The Dreaded Phone Call

The Dreaded Phone Call

This blog post in no way reflects or refers to my current place of work. The following has been gathered from personal past experience, and by speaking to others who have had, or still have, the same experiences.

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So you’ve woken up, you feel horrendous, and you know you can’t make it into work. But not going into work means you have to phone in to work. Talking to someone on the other end of the line and telling them what’s wrong is a terrifying prospect. For many with a mental illness, this also means lying about what’s wrong; an added layer of anxiety.

So you go into work and are ineffective because you are unwell. Or you phone in, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty, questioning what you said and whether or not anyone believed you. You then return to work sooner than you should do, and sometimes worse because of the effects this has had on your anxiety.

I’ve emailed and text into work before, and been pulled up for not phoning in when I should have done. Why do I email? Because I am already feeling physically or mentally ill enough to be off sick, so I’d rather delay speaking to anyone until I am fit enough to do so. At the point of being well again, I am strong enough to explain my reasons, particularly if they were related to my mental health.

In 2016, why aren’t places of work more flexible with this, particularly with those who struggle with mental health? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Trust, or lack of it. Phoning in lets the manager hear the employee speaking, and explaining why they are off sick. Managers may gauge from this phone call whether they believe them or not.
  2. The phone call can discourage people who are not genuinely unwell from phoning in.
  3. Open conversation can develop, to discuss any support needs or to reassure the employee.

My question is, should employers offer an alternative way of contacting their managers should employees request this due to a mental illness? I believe so.

I asked some social media followers what they think.

Female, 26:

I consider myself to be a trustworthy, hard working employee; yet I feel severe guilt when I need to phone in to work sick. The stress and anxiety would be greatly reduced if I were able to text my boss, and if she understood why I was contacting her this way.

Male, 34:

I feel physically sick at the thought of phoning my supervisor. Not because we don’t get on, or she doesn’t understand my [mental] illness, but because when I am having a dark day, the last thing I want to do is explain it verbally. I just go into work, or invent a physical symptom.

Female, 32:

I mainly feel OK phoning in sick, but there are days when my anxiety runs too high and I feel like I can’t do it. It goes one of two ways: I either just go in and am completely unproductive, or I phone in and then criticize myself for the rest of the day on what I said. Being able to text would be awesome for my anxiety.

Female, age not given:

My worry is that if I text in, people would think it was too easy for me to take a day off and I would [take advantage]. Which isn’t the case, but do other people know that?

So, what do you think? In this age of technology, should we embrace other forms of communication for situations where using the telephone can cause someone with anxiety more harm than good? Should this be open to all, or just to those who specifically request an alternative means of communication due to a mental health condition?

I think I would feel far more comfortable knowing that if I was having a bad MH day, I could text my line manager and have an open discussion when I was back at work and feeling stronger. I would love for some employers to embrace this way of thinking, and I firmly believe better working relationships based on trust and understanding would develop.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Keep being mindful, and please don’t be hard on yourself if you have to phone in sick. We all deserve the time it takes to feel better again.

 

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10 Ways to Feel Less Anxious at Work

10 Ways to Feel Less Anxious at Work

Today, I saw a Buzzfeed article which listed 9 little things we can do to feel less anxious at work. It popped up in my feed during a week when I have been feeling slightly anxious; not about work necessarily, but just about things in general. The article helped me refocus on my mindfulness practice, which I’ve let slip recently and can notice the change.

Luckily, I still maintain a practice when I feel things are getting on top of me in work. Here are 10 small things I do, which really help:

  1. Listen to your favourite radio station. Obviously, I am lucky in that I can listen to music through my headphones while at work. If you can, try and do this. I listen to Radio Paradise, which plays laid back music throughout the day with very little talking and no commercials. The music relaxes me, and effectively distracts my mind from worrying.
  2. Take 10 minute breaks when you can, and remove yourself from your desk. Go outside, make a cup of tea, wander about the building noticing things you may not have noticed before. Just move away from that work station!
  3. Keep a small reminder on your desk to stay mindful throughout your working day. I have a little stone telling me to be in the present on my desk. It helps me to remember that worrying won’t change what will happen tomorrow, it will only rob me of today.
  4. Take a full lunch break. Just because your colleagues work through lunch and eat at their desks, doesn’t mean you have to. A full break for lunch to eat, chat, read a book or listen to music without thinking about work will not only make your afternoon more productive, but it will remind you that life isn’t all about work.
  5. If it’s getting too much, and you can’t leave your desk, breathe. Just breathe. A few seconds, a few minutes, no one will notice. Just concentrate on the breath until you feel better.
  6. Smile. Yes, it sounds ridiculous, but making yourself smile will really help you feel a little bit better! Smile at someone else as you walk by. Smiles are contagious, and seeing another one will brighten your day a little bit.
  7. De-clutter! Tidy your desk, as I find a messy desk gives me a messy mind. You’ll feel more organised and able to concentrate.
  8. Put photos or an inspiring picture on your desk. I have some wedding photos and a swimming medal on mine – two of the best days I’ve had. They make me feel happy and remind me of how important my life is outside of work.
  9. Try some camomile tea, or something else caffeine free. Camomile helps me to feel calm, as well as feeling like I’m getting a warm hug.
  10. Talk to someone you trust. I have a very understanding line manager and HR contact. Not everyone is so lucky. If you don’t have anyone to speak to in work, there are people you can call. Being honest and open with someone at your work will make you feel so much better, and you may be surprised at the support you receive.

