to produce original content and connect deeply and authentically with your readers.

Have any of you been in such a position, and what did you do?

However, rather than let that mar your experience of creating and blogging, if someone is copying your ideas rather than blatantly stealing your work, try to take a step back and see things in a positive light. Some say it is a compliment when someone tries to emulate you or what you do, and we are here to authentically inspire others. Be graceful and mature, reflect upon your own practices and help each other do better with the utmost integrity as we continue to learn. Keep researching and learning ‘what’s what’ in how to present your material, and be yourself….you are authentically you, and even if someone tries to glean from that, take it as a compliment….you are an original and your original authentic creativity will always shine through, and it will draw in the right people for the right reasons, and you will continue to inspire others to be their authentic selves. It’s ok and even encouraging if someone gleans inspiration from your or my work and uses it on their blog….but only if they acknowledge that and don’t pass it off as their own. Am I right? It is also courtesy to link to the original blog, and quite disrespectful otherwise. I have been made aware of a pattern of someone copying my content a few days after writing and posting mine, and I hope they have a conscience about it and don’t continue, as it does dampen the joy of the blogging experience and has an impact on the blogging community in general.

There is so much I’d like to learn about how others manage these issues, so if you have encountered anything like this, or have any tips or advice, please let me know, as I’m sure it will help other people too.

Love to you all….keep being originally, authentically you, and don’t let anything dull your spark! 🙂 x

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Quick and Healthy Morning Tip #1

Do you love the idea of establishing a morning routine, or enhancing one that you already have? Maybe you’re a morning person and this comes easily and naturally to you. I personally am a night owl, and not an ‘early bird’, but I’m working on it. I think we do have natural rhythms where some of us more easily fit into certain patterns than others, but that’s not to say we can’t make changes that become habits that become part of a healthier, happier and more wholesome way of life. I don’t know about you, but I love watching and getting inspiration from people’s morning and evening routines on YouTube…some I find more beneficial than others, but when I do come across something that is particularly inspiring I might be left feeling, how can I do all that in my life when it’s not the most natural part of the day for me, if that makes sense?

So in case you’re similar in that regard, I’m going to post ‘quick tips’ to introduce into your morning routines, or to remember to keep doing. Focus on making it a regular part of your day.

Tip Number 1: Hydrate!

I’m sure you are all well aware of the health benefits of drinking water. Indeed, water is essential to life, and most of us are blessed with living in countries where fresh, clean water is readily available. And even though we know this, how easy it is to first turn to our cup of coffee or tea. Drinking water helps cleanse your body of toxins, works to restore cells, promotes blood flow and helps your metabolism. Not to mention, it gives a boost to your skin, energy and overall health. I have no problem drinking water, but I know some people do. Why not add some ice, a slice of lemon, or a hint of natural flavour such as lime or mint? And remember to stay hydrated throughout the day as well 🙂 x

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Workplace Anxiety, and What You Can Do About It.

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Context

Presumably, if you are reading this, then either you are struggling with this issue currently, have done in the past, know or help someone who is affected, or are interested in broadening your knowledge.
To provide some context, and as workplace stress and anxiety can be complex issues stemming from numerous factors including bullying, team dynamics, line management, industrial disputes, and so on, I am limiting this to addressing anxiety in the workplace as a result of an existing anxiety disorder such as GAD – generalised anxiety disorder – (or other related conditions), anxiety caused by environmental factors, or a combination of these. The topic is so wide ranging that we need to hone our focus in order to find some benefit. That being said, I’ll focus on the office environment and what you can do to cope better.

  1. Investigate A good starting point if you are feeling stressed, overwhelmed or anxious in your work environment is to make a list of what you are finding difficult. Breaking it down like this helps to avoid breaking down yourself! Considering our stressors in small, more ‘manageable chunks’ can help us develop a clearer course of action, and take things forward step by step.

