Everyday stresses can add up over time, and if we’re not careful we may experiences a wide range of negative effects from anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, a sense of being overwhelmed, trapped and frustrated, backed into a corner, to name but a few.
Having come through times of intense stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, fatigue, etc. due to a range of challenging circumstances, I know how important it is to be mindful and aware of when these little ‘niggly’ things that occur day to day begin to trigger even a hint of those feelings.
If we allow things to build up and up (which, I truly know, friends, can be difficult not to) then our bodies and nervous systems will begin to move from a state of calm, rest, efficiency and productivity, to being hypervigilant, and in fight-flight-freeze mode. Stress hormones will build up and this will affect our thinking, cloud our judgement and affect us physically. We may find it difficult to sleep, we may turn to comfort eating, or feel too stressed to eat, and so on and so forth. You get the idea. Perhaps, like me, you know it all too well.
Did you remember to breathe?
Sometimes I ‘forget to breathe’. Obviously, my body will be breathing, but what I mean is sometimes I get into a rigid state where I’m kind of holding my breath without even realising it, and therefore not getting a sufficient supply of oxygen for my wellbeing, and for regulating my nervous system.
Did you know that something as simple as breathing well is so powerful in regulating our nervous system, and promoting our wellbeing? And yet so often so many of us seem to ‘forget this’. We breathe from a ‘shallow’ place and don’t allow a full intake or exhale of our breath. Once we begin to be aware of our breathing and to intentionally practice doing it ‘better’ then our nervous systems are able to ‘calm down’. So, for your own good….”Don’t hold your breath!”.
What are those ‘little things’?
Sometimes life throws us into challenges where we feel like we may well sink if we don’t ‘swim’ to survive. At times life is so tough that our ‘default’ is to operate on fight-flight-freeze mode, simply to survive an intensely stressful, emotional, challenging and / or traumatic situation.
However, even at times when we are in those more calm and peaceful seasons where things overall are going well, our bodies and brains can be overstimulated and create a ‘stress response’ within us similar (or equivalent) to that fight-flight-freeze response.
Can you see yourself, or relate to what’s happening, in any of the following scenarios?
You all know the feeling. You’re on the way to see your friends for a great day out, but you can’t find the keys to your car, when you finally do and are on your way you then get caught in traffic and you worry that you’ll be late, you arrive just in time but can’t find a parking space, you’re feeling anxious because of angry drivers that you’ve encountered and before your great day out has even started, you kind of want to be back home where you can crawl into bed.
Finally you meet your friends and it’s great to see them. You hug and you’re reminded of why the stress of the journey was worth it. As you catch up over coffee, the noise around you and the multitude of conversations going on from other people leaves you feeling a bit disoriented. You try to listen to your friends but it’s difficult to ‘tune out’ the noise and ‘tune in’ to hear their conversations. When things finally quieten down your friends begin to share updates about their lives. They’re doing great, you’re happy for each other, but some things in the conversation seem to ‘trigger’ you and they seem insensitive to it. You listen patiently and are as encouraging and loving a friend as ever but something doesn’t feel quite right inside. A few of your friends get up to buy something to eat and you’re left alone with one friend. You’re by nature a ‘listener’ and you’ve listened attentively and shown genuine interest and contributed here and there to the group conversations. However, alone with this person they seem to ask you question after question after question. It’s been a long time since you’ve seen each other and it’s nice to catch up but you feel stressed, uneasy and needing your own space. You hope that the others will come back soon so that they dynamic will feel more ‘balanced’ once again, as far as is possible with a range of personalities, and a mix of ‘introverts, extraverts and ambiverts’. All in all by the end of the day you’ve had a lovely and a pleasant time, but some of the ‘little things’ have got to you and you don’t quite understand why you’re feeling so stressed after a nice day out.
You’ve landed your dream job. You got through the interview despite your nerves, impressed the new bosses and are finally where you’ve wanted to be for oh so long. Things are going great. You manage to push past your first day nerves, the disorientation of not knowing anyone, and having to get to know a lot of new faces, names and ways of working. After a few weeks into your dream job you’ve built some rapport with colleagues, feel comfortable and confident in what you’re doing, know the ‘lay of the land’ and where to get lunch, where different offices are and what your day to day routine is like. You’re really pleased with this great new step in your life, but somehow everyday you feel a bit of a ‘gnawing’ in the pit of your stomach, and a feeling of nervousness and stress rising up within you. The dream job you should be overjoyed about and looking forward to going to everyday doesn’t leave you feeling the way you had hoped. It’s not the job itself – it perfectly fits what you had wanted to do. It’s not the location – it’s ideal for you and the building and the facilities are great. It’s not the ‘vibe’ of the organisation, people are friendly and professional. It’s just that one little thing. That one colleague who hasn’t taken so well to you. The one who rolls their eyes, who makes subtle flippant remarks that you are sure are about you, who is overly friendly to everyone else but ignores you or responds abruptly and provides as little help or good will as possible. The one who does so many ‘little things’ that are hard to pin down as being ‘problems’ in and of themselves, but who gives you that feeling inside your chest, the one that leaves you feeling somewhat stressed. Why can’t you just ignore it, shake it off? You try but it seems to leave you feeling drained nonetheless.
You’re really thankful to have good and close friends. Or perhaps you have a loving partner or spouse. You’re so grateful for the people in your life. It’s just that sometimes you feel the need for your own space, sometimes they do or say things that make you feel stressed, sometimes you find yourself putting your needs aside to help them, to keep them happy. But those little things, they still get to you a bit, don’t they?
