Beat the winter blues before they arrive
How can you set yourself up for a really strong winter before it’s properly arrived?
1. Stay happy by staying off S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Essentially, S.A.D. is a season-related type of depression whose origins aren’t fully understood but which is likely to relate to reduced sunlight and daylight during the winter months. This can affect the hypothalamus – a small part of the brain which controls a whole bunch of important stuff like circadian rhythms, appetite and mood, through some hormones called melatonin and serotonin. There are some simple tips that will reduce the chances of this affecting you:
– Get outside as much as you can during daylight hours, when sunny or cloudy, as this will help keep the hypothalamus working properly. When you’re inside, try to get near to windows more of the time to maximise light absorption. You could also buy a light box which simulates sunlight. If you’re at work, getting in a good 30-40 minutes of outside time during the day rather than being stuck at your desk and getting outdoors more at the weekend will really help.
– If your SAD symptoms are really severe, it may well be worth speaking to your GP and considering counselling or talking therapies; in the short term though, stress reduction techniques will help (e.g. meditation) as well as making sure you’ve got a good support network.
2. Eating for winter
We do know that the immune system gets a real beating during the winter as there are more illnesses about everywhere, so how can you build up your immune system during the winter months to reduce the chances of getting into the ‘illness cycle’? There’s some really good seasonal produce around such as root vegetables like carrot, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and squash. This makes a great base for soups, stews and sides for meals.
In addition, this list is hugely helpful for boosting the immune system by providing great anti-inflammatory power (and inflammation is one of the causes of many illnesses). Here’s a list of awesome anti-inflammatory, immune boosting foods: turmeric, ginger, broccoli, most herbs, pineapple, leafy greens like swiss chard and spinach, beetroot, almonds, walnuts, red peppers and cooked tomatoes.
3. Don’t resist, embrace
Some people absolutely love winter – the snuggling up, wrapping up, the comforting winter food, the dark, the central heating coming on, the warming drinks, all the different holidays – Halloween, fireworks, Christmas, the chance to spend more time with friends and family. So if you’re not one of these people, maybe this year is the year to start channelling some of their winter love and embrace the season, look for the positive in wet, dark mornings, breathe it in and enjoy it.
Spending time just with others and enjoying that can give some great high points to look forward to during winter. And if you are a winter-lover, now’s your time: spread that love and be sure to include the resistors and the scrooges in your plans – it’s hard to resist someone who’s super-passionate about something, so wear your winter passion with pride and you will inspire others!
4. Build good habits now
If this is the year you’re going to make sure you do more exercise, take that lunchtime walk at work to get some daylight in, start meditating, make more home-cooked food, book in more time with friends – start building those habits now before we get right into the grip of winter in a month or so’s time. Check out the podcast on building habits in the back catalogue – you can start to make real in-roads into building new habits within 30 days if you start today.
1. Think positive
A lot of our confidence comes from what we focus on. Our brains mould themselves towards those things that we pay attention to, so guess what…if we focus on negative things, our brain responds by making those negative thoughts more accessible to us and over time, we get really efficient at thinking negatively. And that can lead to reduced self-confidence because we spend more time feeling anxious, even stressed, by those negative thoughts. Instead, if we replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations, we get more efficient at thinking positively and optimistically and that can have a significantly positive effect on our confidence. So some tips on how to rewire the brain to make it more efficient at thinking positively:
2. Focus on you not others
This is twofold, so let’s start with the focusing on you, not others. Research shows that social comparison isn’t always helpful. Because when we’re not feeling confident, other people can all appear cleverer, thinner, nicer, funnier, happier, etc. And according to social media, they all have better holidays, more fun weekends and are generally more smiley. Really? So, sometimes just switching off, or turning down that tendency to compare can really help if we’re wanting to build confidence. The second element is to focus on the positives in you; what makes you stand out, what makes you unique, what makes you positively different. Understanding what makes you uniquely different can REALLY help you feel more positive and confident, particularly in unfamiliar situations where you don’t have so much experience, where you’re out of your comfort zone.
I would strongly consider strengths for this (what energises you, what you love, what defines you at your best) and how those strengths can create value for you and for the world around you. If you know your strengths, you know the options you have that you bring to that situation, to make it more controllable and to make it more likely that you can navigate through it.