    For example, things that can be making you anxious could include, but are not limited to:

    – Struggling with your work tasks, or needing training.
    – Overhead lighting causing headaches.
    – Noise from colleagues.
    – A variety of sensory inputs such as movement, especially if you are in an open plan environment with a number of colleagues.
    – Interruptions: colleagues turning up at your desk, unannounced, to discuss a piece of work, or to have a chat, can be quite unsettling if you are of an anxious and sensitive disposition.
    – Team dynamics.
    – Difficulty concentrating on your work tasks because of the environment, and too much going on, resulting in anxiety about getting your work tasks done well and on time.
    -Feeling overwhelmed or overpowered by the environment and by more talkative, loud, assertive or aggressive people around you.
    – The journey / travel to and from work.
    – Other: you fill in the blanks……..

    Perhaps you could set yourself this task right now, as we go through this together, to write down a list of what is ‘stressing you out’ in the workplace context, with the above as a guide or starting point. Hopefully, making a list of key issues will be helpful in moving in the direction of finding solutions, or ways at least to alleviate the severity of the anxiety and distress you may be experiencing.

    2. Know your Rights

    Arming yourself with knowledge about workplace policies, and appropriate legislation, can provide you with the confidence to feel you know where you technically stand as an employee in relation to your company / employer, even if you don’t actually plan on acting upon this knowledge or raising your issues formally. Just having a better idea of workplace rights and responsibilities should boost your confidence a bit to be able to negotiate the situations you are in while knowing that you yourself are conducting yourself appropriately.

    Within the UK, The Equality Act 2010 is an important piece of legislation that highlights the legal responsibility that employers have towards people from ‘protected characteristics’. This covers disability, which includes mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. You may have to have a clinical diagnosis by a health professional, but it certainly helps to know that your employer has a duty of care towards you to provide what are called ‘reasonable adjustments’ in the workplace so that you are not disadvantaged due to your condition. This is likely to be easier, although not necessarily without issue, to raise within the public, third and voluntary sectors. Having only worked for these, I can’t really speak about the private sector, but my guess is that there may be more or different challenges in this respect within private companies. I have had challenges myself, but this has been more to do with individuals and their lack of understanding or will to help rather than the organisation’s stance. Overall, despite a few initial hurdles, I have been treated very well once being able to present evidence of my diagnosis, in relation to being able to have open dialogue about reasonable adjustments. Having very helpful Union Reps has also been beneficial in having people to advocate for me, especially as formal meetings and such like, as I am sure you are well aware from your own experience, can be particularly difficult if you suffer from anxiety and related conditions.

    If you live outside of the UK, different legislation may apply, so do a bit of research and get to know where you stand. Like I said, you may not end up taking things forward formally, but it will help you to have more confidence when you know what your rights and responsibilities within the work place are, and are not.

    3. Find an ‘Ally’

    Problems are generally less daunting when you are not facing them alone. There may be various sources of support available to you within the workplace such as a trusted colleague and friend, a union representative, HR support, or if you are very fortunate, a good line manager. Even if you can’t identify any of these as being available to you right now, chances are you will have a friend or family member who knows of your challenges with anxiety, whom you could phone for a chat during your lunch break. Keep things in balance though, as sometimes during our more difficult times we can find it hard to cope, lack belief in our own abilities to manage and this can lead to being overly dependent on other people for reassurance, and therefore putting a stress on our relationships. Don’t be afraid to share with your trusted friends and family members, but make sure you establish mutually healthy boundaries, and recognise that they may not be able to be there for you all the time, or may also have challenges of their own to deal with, and try to maintain a healthy balance, working towards getting stronger and more resilient yourself.