Life is going great. You’re doing well in your job. You’ve got good friends. You’re quite healthy. No family drama. No major life crisis. But you can’t quite seem to keep up with all that you have to or want to do. You live alone. The dishes have piled up. There are things needing done around the house. You want to get on top of things, but you’ve got to manage so many things yourself, and you spend so much time doing things yet before you know it things need to be done all over again, and you haven’t even got to that ‘to do’ list of things needing fixed, repaired and so on and so forth.
Or you’re a working mum, you love your family, your kids, they are everything to you. But sometimes they just don’t listen. They leave things lying about. They seem more interested in their phones and their friends and their computers than they do in connecting with you. You feel unappreciated, stressed, you love your life, your family, your job, but sometimes those little things…leave you feeling a bit stressed, frustrated, in need of a holiday on a beautiful desert island with a good book, all by yourself! Do you know the feeling?
Taking a step back:
We don’t need to be going through a trauma or a life crisis for things to become stressful. Sometimes the ‘little things’ in life can leave us feeling overwhelmed. And if we let them build up then at some point they might just ‘bubble over’. Have you ever ‘snapped at’ someone who really didn’t deserve it, not because of them, but because you allowed different stresses to build up over time and this was just the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’? Have you ever burst into tears, or just ended up so fatigued that you couldn’t do anything? Have you let the ‘little things’ in life get the better of you?
Or are you just beginning to notice them? Don’t let the ‘little things’ build up and overwhelm you.
Sometimes we need to try taking a step back. Sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes it involves saying ‘no’ or ‘not right now’ to someone and facing the ‘fear’ of not meeting their expectations of us for the sake of preserving and maintaining our own well being. In order to do so we need to know and be aware of what we need, we need to work on managing ours and other people’s expectations in a healthy way, managing boundaries and taking good care of ourselves.
Sometimes we need to take a step back, remind ourselves to ‘breathe’ and do something to nurture ourselves.
What are you going to do today to make sure that the ‘little things’ don’t cause you to feel stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or a bit lacklustre today?
Remember, it’s never a little thing to take care of your own wellbeing! x
In recovery of any sort, it is absolutely essential that we get a hold of and harness our thoughts if we want to have a successful outcome.
Please bear in mind that I don’t say this at all lightly. Having experienced the nightmare of complex PTSD and severe generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression, believe me when I say I know how incredibly tough it is to calm those intensely distressing thoughts. Tough, but not impossible.
You need more than muscle or physical endurance to get through a trial or a challenge. You need to set your mind on higher things. Things that are above your pain, above your problems and your circumstances. You need to tell yourself the Truth, and not give in to the despair of lies.
Our thoughts can lead us to all kinds of places. Sometimes those can be incredibly dark places such as low self esteem, depression, fear, phobias, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, self-harm, addiction, obsessions, suicidal ideation and even death. Such negative and intrusive thoughts can affect any of us, and it can be hard to ‘fight them off’. Self pity can lead to anger, bitterness and poor choices. Our thoughts can affect the words we use and our behaviour towards other people. These are certainly not trains of thought that any of us want to get on, but I’m sure that quite a few of us have experience of what it is like to be on such a journey through dark tunnels in our lives.
However, we don’t have to stay on that train. You don’t have to. The longer you are on it, the longer you will hear those ‘announcements’ from inside the carriage, loudly reinforcing that you are headed towards ‘destination nowhere’. Your fellow travellers will be headed in the same direction even if they get off at different stops. And the longer you are on it the more deeply ingrained those messages will become, messages that you may not even realise you are internalising and letting become part of your psyche.
You need to be aware of how detrimental, how devastating and damaging staying with those thoughts can be. They drive deep tracks into your internal processing, how you think of your life, your circumstances and these will inevitably affect not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too, as well as the choices you make and how your relationships with other people turn out.
But don’t despair. You are not your thoughts, and you can come back from it. I’m proof, although I’m a work in progress. Many of the negative things, the abusive words that pierced me in childhood became part of my internal processing. I believed the lies, and they damaged me greatly. Childhood is a very vulnerable time when we don’t have much resources or resilience to deal with what comes our way.
As adults, however, we can choose to get off the train and choose a new destination. I’m not saying that positive thinking is the cure to all of our problems, certainly not (as you probably well know, I believe Jesus Christ Is The cure!). However, we need to train ourselves, our thought patterns and develop new ‘tracks’ in our mind.
Think of the physical process of laying down a railway track. It’s a piece by piece effort, and similarly you will need to redesign your thought processes one thought at a time, reinforcing these as you go.
In your recovery you will learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. You will need to work through things at your own pace. However, it is always helpful if someone can save you some of the heartache by giving you advice and the benefit of experience and hindsight as early as they can for you.
It’s best to decide ahead of time what your ‘go to’ thoughts are going to be, especially in challenging the negative thoughts you have been allowing to become part of your mental make up. You might not even realise that you are doing so. For example, do you allow yourself to dwell on thoughts such as ‘it’s so unfair’ or do you let them drift by and replace them with more productive thoughts such as ‘this isn’t what I would have chosen to happen, but now I have the power to choose what I do with it, and I will choose something productive’.
Thought patterns are so called because of their similarity. It’s unusual to jump from negative thoughts to positive thoughts without intention. For example one negative thought will tend to lead to another, and then another, until ‘tracks’ and ‘grooves’ are formed in our thinking: patterns.