3. Act it out
Have you heard of ‘fake it till you make it’? Well even if you haven’t, you get it, right? Just act in the way that you want to feel until you feel the feeling. Choosing to be positive in your interactions creates a reciprocal effect in others that then sends back the message to you that the other person is enjoying or appreciating the interaction and that helps build your confidence. Body language (e.g. power poses) is a part of this too and really helps in terms of building confidence. This can also create physiological, hormonal changes in the body, including lowered cortisol (the stress hormone) and increased testosterone (the dominance hormone). And under lab and real-world conditions, can actually lead to people making more positive judgements about you and to making decisions that affect you positively (e.g. being more successful in job interviews).
Remember, we’re all different, we all have different preferences, sleep patterns and amounts of sleep we’re happy with. Research suggests that anywhere between 6 to 9 hours will be the right amount for you. So, the best thing is to go with what works for you sleep-wise – you’ll know you’ve hit it when you feel genuinely rested the next morning and ready for the day ahead.
Our top tips for getting a proper sleep:
1. Regular sleep
As well as trying to get a similar amount of sleep every night, try and go to bed and wake up at similar times too – the human body likes that regularity and adjusts its rhythms accordingly.
You sleep better when you’ve been physically active during the day, particularly if you have been to the gym, been for a swim, run, cycle, whatever your thing is. So exercise is good because it means that your body needs rest and so you’re more likely to fall asleep and stay asleep when you’ve been physically active during the day. The only thing to guard against is exercising too soon before bed – this can interfere with your wind-down routine and can elevate your heart rate at a time when you want it to be reducing.
3. Preparation and routine
Having a bedtime routine is a good thing to enable your body and brain to disengage from the day and transition to sleep. So do have a bath or shower, but you’re trying to lower your body temperature for sleep, so warm, not hot is recommended. If you find you can’t get to sleep because you’re thinking about prepping for the next day, then prep for the next day before bed – do your to-do list, put out your stuff for the next morning so you don’t stress about it during the night. Also, relaxation around bedtime is good, while device screen time (phones, tablets, laptops) not so much due to the blue light emitted.
In the Do category, we have foods that contain or produce the sleep hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep. These include chicken, turkey, milk, pasta, potatoes, oats, almonds, walnuts, popcorn, cherries, pineapple, bananas, amongst many other things. Don’ts include caffeine, alcohol and cheese which all interfere with sleep cycles.
It goes without saying that you need to have a clean bedroom and bed. In fact, I have no doubt that people generally get a better night’s sleep in freshly washed bed sheets than in 2-week old ones. You need complete darkness for sleep, so blackout curtains and light emitting devices to a minimum (like alarm clocks). The temperature should be lower than standard day room temperature. And of course, you should invest in an awesome mattress that is the right firmness for you.
6. Quality sleep
We have at least 3 stages of sleep – light, deep and REM (dream sleep) and we need these three cycles each night in order to feel fully rested. Not having sufficient quality or quantity of sleep can affect this. Try to monitor the quality of your sleep either by using different devices e.g. Fitbit or do this manually by keeping a simple sleep diary.
If you wake up in the night, it might be because of a noise, a dream, some underlying anxiety from the day before or ahead. There are a few things to try in this situation, such as relaxation technique while in bed. So work your way up or down the body, tensing and relaxing each area of the body and releasing the tension as you do so. That should help send you off to sleep again. The second thing is to try not to get caught on negative thoughts or anxieties – the thing is, research shows that it’s harder for us to access our pre-frontal cortex (the problem-solving part of our brains) when we’re asleep or lying in bed, even when we’re waking up. So instead try and replace problem thoughts with positive ones, remembering a great day or a happy event, or a relaxing holiday.
In the same way that a professional athlete needs regular practice and ‘stretch’ to build their physical and psychological strengths to remain at the top of their game, so do employees, particularly those with strong aspirations and potential to advance.
Employees need regular opportunities to test their ‘limits’ – to see what they are capable of achieving when they use their strengths productively in different ways. This also builds what we call “agility”, or the crucial capacity to be flexible across different situations and operating environments. Although employees might not feel comfortable with the idea at first, part of the role of a manager is to coach and encourage the person through any initial reluctance and fear associated with moving outside their “zone of comfort”. This may sound like “tough love”, and in some respects it is, but without this positive challenge, employees are unlikely to get the most out of their strengths, skills and knowledge and will never discover the true value they offer to the organisation and society more generally.