    If you have the opportunity, you may find it beneficial to participate in a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to address your anxiety issues, some form of psychological support or talk therapy, and / or on the advice of medical professionals, consider the option of taking medication to alleviate the harsher symptoms of anxiety. Don’t feel pressured to make a decision or do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Ask questions, talk things through with your doctor, do your research and come to your own conclusions, but know that there are a variety of supports and helps out there for you, and that in the UK we are especially fortunate to have a free health care system in the NHS. The good thing about professional support with anxiety is that you will be speaking to someone who is knowledgeable, trained and can provide you with a context and explain that what is happening to you during an anxiety or panic attack is perfectly normal, and has biological as well as psychological ‘explanations’ and causes. You also know that your ‘relationship’ with your health professional is for your support, therefore you should have no personal burden to manage boundaries within this context as you will be guided and supported in this, you don’t have to worry about being ‘needy’, or reciprocating as the interaction will be purposeful and focused on helping you overcome your symptoms and understand your condition better. If you feel uncomfortable with the professional you are working with, you are entitled to ask for a change. Part of the difficulty with anxiety is that you might find yourself, as I did, experiencing a lot of things that don’t make sense to you, and not understanding fuels your fears and further heightens your anxiety and distressing thoughts such as wondering whether something is wrong with you, are you going mad, are you having a heart attack, going to die, what on earth is happening? The step by step approach that medical professionals can offer you can be the first step to overcoming your anxiety and taking control rather than allowing your symptoms to control you. This has helped me greatly, to realise and have someone explain that what I experienced was ‘normal’ and that there were biological and medical / scientific reasons for this. Then step by step, with help I was encouraged to work on my breathing to challenge the fight / flight response my body went into which made the anxiety worse, to work on breaking the unhealthy cycle of negative thinking as this directly impacts my body, and to realise that I actually could get control. Understanding is key to this process, so see it as a strength rather than a weakness to ask for help – because who knows, your knowledge may one day help someone else, and maybe even change their life for the better, and surely that is an act of courage and not an act of weakness!

    4. Figure out what is within your power to change

If you want to ask your employer for reasonable adjustments then it is very helpful to have an idea yourself what you would like these reasonable adjustments to be, and why they will help. The exercise under point 1 leads nicely into being able to find potential solutions to your workplace stressors. It may be helpful to talk things through with someone before formally making a request from your employer, so that you can put forward a stronger case, and feel less anxious if you have already ‘done your homework’. If you have a supportive boss, union rep or colleague this may be a good place to start to explore your options. Similarly if you are finding that your anxiety is triggered by the behaviour of your colleagues, such as if someone unexpectedly turns up at your desk and starts talking about work and this triggers in you feelings of surprise or alarm, of feeling unprepared or caught off guard, then if you think they are approachable and sympathetic then you could suggest that they give you some advance notice by email, so you can prepare and know what to expect and when, at a time and place that is convenient to you both.
However, we don’t live in an ideal world and having such discussions with managers or peers at work can be challenging at times if not downright problematic.
So taking that as our imaginary ‘worst case scenario’ to be our starting point, let’s imagine that all of our requests for help and reasonable adjustments have fallen on deaf ears, our managers are totally unsympathetic and our colleagues are forgetful and don’t really understand or care what anxiety is anyway, so don’t make much of an effort to help, and in the end there’s nothing we can do to make other people change or be understanding or supportive, other than raising the issue formally, which as a person with anxiety, I’m guessing you are hesitant – even in this imaginary situation – to do.
So, what can you practically do to find relief from workplace anxiety, and have a better time at work?
1. Be a solution seeker (here I will suggest what you can do on your own, as well as provide ideas for reasonable adjustments that you can ask for).

Noise: Let’s say for example, it is far too noisy for you to work comfortably.
One thing I do, and which is acceptable in my workplace (but probably wouldn’t be if you worked on Reception / the front desk, so consider your situation appropriately and professionally) is to listen to my MP3 player, using earphones, and having a playlist that includes calming nature sounds such as ocean waves, birdsong and tropical rainforest sounds, as well as classical or instrumental music, worship music, and other encouraging things that help me ‘get through the day’ when it is noisy or chaotic around me.

You can take a break from your desk or office space, and walk around, or if you have quieter ‘breakout’ spaces, take some time out there, or sit by yourself for 5 or 10 minutes in a meeting room until you feel more able to handle the external stressors. Depending on your workplace ‘culture’ things may be more relaxed as to how often, when and where you take breaks, so you may even have the chance to go outside and get some fresh air. Conversely, you may be in a more difficult situation where you are ‘micro managed’ and feel more stressed if you were to take a break, so you will know best how to adapt to your particular situation, context and workplace culture.