If you see someone in your workplace struggling, please ask them:

Are you OK?”

These three small words can make such a huge difference.

Bring on the Night

Bring on the Night

sleeping and thinking

Does this look familiar? Even now with mindfulness practice and CBT, I still struggle occasionally with getting a good night’s sleep. For me, falling asleep is generally quite easy, but I know for many this is a problem. I tend to wake up at 3am and allow my thoughts to run away with me which really causes problems.

So how can we stay mindful in the dead of night, when there is very little to focus our attention on?

Throughout therapy, I’ve been working on some techniques to help alleviate this problem. The first I identified was that lying in bed and worrying had become a habit. If I woke up in the night, it was normal for me to start worrying about something. In fact, one night I noted that I’d said to myself “I’m not worrying about anything – there must be something I can worry about…” Habits are hard to break, so the easiest thing for me to do to start with was to remove myself from the bed and bedroom completely, as soon as the unhelpful thinking habits started.

Luckily we have a huge comfy sofa, so when this happens I can take myself into the living room and cozy up on there. Even the walk through to the other room takes my mind out of that negative space. Sometimes I make a cup of (caffeine-free) tea, or I read a book, or I watch TV. I always put the lamp on, which creates a sense of being back in the land of the living instead of in a dark and lonely nighttime. I always fall back to sleep on the sofa. It doesn’t happen straight away, but I don’t clock watch or worry about not getting enough sleep. I distract my attention with something on TV and suddenly the alarm is going off and it’s morning.

Another technique which I’ve tried, and which works, is mindful breathing.

The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, nonjudgmental awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

Source: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm

This technique allows the mind to calm and stop its focus on thoughts and feelings which distract you from sleep. A particular favourite of mine is to count your breath backwards from 1,000. The in breath counts as 1, the out breath as 1.  It is important here to only focus on the breath, how it feels as it goes in and out of your body, and what changes it brings to your body as it does so. Along with counting, I will never reach beyond 900 before I am asleep again.

Why not try The Worry Warrior’s technique too:

I’d love to hear which techniques you have used to get a better night sleep while struggling with anxiety! Please leave them in the comments.

The Wee Wedding Build Up

The Wee Wedding Build Up

On Tuesday 12th April, my wife and I got married!

Anxiety was one of the main reasons we made the choices we did for our wedding. We chose to marry at Crear, a gorgeous house in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Scotland. They specialise in Wee Weddings, and this appealed to us as we deliberately wanted to keep it small to keep nerves on the day to a minimum. A large wedding would, for both of us, end up in panic attacks and no enjoyment – and what’s the point in that?

Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences we had whilst planning our wee wedding:

The Good

  • The venue arranged everything for us; the photographer, the flowers, the food, the accommodation and even a piper for our ceremony. All we had to do was pick an outfit and turn up. It meant once we’d booked, everything was automatically ticked off. Me -1, Anxiety – 0.
  • The unbelievable support we received from many of our family and friends when we told them our plans was incredible. It was surprising how many people told us they wished they had made the same decisions as us for their own weddings.
  • We had a Humanist ceremony:

    We believe that marriage and civil partnerships are based on mutual love and respect.  We also know that every couple is different and that is why our ceremonies are unique and personal.

    It meant our ceremony was our story, in our words. It was funny and sentimental in all the right places, and our loved ones delivered readings which were personal to us.

  • We chose to use a symbolic hand fasting gesture while saying our vows, and also finished our ceremony with another ritual where we drink to each other from a traditional Scottish quaich. Because our wedding was so small, our guests could also drink whisky from the quaich to celebrate our marriage.
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The Quaich, filled with whisky
  • We chose outfits which felt comfortable and reflected our own style and personalities. I wore a loose fitting dress with converse trainers, and my partner wore jeans, a shirt and a bow tie. I didn’t hide my tattoos, I showed them off. We felt amazing. We also encouraged our guests to be comfortable and not worry about expensive dressy outfits.