A thought such as ‘it’s so unfair’ could quite easily lead to a stream of other such thoughts, forming a not so beautiful pattern of negativity. ‘It’s so unfair’ can lead to ‘victim thinking’. Whereas as children we may be victims because of our relative powerlessness, as adults, even if our lives are broken, we do have more resources available to us to find a way out. Where we can’t advocate for ourselves, others can, and if we’ve made it into adulthood, we will by default have some ‘tools under our belt’ simply because we have survived this far. We may not feel particularly strong, but we don’t need to be bound by victimhood. We can, at the very least, change our thinking. Victim thinking, such as ‘why me?’, or ‘this always happens to me’ can lead to an apathetic stance, one of ‘giving up’ – ‘what’s the use of trying anyway, nothing ever works out’. I’m not belittling such thoughts because I personally know from experience that they often come from a place of deep hurt but however long the journey of recovery is, we need to begin by acknowledging them for what they are, and then challenging them, followed by replacing them.
Here are some more positive thoughts for you to build upon, and reinforce daily, as you progress and persevere in your recovery over whatever your personal challenge may happen to be:
This isn’t what I would have chosen, but I can choose to do something about it.
It feels ‘too much’ but the lives of other people who have overcome difficulties testify to the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. If they can do it, I can too.
The pain feels too much, but I won’t add to my suffering by thinking negatively about my pain. I will look for the lessons in this tough time and will use them to help other people afterwards, or even while I am in the midst of this.
I am grateful to be alive.
I appreciate that I can do these (you fill in the blanks) things.
I am an overcomer.
I am a survivor.
I am determined.
Nothing is impossible.
I will use this difficult experience for good in the world.
As with weight lifting, where muscle is built and defined and strengthened over time, it also takes time to grow mentally tough. No one said the process won’t hurt, be challenging, or even gruelling at times, but when you begin to see those mental ‘muscles’ gaining definition and strength, you won’t want to look back, and in time you will want to train other people to be strong and positively minded individuals also. Just imagine what good this can do in the world!
You may look at life and people through eyes filled with compassion, love, grace, care, kindness and helpfulness. This might be so natural to you, or something you have worked hard on developing, with the gifts of grace and mercy at work in your life to bring you there, that you don’t necessarily expect that other people who are close to you have other more selfish motives.
Of course, you can easily spot the negative characteristics in people whom you don’t wish to associate too closely with, even though you know that there are many and complex aspects to each person with everyone having a mix of positive and negative traits including ourselves- but you don’t allow people who are overtly rude, unkind, selfish, manipulative or cold into your inner circle. Because after all, you’re a good judge of character, right?
It can be harder to see negative characteristics in the people we let closest to us, because for the most part we think that ‘birds of a feather flock together’ and that our friends have similar values to us.
And they may well do, for the most part. They may share the broad brushstrokes of similar ideas generally of overall life values, how to treat other people, and what it means to be a good friend. Or we may be choosing to see them in that way.
But sometimes true colours on a canvas begin to show through over time, and we gloss over them. Things arise that we feel not so comfortable with, but we know that we too have our flaws and we try to be the best friend that we can be. We see the way someone relates to and treats other friends or mutual connections and we think that there is a problem in their specific situation and we try to show understanding, empathy, kindness and to give a listening ear. But then, we realise that our friend has treated other friends in a way that simply doesn’t match with our values, in a way that that other friend or those other friends don’t deserve because they’re simply lovely people, and we try to make sense of it, to understand the things that might be going on under the surface, and we think that because we are closer that of course they wouldn’t treat us that way, but the warning bells have already started ringing, and somewhere deeper down a trust has been damaged, as our instincts tell us that the person we consider to be similar to us, actually treats other people in a way that harms them – are they unaware of it, do they not realise their behaviour is selfish and damaging, or maybe they have some wounds and issues to sort out, do they just take the easier way out when they feel that things get tricky, regardless of whether or not it is the right way to behave? We try to be understanding, to give our friends the benefit of the doubt, and maybe we ignore our instincts and those warning signals because we want to think and believe the best of people.
We don’t want to believe that our friends are using people for their own convenience, for when things suit them. We want to believe they are deeper, warmer, and more compassionate than they are. We don’t want to see the true colours that are beginning to come through, we may not try to change them but we change the evidence that we are beginning to see to fall in line with a more loving, caring version of the person we’ve created in our minds. We all have flaws. But then there are points when someone shows themselves to have deeper rooted characteristics that don’t fit with our values, and we try to excuse them or tell ourselves it’s because of this or that reason, and be graceful towards that person. Who wants to honestly conclude that someone they had given time, care, love, a listening ear and understanding to is actually colder than we thought, more selfish in their motives and perhaps has even been using us, whether intentionally or not, for their own convenience? Sometimes we don’t let ourselves see true colours until it is too late, and they have been as narrowly focused and self focused in their treatment of us as they have to others. The warning signs were there, but we didn’t want to pay heed to them, and so we live with the lessons. We learn that we are people who care, but not everyone does….some people care when it is convenient to them to do so, and I suppose that’s ok, so long as we are willing to continue being people who are genuine, caring, look out for other people’s interests as well as our own, seek to communicate for the benefit of other people, and ensure that we don’t use other people for our own selfish gain as we have been used. And the deeper lesson if you find yourself in such a situation is that you can’t change people. You can’t change someone’s true colours, it’s not within your gift to do so. You can pray for them, for them to perhaps realise that their patterns of behaviour damage others, and perhaps they don’t care too much about that, but you can pray for other people to be protected, and you can seek to become a better person, more noble in character for the good of others.