Reasonable adjustments  that you could suggest to your employer might include being placed in a smaller, quieter office space (although this can be a tough one if there is a shortage of space, and / or unfortunately if egos are at risk if this were to mean that someone higher up the hierarchy might have to make changes themselves or adapt in some way).

You could ask for access to a laptop, and to take time away from your desk to work in a quieter part of the building or in an available meeting room.

This one unfortunately is a ‘no go’ with my employer for me, but you might find that your employer is open to you having certain work from home days if the office environment is difficult for you.

Team Dynamics: Let’s try another one that is potentially less straight forward than the noise situation.

This time, our imaginary situation is one in which you feel anxious within your work team. There are conflicting personalities, workplace politics, gossip, an unequal distribution of work, and you find it difficult to contribute effectively in team meetings because you are often overpowered and struggle to get your voice heard or to find a way in when people talk over you.

Let’s break this down again, so that we can view the situation in more manageable parts to be addressed one at a time.  I’ll address a few of the issues, and you can try to tackle the rest so that you have a chance to build up on your already existing problem solving skills.

Conflicting personalities:

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about changing other people, other than to lead by example, and I believe to pray for them, for God Is the One Who Is able to bring forth deep and lasting transformation, not us.

What you can do is to take a step back to examine the situation and dynamics, so that you can gain an understanding of what is happening and how it affects you.

Say for example, there is a power struggle between two of your colleagues, that only gets worse over time. You don’t contribute or have a part in this, but it does affect you. At times you find yourself feeling like a pawn in their game as each one tries to ‘score points’, with you being caught in the middle. What can you do?
In a situation like this it may be very difficult to speak to either one or both parties about the effect it is having on you. But you might find that one colleague is sympathetic and willing to reflect upon how their behaviour is having a detrimental effect upon other members of the team, and make appropriate changes. However, tensions may be so high between the two of them, that they are unable or unwilling to address your needs.

Therefore, you will need to take control of your own situation. Are there any ‘red flags’ you’ve noticed that signal things are about to escalate? If you can spot these before things worsen between your colleagues, and if the situation isn’t a meeting, then there may be an opportunity for you to ‘slip away’ before things get heated. There are two things I feel I need to address. The first is that you are not responsible to be the ‘fixer’, mediator or the diplomat. The reason I say this is because it is a role I have felt I needed to take upon myself since childhood, perhaps partly because of my caring nature and being distressed by conflict. However, I need to remind myself and perhaps you need to be reminded too, that you have a duty of care towards yourself, to get, be and stay well, and if situations such as this put you at risk then you need to look after yourself. This also applies in terms of your feeling the need to protect and comfort other colleagues within the team who are similarly affected. Make sure you are strong first or you might find that you all bring each other down rather than helping others up. It’s easier said than done, and I definitely speak from experience. Now the second point, is that I am someone who is on an ongoing journey and my anxiety challenges have not gone away or been ‘fixed’ yet, and although I do manage my symptoms much better than before, it continues to be a learning curve for me. So my suggestion to extract yourself before the situation escalates is based on what I would do myself with my current coping mechanisms, but I am also aware that professionals advise that ‘avoidance techniques’ can keep people stuck within the cycle of anxiety and unhelpful thought processes and reactions. You’ll need to find a balance that works for you as there is no ‘one size fits all answer’, and we are all continuing to adapt and learn as we go through life…so please note that I am simply making, hopefully helpful, suggestions to benefit us both as we walk through this together. 🙂

– Taking yourself away from this conflict situation if you find there is nothing you can do (and I am assuming that you are not actually the manager of the team, which if you were, your roles and responsibilities would be different and you might have to ‘stick around’) could potentially stop your symptoms before they start. You could go to the bathroom, go to another part of the office, discuss work with a colleague from a different team if appropriate, step outside for some fresh air for a few minutes, make a cup of tea, and do some deep breathing exercises. All of these are reasonable behaviours if you don’t take too much time. Perhaps when you return the situation will be ongoing, but hopefully you would have used your time away to prepare yourself internally to be able to handle it without allowing your anxiety to escalate. Small steps…it is a process.