I managed an employee who was excellent in 1-1 and small group interpersonal situations. She was clearly energised by the Empathy and Relationship Building strengths (based on the Strengthscope™ strengths model, see https://www.strengthscope.com/). However, she had an irrational and persistent fear of presenting in front of large groups and resisted my initial attempts to encourage her to take up this challenge. Following a lot of gentle encouragement, constructive feedback and coaching, she eventually agreed to give it a go and lo and behold, she did a tremendous job. Positive feedback from the presentation encouraged her to gain more experience with presentations and she is now a very capable presenter, as well as a high performing senior manager.
There are various ways people can get ‘stretch’ in areas of strength, including:
In order to achieve “flow” or total immersion and engagement in a job, research has shown that a person needs to have a passion or desire to do the job, i.e., they need to feel strengthened by it. There also needs to be a good match between the level of skills required and the level of challenge and “stretch” provided. If there is no stretch, the employee is likely to quickly lose interest and becoming increasingly disengaged, undermining performance and effort. However, if there is too much “stretch”, the employee is likely to feel incompetent and frustrated, with their confidence and performance being adversely impacted as a result. It is the role of the manager to help the employee identify the degree of stretch currently being experienced by the employee through open inquiry and discussion. With a clear understanding of current levels of stretch, the manager and employee can then co-create new goals that raise or lower the degree of stretch to a point where the employee is feeling challenged and engaged, but not overwhelmed. This ongoing calibration of stretch will keep the employee’s confidence, commitment and contribution high, resulting in strong business results and sustainable career success.
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These days, more than ever, we are surrounded by distractions and this can lead to procrastination, feelings of guilt, frustration, visible irritation and stress.
So how can you create the space that you need to do your best, focus work without interruptions?
1. People, the greatest source of interruptions
Give yourself a chance by separating yourself from distracting people. Find a different space away from people who are likely to interrupt, including (if possible) working from home, or from another location if there’s something that is very pressing and needs your focused attention.
2. Escaping from technology
Tech these days is designed to distract – little pop-ups and notifications are all designed to make you notice and act on an engineered interruption. However, if you’re trying to cope with interruptions, you’re going to have to get more strict with these loving little nags…so:
3. Your behaviour, habits, and feelings
Ultimately, the work you do on you is the thing that can make the greatest difference in coping with interruptions.
Let’s get technical, technical…
Recent research shows that the emotional centre of the brain (the amygdala) is larger in procrastinators than in people who are more proactive. And also that the links between the amygdala (which feels emotions) and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (which processes emotions and helps us make decisions on what to do in any given moment) are weaker in people who procrastinate.
So, what this means is that if you are one of these people, you are more likely to feel anxiety about what might go wrong if you take action and you may find it more difficult to filter out distractions and other more attractive short term options than the thing that you are putting off (which is what the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is for).
Therefore procrastination, the scientists say, may be more to do with managing emotions rather than managing TIME efficiently, and what may appear to be poor time management is just a symptom of what is going on at the emotional level. This is really important as unless you are in full control of your emotions at all times, you are susceptible to procrastination because at some point you will experience the feelings of anxiety over performing or carrying out something new, or which carries a slight risk, no matter how small that risk may actually be in reality.
So, real talk? How can we do to stay focused and avoid procrastination? Let’s look at these 5 top tips:
1. Break down big tasks
Break down big tasks into smaller tasks so that they have a clear endpoint and don’t look so vague, scary or appear to have a higher potential for failure than they actually do
2. Create a deadline
If there’s nothing that’s making you start a task, create a deadline by putting a timer on yourself to get little bits done in set periods, like 30 minutes, with quick 5-minute reward breaks between sprints.
3. Get rid of distractions
Get rid of distractions like social media or other notifications as those things are designed to make you interact with them. So stop it, switch that stuff off, just for the time that you have set aside to do the task.
4. Find a buddy
For some people, having a buddy or someone to ‘keep them honest’ in carrying out the task can really help. So know yourself and what is more or less likely to motivate you.
Whatever it is you’d really like to be doing, make that contingent on completing the thing you are procrastinating over FIRST, then you can get to the thing that you actually enjoy, whatever that may be.
If you’re interested in more on procrastination, there can be quite frankly no better resource than Tim Urban’s TEDTalk on the topic if you want to feel like you’re not alone. You can check it out here.