You could try to change people, you could try because the idea of them was different to the reality, but it wouldn’t be worth your efforts and time, because just as others can’t change you, you can’t change them. But you do have immense power to work on yourself, to seek to be kinder, more understanding, more compassionate, more giving, loving and caring, looking out for others and not just ourselves, so that the lessons we learn don’t bring negativity but actually make our world and the lives of those around us a much more vibrant, colourful, Truthful, genuine, loving, honest and caring place. x
I’ve always been interested in human psychology. I’m sure a lot of you out there reading this are too. However, don’t you find that there is a marked and poignant difference between those instances where we have a purely intellectual fascination in an aspect of psychology from when we have a personal reason or investment to figure ourselves and other people out? I certainly do. The first approach perhaps is driven by curiosity, fascination, a love of learning and discovery. The second is perhaps tinged more with pain, hurt, confusion and a desire to seek out answers to make sense of things we are grappling with ‘in real life’ and / or to find some kind of mental and emotional healing. Sometimes both go hand in hand as two sides of the same coin.
One area of exploration that has come to my attention over the past while is the use of silence in human relationships, its power and place, its promise, and its pain. I can think of five different people over the past few years who use silence as a form of communication. However, without actually saying anything, how can a person know that the message they are portraying is the one that they want to be received? I don’t know. It’s never been something I have intentionally done to anyone, and never something I intend to initiate. The Power of Silence:
Silence can be a blessed and a beautiful thing. Many of us will be familiar with the phrase that ‘silence is golden’. What does that mean? Silence is rare, precious, valuable, of great importance, a gift, to be treasured.
When I think of silence as a gift, I think of those precious moments of solitude where the noise of the world fades out, and we find peace in the stillness. I think of times of rest and relaxation, of being in nature, and although not being void of sound, of finding repose in the natural sounds of a babbling brook, of wind rustling through golden autumnal leaves, of gentle birdsong.
Sometimes I think of the beauty and power of silence as those moments when you embrace and hold someone you love and where conversation and chatter cease.
There is power in silence also, as Scripture tells us, in our souls waiting quietly before God. As we quieten down, perhaps in the sense of a ‘retreat’ we can find hope and connection, we can ‘hear God’s voice’, we can feel more grounded in ourselves, more in touch with the natural world, and find power in silence in a way that gives us clarity, answers, direction, meaning and restfulness that is all too easily dissipated in a world of noise and rush and hurry.
There is Power in Silence. And it can be Beautiful, as we ponder the vastness of existence, the complexity of the universe, the intricacy of our own souls, the value of the life we live and of the people around us. The Pain of Silence:
Sadly, however, there can also be pain in silence. Perhaps you have experienced the loss of a loved one, and you miss the sound of their voice.
But what of other types of silences in human relations and psychology? Silence that is not so much about absence as it is about presence? It’s something I am trying to understand a little more of just now, for the latter reason in the opening to this post.
Silence as a healer – sometimes we all find that we need to retreat, to pull away from the noise of the world and other people, and take time to be still and to heal, and this can be a beautiful yet painful thing. I personally am the kind of person who needs a lot of quiet time, time in nature, and time away from the crowds. Time to pray, to connect, to be still, to write, to understand. Sometimes we are more aware of our pain in times of silence, but inevitably, if used well, it is a positive aspect of human life to take time out to be still, to be quiet, and can indeed be very healing.
Sometimes I feel the need for taking a few days to myself to find the benefits of silence, and time with God, alone. In such instances, I communicate and let the people closest to me know that this is what I’m doing, so that they know that the quiet time is to do with my own needs for personal growth, and nothing that they might have done wrong.
As we seek to grow in ourselves, we would be wise and mature to reflect upon how our actions and inactions might affect or be interpreted by those around us, especially those with whom we are usually in most contact with so as not to cause unnecessary hurt or misunderstanding. I live on my own, but if I want to have some focused quiet time to myself, I’ll phone my family and let them know, and they respect that and give me some space and when we come together we have a healthy and loving place to pick up from.
Thinking of other people as well as ourselves helps to overcome misunderstanding, hurt and confusion, and it is a kind and responsible approach to life that we all do well to be mindful of.
However, sometimes silence is used in interpersonal relationships to hurt rather than to heal. Why is this?
Perhaps you have a spouse, a family member or close friend with whom you have either used or experienced ‘the silent treatment’ from. How do we interpret this and what could it mean?