– Another thing you can do is to be aware of how your colleagues might affect you especially if you can’t get away from the situation. They might have predictable patterns of behaviour such as drawing you into their conversation / conflict, asking you to take sides or to back them up, or to confirm a statement they are making. This can be very distressing if you are caught off guard, have no idea what you should or shouldn’t say, or how to remain calm in the midst of this. If you can do some thinking when you are not in the situation, then as with forearming yourself with knowledge, you can also forearm yourself with preparing yourself for how you want to react or what you can say. Just as ahead of a job interview you would take time to prepare and practice your reactions and responses, this can be a helpful technique to use in workplace situations. If one of your colleagues has a pattern of drawing you into their conflicts, then you can prepare in advance a way to express that you feel it is not your place to contribute to the discussion, or you’d feel more comfortable if this was discussed in a team meeting with the rest of your colleagues, or whatever the most appropriate answer might be. Knowing ahead of time what you want to say will also mean that you will have more energy to put into saying it confidently and assertively, setting boundaries with your colleagues, and following through. If you are anxiously thinking of what to say or do, this will deplete your energy and inner resources to make a stand and assert yourself.

Also note that when a quieter, more anxious person is assertive – even if quietly so, this can take people aback who had previously thought you would simply acquiesce and allow them to sway or manipulate you. This in itself can help people realise, actually, they can’t take advantage of you, and is another way of setting healthy boundaries.
Reasonable adjustments This can be a tricky one, but perhaps a potential reasonable adjustment in this situation could be to discuss your anxiety / panic disorder with your boss. You don’t need to mention the issues of conflict between them and their team, or between other colleagues, but you can express that you have panic attacks, explain what happens and how it makes you feel and request reasonable adjustments such as being able to excuse yourself if you feel an attack coming on when you are in a team meeting for example, or in discussions. Knowing you have the backing of your boss can be a reassurance in itself that alleviates your anxiety and makes you feel less trapped, and you don’t have to mention any other team dynamics at all if you don’t feel comfortable doing so at that stage.

Unkind colleagues: You may work with people who are unknowingly rude or overly frank in their conversations, who may have narcissistic tendencies or full blown narcissistic personality disorder, and / or who feel they gain power by putting other people down – this is usually because of their own insecurities. Such personalities are not uncommon in the workplace, and this can be particularly painful if the person treating you in this way is your boss, for there is an added power dimension that they feel gives them permission to unfairly pick away at your work, your personality, even your anxiety, or other issues. Bosses may often cross boundaries because of this unequal power dynamic, but that doesn’t make it right, fair or acceptable. Colleagues and peers can try to ‘get at us’ in similar ways too. They might be passive-aggressive, they may withhold information that is required for you to do your job, they may try to accuse or embarrass you in front of others, or they may not invite you to things that the rest of your team or group are part of and make no real attempt to hide the fact from you that you are being excluded. They may gossip about you or others, or they may offer the classic ‘complisult’ – a term I coined to describe someone who appears to be sweet as honey by giving you a compliment, but it actually giving you a backhanded insult. What do I mean? If you haven’t experienced it already then it comes in the form of something like, ‘Oh, you look really nice in that outfit…’ and rather than just leaving it there, continue to add ‘today. You must have lost a ton of weight, it fits you so much better now’. Em….’thanks’…. I think. People who do this often purposefully play on what they know to be your insecurities so because the insult is disguised as a compliment, you find yourself doubting yourself, focusing on the negative, asking ‘was I really fat before? What do they mean I’ve lost a ton of weight?’ and yet you defend them because actually they were being nice….weren’t they? Don’t be fooled. The complisult has injured many a precious, tender soul. If you can recognise it for what it is, you can choose to give it and the person no power over you to harm you or cause you emotional distress. Another one might be ‘well done, you finally got that right’. Is that actually a ‘well done’ for your good work, or a subtle yet sarcastic dig at you for being slow or ‘stupid’? Or, another ‘good’ one I’ve heard is ‘Ohhhh, you look so lovely today……not that I’m saying you usually look ugly of course’. Ouch. Often ‘complisults’ are given in public, to make you feel worse, and accompanied by a joke or a laugh so that if you see or take any offence it will be perceived as you being humourless, ‘overly sensitive’ (why is that even seen as a bad thing in this world?) or not being able to have fun with your colleagues or otherwise ‘deficient’ in some other way. Unkindness is unkindness no matter how well it is disguised. A sincere and kind person will say something nice, encourage and build you up, and leave it at that. There will be no doubting their motives because their character and actions follow through with their kind words, and they won’t intentionally do anything to hurt you or make you feel bad, nor will they be kind to you in order to gain something from you in return. These are the kinds of trusted people you want to have in your life, and the kind of person you’d want to be.

