Over the next few weeks, we will be running our leadership series designed for our times.
The first in the series deals with the importance of self-care. Before we can truly lead we must take care of ourselves first, so this article aims to help you audit your state of mind and hack your code (the way you operate), with some practical self-help tips to improve your wellbeing.
Our bodies signal to us when we are at our best and feel energised, and conversely when we are energy depleted.
In order to get a better grasp of your state, and how to act on it so you are feeling energised more often, we recommend that you keep an energy diary for a week observing how you feel after certain events, rating these from 1 (lowest) to 10 (optimal) after you:
Wake in the morning
Eat a meal
Have a conversation with an individual or individuals
Consumed the news
Engaged with a social media platform
Have completed your tasks for the day and are preparing to sleep
Where you score 6 or below, you may wish to improve your score. If you score 6 or above you may want to improve further and/or remain at the top of your game. By adopting the actions below in your daily practice you are attending to your needs and securing a firm foundation to consistently lead others effectively:
1. Feeling negative when you wake in the morning
Our state of mind can be altered in a positive way by our physiology. In other words, you can improve your mental state by going for a jog, taking a brisk walk, enjoying a swim or even by having some fun and jumping up and down to your favourite tunes to get your heart pumping.
Furthermore, after your exercise or during the day, you should find a quiet space without interruption to practice diaphragmatic breathing. This involves fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles, and diaphragm when breathing, which means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath, which helps the lungs fill more efficiently. By exhaling a long, thin breath and taking slow, deliberate breaths in this area liberate your body from restlessness with the result of quieting and relaxing your mind.
By making these actions a daily habit, like taking a shower, you will be cleansing and looking after your emotional health.
2. You tend to feel tired or bloated after eating
Maintaining a proper ratio between acid and alkaline foods in our diet is essential to maintaining good health. Where it is out of balance, and our energy is depleted, we experience problems such as stress, fatigue, depression, and disease. Therefore, one of our highest priorities is to make sure there is enough alkalinity throughout your body.
Simply by introducing alkaline-forming foods into your diet such as almonds, avocados, lemons, radishes, and green leafy vegetables, and removing or reducing acid-forming drinks such as coffee, tea, refined sugar, and beer you can change your energy levels radically in a positive direction.
Increasing your consumption of water (for example by using a measuring bottle) and ensuring you drink 3 kilos a day according to the NHS (there are many free apps online that help you with this), provides your body with the nutrients it needs.
3. Conversations with individuals, particularly where they are negative.
Either you can attempt to limit your interaction with the individual, or if there is a necessity to interact consider ways to reframe conversations.
For example, where the individual may be suffering due to the lockdown, it is an opportunity to demonstrate empathy through making a mental note to yourself that you are simply understanding, appreciating, and relieving stress for the individual through listening, and providing assurance where possible.
If you are feeling overwhelmed (which can sometimes happen if you are exposed to many people in this state) options include recommending to the individual that they contact their Employee Assistance Programme provider (if you have one in place) or to recommend they schedule a discussion with their GP service for support. Furthermore, you could reach out to your HR team for other options and continued support.
By appreciating and sending goodwill to others helps cleanse your mind of negative emotions such as anxiety, worry or anger.
4. Negative thoughts after watching the News
Should the continuing barrage of news on the virus make you feel anxious we suggest scheduling your update for at the most 30 minutes a day, removing any notifications thereafter. Remember news channels make money from sensationalising and presenting in this way. You need not worry you will miss something vital as if it is important you can be sure of being updated by a friend or loved one!
To gain perspective remember the older generation have lived through 2 World Wars, the Spanish Flu (with far greater loss of life - between 50 and a 100 million), the Great Depression and lived to tell the tale without the technology we have today.
5. Social Media interruption
Social media companies target content to users through artificial intelligence that predicts your mood states. Unfortunately, it can also trigger or enhance your mood state whether that be loneliness, anxiety or another negative state.
According to an ONS Study earlier this year, 2.6 million adults reported that they felt lonely often or always and 7.4 million adults reported that their wellbeing had been affected through feeling lonely in the last seven days. If you are aware you are turning to social media because you feel lonely consider calling or texting a friend instead, schedule a meetup, or if time permits consider volunteering for a charity to help those in need.
With a bottomless news feed, there is no natural ending (consider as a society we expect to finish a film, come to the end of a book, a theatre show etc), to allow an opportunity to detach naturally and change your emotional state. Therefore, If you can control and limit your social media to a set amount of 30 minutes twice a day (consider setting an alarm after 30 minutes to remind you time is up!), you will be ahead of most of the population.
6. If your head is buzzing before you go to bed
Consider taking time out from screen work two hours before bed. The blue light emitted from our gadgets suppresses the secretion of melatonin (a hormone that regulates sleep/wake cycles), which increases in the evening to induce sleep. Furthermore, our minds can become carried away with media stories, which we can't in most circumstances do anything about. Take back control and focus on doing things that naturally help us wind down such as reading a book, having a conversation with a loved one, or listening to some easygoing music.
A 10-minute meditation can help you to soothe your thoughts. If you can either sit cross-legged on a mat, stand up, or lie down and slowly breathe in and out (please refer to paragraph 1), allowing your thoughts to enter your mind, but do not grasp onto them. Practice passing on gratitude as part of your meditation to all you interact with including your family, work colleagues, workers who provide a service in your town, etc. After a few days of practicing in this way, your mind will feel calmer, devoid of negative thoughts, and prepared for sleep.
As you begin to understand your energy cycle you can schedule activities that require intense or high amounts of energy accordingly. If you know that you tend to be in a low energy state at certain times of the day when you need to be your best self, practice one or a number of these 6 steps to bring your energy levels up. Reflect at the end of the day how fulfilled you are out of 100. List some actions that could improve your score until you have in place a daily practice to maintain an optimal state of wellbeing.
This article was put together by Sean Smythe. Sean has worked across a multitude of different sectors during his HR career developing subject management expertise in employment law and employee relations. Sean now focuses on coaching managers to break through people challenges and create a great experience for stakeholders especially workers, that ultimately leads to long-term fulfillment.