I’m not an expert, but as I try to figure some things out, my ponderings have led me to believe that silence when used by one person against another could perhaps convey some of the following: 1. The need for space:
Sometimes people use silence as a way of forming and setting boundaries with other people, of highlighting the distinction of one from another, and of asserting individuality. Men and women communicate differently, and sometimes men are silent, not in a manipulative way, but just because they want space and time to think about things, whereas women’s default communication style seems to be to talk things through. However, regardless of gender, people more generally can be silent because they may be subconsciously or intentionally creating space, distance, and be thinking through some things by themselves. 2. Silence as avoidance:
Whereas with the first point above, silence and space could come from a natural gravitation towards ‘problem solving’, or thinking things through, it can also be used more negatively as a form of avoidance. Sometimes people fall silent as a means of self-protection, of avoiding conversation or confrontation, or because they just don’t want to deal with something and it’s easier just to wish it away, by running away, or creating space. 3. Silence to communicate hurt:
We all hurt each other and get hurt from time to time, it’s inevitable in any human relationships, and for the most part in healthy interactions it is totally unintentional. Still, sometimes we just need time to be silent to either deal with and process or to communicate hurt that someone has caused us. I can’t think of a single person who hasn’t caused me hurt or offence in some way at some time, and being human I must reflect that it must be the case that I have unintentionally done to others similar things as they have unintentionally done to me. To err is human, to forgive divine. Sometimes we feel it is all we can do to slink away, to nurse our wounds, and to come back when we are ready. For the most part I don’t tell people of all the things they do that hurt me because I know their character that they are kind people and don’t intentionally mean to do the things they do, just as I don’t if I cause people to feel that way – I don’t do this because overall I know that I can maturely bring my ‘issues’ before God and seek His strength, wisdom and grace and move on in healthy communication. The point is the intention to continue to build upon healthy relationships. 4. Silence as a weapon:
Unfortunately some people use silence, whether intentionally or only partially so, as a means of control, of negative communication, of power, and even punishment or manipulation. Certain personality types such as narcissists may have these tendencies, and may use silence to hurt other people, to cause concern, confusion, self-doubt in the other person as to what they have done wrong to ‘deserve’ being ignored, or to illicit a response.
I’d like to think that people like that are few and far between. I have come across, and worked with people like that in the past, but I’d like to think I can safely say that all of the people I consider friends do not set out to hurt or manipulate people by using silence.
And yet, I find that friends can and do use silence as a means to communicate, quite loudly, the problem being that maybe they aren’t aware of the message that is being conveyed. On the receiving end:
Being on the receiving end, unexpected silences from friends can convey the following, whether true and intended, or not:
You have offended me, and I will not tell you why.
You are not important to me.
I can’t deal with you.
You have served your ‘use value’ to me, I don’t need you or your friendship any more.
I discard you.
I don’t want you to be involved in this aspect of my life / my life.
I’ve moved on, and don’t consider the friendship important enough to communicate this to you.
My feelings are more important than yours, you should know why I am silent, and if you don’t you should figure it out.
I don’t want to deal with confrontation, so I’ll do things on my own terms, managing my own feelings, and will try not to worry about if I have hurt you, because I can’t really handle that.
You’re too much for me, these things….xxxxx……about you bother me, but I don’t know how to tell you that.
I have a new life, new friends now, you’re in the past but I don’t want to offend you by telling you this, so I’ll just move on and hope you figure it out – no hard feelings.
I’m moving into a new season of life, I have new people, I wish you all the best, but the past is the past, hopefully you can understand that from the silence.
I don’t like you.
I’m too good for you.
I’m too busy for you.
You’re a nuisance and inconvenience in my life, I’m better off without you, please leave me alone.
So in case you feel you have good reasons to use silence in a relationship or friendship, be aware that it could be misinterpreted, cause a great deal of hurt and confusion, and can leave the other person feeling used, washed up and discarded.
However, if you find yourself on the receiving end and thinking any of the above, try not to internalise these things, however hard that might be. Most likely those things aren’t true or valid, or aren’t entirely so, and we all have things going on in ourselves and the person treating you in what feels like the above ways probably (or hopefully) doesn’t intend you to feel any of those bad things. Be kind to yourself, communication takes courage, so be gentle with yourself and with those people in your life who don’t really know how to do that well, and so prefer to risk causing greater hurt through silence. We all need a bit of work, and we all need a lot of grace, so focus on being loving, kind, gentle, and understanding, try to gain insight, and try to be the type of person that you aspire to be – one that is kind, patient, loving, understanding, gentle, keeps no record of wrongs, forgiving, helpful, strong, courageous, communicative, an encourager and a blessing to others rather than a source of hurt. The Promise of Silence:
As you can see from the above, silence leaves room for a whole lot of things! It can leave room for healing, for growth and for hope, but conversely it unfortunately, when communication is withheld can leave room for miscommunication, false beliefs, hurt, pain, negativity, and confusion. Be careful how you use silence in your life, and the lives of others. Don’t abuse it, because you never know how much you could unintentionally lose when you’re not brave enough to bring things to the light. Don’t let things fester, be honest in your communication – “Speak the Truth in Love”. So you might offend someone by what you say, by wanting to clear things up or communicate how they made you feel. Maybe you will find that you have caused them hurt too and give them an opportunity to help you grow as well. But by bringing things to light and communicating, you create the opportunity for growth, for sharing, for understanding and for a healthy and mature way to move forwards taking into consideration what both parties have to say. Don’t be afraid of that. But speak Truth in Love and with noble and kind intentions. You may just find that people are far more understanding than you give them credit for.
What is of more concern, I think is not the hurt and offence caused by trying to communicate, but the hurt, pain, and confusion by leaving space for things to be imagined, by not saying anything at all. Maybe what you think is ok from your point of view, comes across very differently to your intended recipient. And if you do intend to hurt people by using silence, perhaps it is time to turn away from that in humility and seek Forgiveness.
So, what of the promise of silence?
In the Bible, there are passages where people are calling out to God, lamenting His ‘silence’ and that He seems and feels far from them. I have experienced such seasons in my life. However, I realise that I have a relationship with God and as I grow in that faith replaces fear, trust and knowledge replace anxiety and worry. Why? Because I know my God’s proven character. Where He is silent on something, He is drawing me closer to Him to trust Him. It doesn’t mean that what is important to me, that He is silent on, isn’t important to Him too. He loves me. He loves you. He is a communicating God, and if He is seemingly silent on something it is for a very good reason, and I can trust His Word and His Character – He Is Good, and He Is Love. There is great promise in silence, in knowing Jesus Christ.