As to reasonable adjustments, I don’t see what you could do here, but if you can see something please let me know. Please note that I use the term ‘reasonable adjustments’ very loosely here because it is not necessarily a factor affecting your condition, but simply inappropriate and rude behaviour from a colleague that should not be accommodated for or accepted. However, unless a person’s behaviour is overtly unacceptable and also witnessed by others, then it can be difficult to address something that could be interpreted as a subjective opinion rather than a blatant code of conduct issue. If it is presented as ‘harmless office banter’ then it might be even more difficult to address. However, don’t let that discourage you.

You may have to do a lot of deep work personally to really get strong. People who pinpoint your weaknesses know that there is a wound or issue they can ‘get at’. Rather than seeing this as something that is defeating you, rise up, have faith and hope, and use it as an opportunity to address the lies you have been believing. You are precious, special, unique, intelligent, beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully made and worthy, no matter what people say. Work hard at replacing the lifelong lies with Truth. Believe me, I know how tough a battle this is, but if you start believing in your own worth, the arrows will eventually be unable to pierce you at all. Let’s believe we can conquer that mountain! And you may even get to the gracious place of forgiveness and strength in being able to see the other person with compassion, and as doing these things because of their own feelings of inadequacy and low self esteem.

If you are being bullied, harassed, unfairly treated or victimised in some way, I encourage you to keep a private log of what is happening. Make a note of dates, times, context, what was said or done, the effect it had, and were there witnesses present. Was information withheld, were you intentionally excluded, has this been a pattern of behaviour rather than a one off incident? If you can build up a picture, and evidence then you are in a better position to be believed. Make sure you have an email trail, or written evidence of unacceptable communication from your colleague.

Additionally, don’t suffer in silence. If you can’t raise an issue with the person in the first instance, seek out the help of a sensible, wise and appropriate mediator, such as someone with that role in the organisation, a union representative or maybe an HR person. Once again, arm yourself with knowledge of your company or organisations and policies in relation to bullying and harassment.

Can you think of any solutions you can seek in relation to some of the more ‘straightforward’ items listed under point 1?

What about lighting issues, or the journey too and from work? What about people interrupting you during your lunch break if you eat at your desk? Can you make any more positive changes? Remember you don’t need to stay at your desk all day, indeed it is encouraged that you don’t.

I encourage you to try this exercise with a situation that applies to you, or has done in the past, and one which is purely hypothetical. This will help you to exercise and train your ‘mind muscles’ and mental agility to seeking solutions to problems, and knowing that anxiety can be put in its place when we take the time to do so.

I think that’s probably quite a lot to think over for now, but depending on the response, I may return with a ‘Part 2’ to this topic. Are there any particular workplace stressors in relation to what I’ve written above that you would like me to try to address?….I’ll do my best, even if that means starting afresh and seeking out solutions together if our shared staring point is initially not knowing the ‘answer’. It is another step to getting stronger together and living out the hope that we are stronger than our symptoms of anxiety. 🙂 Believing is the first step to achieving. Xx

Also, just to let you know, working in an office isn’t all bleak, there are a lot of great things about it, and maybe that will also be a future blog post to encourage you with. 🙂 x