However, there is no one else who is so faithful and true. No one. No family member, friend, relationship, spouse or soul mate. There is no one as Faithful, Loving and True as The Lord Jesus Christ. And there is no one else who always has your absolute best intentions in His Heart, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. There is no one else who has or ever will pour out their love in sacrifice to take your punishment and forgive your sins, and draw you into His eternal care, as the Living God.
There is promise in the silences we commit to God. There is hope in knowing that with all the manifold things in our lives that we don’t understand, He does. And He Is loving and gentle and kind and knows how to lead and teach us more about Him, about ourselves and about other people and to learn to live these things out in a way that honours Him as He enables us. God Is always drawing us to Himself, to think upon Him, for His ways Are Perfect. His arms stretched wide on the cross remind us that He Is selfless and calls us to be like Him, to think of others and not just of ourselves.
It can be hard to know how to do this in practice, because we are a bunch of muddled up sinful people. But we are not alone. All we need to do is ask in faith, believing that Jesus Christ Is The Way, and that we have the Holy Spirit to lead us into all Truth.
How intensely practical this is when it comes to human relationships, when we don’t know what to do. When we put God first, we allow Him to work in the silence, to bring promise where without Him there would only be pain.
And if you find that you can’t relate to these things, if you don’t believe, then what promise can you find in silence? From where you are just now, you can still find promise, you can find hope and a desire to understand people better, to be self-reflective and think about the impact your behaviour, your communication or lack of it has upon other people, even as you think about what effect they have on you.
None of us were made to live in isolation, we are social beings, but we also have a sometimes intense need for space and silence.
My reflection point for myself, and perhaps it could be for you, is how can I seek to use silence in my life in a way that is borne out of love, and is selfless, taking into account the needs of others and the impact it might have upon them. For me, the only truly wise and loving way to do this, is to look to Jesus. And for those in my life who use silence negatively, and not in the Love of God, I choose to forgive, and commit these silences to Him, to find in Him, their promise. x
What is it about blogging – whether reading and following blogs, and / or writing and updating your own blog/s that keeps you coming back for more? It’s an interesting point to ponder, and one which I’d like to think about and explore in this post, and possibly subsequent posts. Now, I know some of you blog for monetary purposes, I’m personally a ‘fledgling’ blogger and it’s not something I do, it’s not where I am on my blogging journey, not yet at least, however for those off you who do, I’ve noticed a few things: 1. Your passion drives your blogging ventures as much as any financial impetus, and that’s what brings authenticity to your work. 2. Earning money is not your sole reason for blogging, there is clearly something more than that, whether that be self expression, sharing life lessons or displaying your creative talents, and this could be why you have readers coming back faithfully, sharing your journey.
With that being said, let’s erase any dividing line between bloggers who earn money from blogging and those of us who don’t. Having taken that away, we’re all just people on an ‘equal playing field’ so to speak, and it’s from here I’d like to explore some of the psychological benefits of blogging, irrespective of whether or not there is monetary gain.
Technology: Great Servant, but a Bad Master:
Author of ‘The Happiness Project’, Gretchen Rubin says that technology is a great servant but a bad master. I think this is a wonderful concept to ponder.
Often the discourse around technology nowadays includes the concerns that many people have about how the use and misuse or overuse of technology is negatively impacting relationships and individuals’ mental health. For example, children and young people are said to be so engaged in online words that they lack the ability to forge deep and meaningful relationships and friendships. We risk becoming less attentive to the people we are sharing our lives with because of an growing obsession to share pictures of our perhaps half-lived experiences online. We crave the instant gratification of ‘likes’ rather than quietly spending time to develop the deeper aspects of our characters that we ourselves can honestly like. We fall into the comparison trap whenever we see the amazing experiences of other people’s (perhaps filtered) lives and we feel a sense of frustration, overwhelm, dissatisfaction and psychological and emotional burnout that comes from information overload, negative input and lack of space and time (or failure to carve that out for ourselves) to process what we are taking in.
HOWEVER, these negative effects are not always the case. As Rubin says, bad master, good servant. So what of blogging? Why am I exploring the benefits of blogging when perhaps a lot of the discourse about our use of technology is tinged with negativity?
Can Blogging be Good for You?
I would say a resounding ‘YES’. I don’t say that it always is good, but that it definitely can be.
1. Everyone has a story to tell:
In all the rush and hurry of life, sometimes (or oftentimes) we can feel that our voices are being drowned out. Everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has the need to feel and be validated. However, we are not always given the time or space to tell our stories, to be listened to or heard. Yet, here as bloggers we have this little space carved out where we can do exactly that, and whether one person or a million people read our stories, we have a platform to share, to express ourselves, and the gift of being listened to.
Furthermore, we are able to give the same gift to others, when we take the time to listen to their stories, to hear what they have to say, to appreciate who they are as well as their work. The validation may not come in the way people expect on the more ‘instant’ platforms where for example we post a photograph and wait to see how many ‘likes’ we get. Sure, someone may ‘like’ a blog post, but they may not, and yet that doesn’t take away from the possibility that people are reading and appreciating what we and others do, whether or not they express that. The platform in itself is a gift in being able to tell our stories, with the possibility of being heard, because everyone in life has something worthwhile to share.
2. The luxury of time.
One of the psychological benefits of blogging that I find is that it is a slow and steady process. When I sit down to write my blog, I am not posting anything to be sent out instantaneously (not that there is anything wrong with that). I presume we are all quite similar in that respect, as bloggers. Even if your post is a picture and a snippet of commentary, you are still putting more time and thought into it than simply sharing or forwarding something that someone else has said.
When I write, I need to pause to think, to allow myself to explore what it is that is simmering under the surface of my conscious thought and to form those ideas into words, sentences, images. It means that as we do so, we put more of ourselves into what we are doing, and I believe that honest self expression and the time that we give ourselves to do that has real psychological benefits just as much as journaling might have for some people. The tangle of unexpressed thoughts within us can find expression, form and sense as we take the time to share them.
In a world where so much is driven by materialism, consumerism, trends, fashions, fads and influences, we can sometimes risk being ‘swamped’ or drowned out by other people’s opinions, ideas and ways of life. I find that blogging takes me away from that to a more settled, quieter, calmer space where I can be authentic, whether or not anyone else will see that. Having that space to express our authentic selves is a wonderful outlet with psychological and emotional benefits in a world that so often wants to press us into its mould.
4. You are not alone, and the world is full of interesting people…
Sometimes we can feel quite alone in this world. Even with people around us we might feel like a ‘misfit’ in terms of our age, stage of life, or experience. However, there are billions of people on this planet, and many who are fortunate and privileged enough to have access to technology. This opens up to us new vistas of opportunity and possibility – we realise that the world is far more interesting and diverse that what we have experienced first hand, and we are granted the exciting access of a glimpse into people’s lives from all across the world. We are also reminded that however diverse our experiences may be, there is something fundamentally familiar about the minds and lives of other people – something so distinct about being human that we all share. And even if the people in your daily life that you meet and talk with face to face don’t share what you are going through, there is bound to be someone out there in the blogging world who does, and who could even offer you hope that you can, for example, get through a difficult situation when you see that they have been through similar, or encouragement and inspiration for your pursuits and opportunities for learning and growth in areas of expertise. Blogging also provides us with the opportunity to help and encourage other people with what we ourselves have learned in life. It brings together people of different ages, nationalities and interests. You are not alone, we are not alone, and the world is full of interesting people, and blogging opens up the opportunity to learn so much more about that which surely is a good thing for the mind and the imagination.
5. All the Little Things…
Sometimes I find that blogging helps me to stay ‘on track’ with certain aspects of my life. Even if I go through a spell of being busy or not blogging regularly, I can still come back to it and record whatever I’m thinking, talk about any aspect of my life, discuss projects I’m working on, and even the little day to day things that we need to keep motivated on such as home keeping, having a good attitude at work, maintaining routines, health and nutrition and all of the other ‘little things’ that make up the fabric of life, as well as those more interesting experiences such as travel for example.
It’s nice to know that these little things are shared by other people, and blogging can benefit us psychologically as we use it as a space to remember that the little things matter, they’re not insignificant, and it can be fun and helpful emotionally and mentally to be able to look back on our year, our lives and journeys through our blog posts to see how we have grown, changed and how our ideas and interests have developed.
So what about you? What are the benefits you find of blogging? And how has blogging helped you to develop and grow as a person? Something to think about and thank you for your wonderful posts and insights into life as you see it 🙂 x
I’d like to add a disclaimer that this isn’t advice for sufferers of eating disorders or others who have negative relationships with exercise and / or body image. These are simply my own thoughts for things that have helped me.
There have been times in recent years, and even months where I have felt like my brain, my mind was exploding, deconstructing, self-destructing, and taking my nervous system with it. There was a point in my childhood at school where I was on a daily basis experiencing emotional, psychological, verbal abuse and on a few occasions physical attacks from my peers. This was mainly in the first two years of high school, and so the friends that I made after that either did not really know what was going on for me, and I didn’t know how to articulate it, so people assumed I was just quiet, shy and studious, which I was but a lot of the lack of speaking and problems socialising was because I was walking around severely traumatised. But something in me broke. The damage in those two years had been done, I was in such pain I didn’t want to live, I hated myself and had a distorted self image, and didn’t care anymore whether I lived, but this remained unexpressed so no one really knew, and I just quietly kept my head down, got good grades, got on with things, and tried to keep it together but the pain never went away and I never felt even moderately ‘ok’ inside even though appearances on the surface might have told a more positive story. The trauma had no where to go, I can only say that it felt, including physically with chronic pain that I couldn’t really explain to people, like my brain had ‘broken’, and was malfunctioning and this as an adult manifested as complex PTSD. Because I am a smart young woman, people didn’t really consider that this was the case, until several medical health professionals and consultants provided a diagnosis to this silent daily suffering. Eventually I just wasn’t coping and had to reach out for help and the help I have had over the past few years has enabled me to see a way forwards although some of it was gruelling work at the time. Your brain is not ‘broken beyond repair’ – it just sometimes takes a lot of incredibly hard work and support to get to a point of breakthrough.
I was never much of a person for being into exercise, and still I am not a fitness fanatic, but I do try to do something a few times a week, even if for a short amount of time. I have learned that exercise isn’t just about keeping the body fit, or boosting those ‘feel good’ chemicals. It also, importantly, helps to retrain the mind, in a positive direction, and helps keep mind and body ‘in step’ if you’ll pardon the pun, and I think helps to rewire new neural connections. I have noticed that people, even your ‘average’ person, who engage in some kind of fitness often become focussed, determined and press through their personal limitations even if this is on a modest and moderate level. When people reach a personal best there tends to have been a psychological barrier that was broken that enabled them to persevere, well before crossing a ‘finish line’. I don’t exercise as an escape or as a ‘fix’, but I do know that it is something that over time is improving my mental agility and speeding up my recovery from severe childhood trauma. This needs to be a balanced for some people though, who might take exercising to an extreme – I can safely say that I’m a bit too ‘lazy’ for that ever to be a problem for me.
There are times when I can sense aspects of the trauma ‘getting to me’ again. And I am reminded that what ‘broke’ within my mind as a child doesn’t need to stay in that irreparable state of heightened fear, pain, helplessness and distress. I no longer have to be in a psychological ‘free fall’ unable to stay grounded or to cope with the explosions in my brain that make no sense logically in my adult life where things aren’t an actual threat to me. There is a verse in Scripture that admonishes one to ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12:2). Scripture also elsewhere talks about the importance of physical exercise (but in the context of training ourselves in godliness and righteousness as even more important). There are also several passages that use analogies of spiritual discipline being like running a race, preparing for battle, being ready, focused and alert. I believe that although renewing our minds with Truth is the most important thing for us mentally, exercise also has an active role to play in moving towards psychological breakthrough. You are proving to your body and mind that you can do it, even when you feel you are otherwise malfunctioning. You are training your mind to persevere, to push through barriers, and to succeed. Even when I feel that sense of things resurfacing, like this evening, I don’t necessarily have to engage in exercise to know that it is there for me and it has already been of benefit – I can remember the times I have persevered physically and mentally, I have pressed through I did overcome, and what seems insurmountable psychologically in relation to trauma is put in its place as I take my thoughts captive (as the Bible says taking thoughts captive ‘ in obedience to Christ’) and exercise my mental agility to push through and take control and work towards recovery, mental strengthening and over time, a better quality of life.
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.
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.
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
Holly Golightly (‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’) called them ‘the mean reds’, a state progressively worse than what some jazz musicians and common parlance have termed ‘the blues’. Winston Churchill branded ‘it’, that terrible and impenetrable fog of depression, ‘The Black Dog’. And perhaps we ourselves find ourselves oscillating between colours on the spectrum of wellbeing.
‘Sunny’ is not a term commonly associated with depression. For me, it evokes inspiring images of wide open fields, blue skies, sunshine, meadows of brightly arrayed flowers, children running, laughing and playing, and key to it all….happiness.
Having a ‘sunny disposition’ connotes cheerfulness, wellbeing, and happiness. It is not the face of depression. Or is it?
Depression is not merely feeling sad. It is not something you can simply ‘pull yourself out of’. It is a real illness, as real as having a broken leg, only not as visible, and it can cause persistent distress over long periods of time.
Although a caricature of depression may involve dark clouds, lightning bolts, lashing rain, sad faces and general miserableness, which can in many cases describe the low moods and despair that some sufferers of depression may feel, it is not an accurate picture of the ‘face’ of depression.
What do I mean? I have a medical condition, among others, known as clinical depression. I was diagnosed only within the last two years, but I knew or suspected for decades that I suffered from something like this, particularly since and perhaps mainly triggered by being badly bullied at a formative time in my childhood, when I ceased to want to exist. At times the pain has been unbearable and I have not been able to hide it. However, as something that is a persistent condition, it somehow becomes ‘normal’, and since as adults we have to keep going and keep doing and keep living our lives and going about our business, we can sometimes ‘forget’ the seriousness of such conditions in ourselves and others. You do often seek to ‘just get on with it’, sometimes at your own risk. And getting on with it can mean putting on a smile, having a cheerful face and a ‘sunny disposition’ such that the invisible illness that you carry around with you is unseen and undetected.
The ‘face of depression’ therefore, at times, could in fact be a big smile, sunshine and blue skies, quite unlike the dismal ‘gloom and doom’ picture painted above. However, that makes it no less serious. Statistics show that in the UK, 1 in 4 people experience mental illness such as depression at some point in their lives, and in the US, depression is said to affect more than 15 million American adults. That means that more than likely, either you or someone you know, or know of, carries this ‘Black Dog’, and suffers from the ‘Mean Reds’, perhaps while showing you only a bright sunny smile on the surface.
So, knowing this, what can you do?
If you have been suffering and struggling for a long time, and trying to just put on a brave face, yet suspect you may have depression, please reach out for help. There are many mental health charities, and obviously talking to your doctor is a good first step. Depression is a very treatable illness. It isn’t easy. I know, I have it. Yet, you don’t have to suffer alone, in silence, or hiding behind your sunny mask all the time. A friend once told me, very helpfully, that I wouldn’t feel ashamed to reach out for help if I had a broken leg, nor try to ‘fix’ it myself (which is what I had been doing with my emotional and psychological issues, to no avail), so why should anyone feel ashamed to seek help for an equally legitimate medical condition, where the suffering is often profound and long lasting, perhaps caused by brain activity, trauma or genetics among many other factors.
If you are concerned about a friend, but are not sure because they always ‘seem happy’, carefully ask them how they are.
And if you can’t keep your sunny disposition and happy face in place today, don’t worry, it’s ok. And you’re not alone. It may seem bleak just now, but there is hope, and like me, I trust you will have brighter days ahead. x