Wedding Dance

  • We got ready together, helped each other with hair and make up, and took a few deep breaths before heading downstairs to the hall. With my partner by my side for support, my anxiety was nowhere to be seen.
  • After our wedding, we had a buffet meal, a small toast and lots of champers. By 7pm, we and our guests were in our pyjamas, relaxing and chatting in front of the open fire. It was exactly how we wanted to end our day; fuss free.

The Bad

  • Choosing our guest list. If you have a wee wedding, expect it to be near impossible to choose who to invite. We originally thought we would elope on our own, but decided against complete unknowns as our witnesses. In the end, we chose two family members to witness our wedding, and this in turn completed our guest list. It’s tricky, but if a small wedding is what you want then stick to your guns and go for it.
  • Wedding body shaming. Yep, this happens to everyone, and I honestly don’t think people realise they are doing it. I decided not to diet for my wedding. I don’t ever diet, I hate the idea of going on a diet, and to be honest I am happy with my body. However, I often heard the words “I can’t believe you are eating that three weeks before your wedding!” If I want to eat seven custard creams, in one go, three weeks before my wedding, I don’t think that’s anyone’s business but mine.
  • A few people found it difficult to understand that we didn’t follow a traditional wedding pattern, and whilst we were always more than happy to tell people our plans, on the odd occasion we had to justify our decisions. As a gay couple, we were asked questions such as; “Who is the man?”, “Who is wearing the dress?”, “Who is giving you away?”. When we explained that neither of us are a man, or no one is giving us away but we will walk in together, it was sometimes met with a strange look of confusion. Straight or gay, I think you are allowed to deviate from tradition wherever you want to, and should never have to justify this to anyone.

The Ugly

  • Due to our anxiety and budget, we didn’t invite everyone. We genuinely believed that everyone would understand and be happy for us, but a few let us down. There is nothing you can do about how other people feel, or how other people interpret your decisions. Holding on to negative feelings like that does no one any good. We had to let it go and move forward with planning our wedding, focusing on the things which make us happy and the reasons we were getting married: because we love each other and want to start a family. You can never please everyone, but you have to remember that it is your day, and you should celebrate it the way that you want.
  • I put so much pressure on myself that the day should be perfect, that I ended up an anxious mess two nights before the wedding. I broke a nail, and you would honestly have thought that I’d just been told the world was going to end in fifteen minutes. Thankfully, I was marrying the most amazing woman on the planet, who helped me through my panic attack. She made me tea, and reminded me that whatever happened, we would go to bed on Tuesday a married couple and that is all that matters.


Nothing went wrong on the day of our wedding. I was shaking throughout the ceremony through excitement and nerves, but my anxiety stayed away. Our wedding was happening, and it was happening beautifully. Everyone laughed, most people cried, we got drunk and woke the next day as the happiest Mrs & Mrs that ever was. I wouldn’t change one thing about our day, and I know that if we had had a big wedding, I would be writing a very different blog post on wedding day anxiety.

Do whatever you and your partner want to do, because you are the only people that matter, and I cannot stress this enough. Enjoy it and make it YOURS. That is all.

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Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

When I started discovering mindfulness and Buddhism practice, this poem made so much sense to me and helped me through some really tough days. I hope you enjoy it, and get as much out of it as I certainly have.

 

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Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Anxiety Superheroes

Anxiety Superheroes

I have two cats, Teacake and Cinzano, and I love animals. In fact, when I haven’t had animals I find something is really missing in my life. My cats, along with so many other things, help me with my anxiety and mindful practice. Below are some of the things a pet can help you with if you’re having a tough time.

Animals are amazing at being mindful

Yep, animals are an incredible inspiration to me when trying to stay in the present. My cats don’t care about what happened in the past, and they certainly aren’t worrying about what will happen in the future. They live in the moment, and I try and take some tips from them when I’m struggling. “What would Teacake do?” She would probably just chill out and go to sleep.

Teacake

Animals never judge you, or try to fix you

My cats have never said to me “you’re worrying over nothing”, or “there’s nothing wrong with you, everyone feels like this”. I can have a good rant to them, and just saying something out loud makes me feel better. I don’t necessarily need any advice. For those times, the cats are my perfect flat mates.

Animals are an incredible distraction

Have you ever played fetch with a dog, or watched a cat chasing a laser pen, and worried about something at the same time? No, me neither. Just interacting with an animal takes my mind off everything else and I am able to be in the moment. Providing for, and taking care of an animal is also a great way to conquer anxiety. The world may be completely falling apart around me, but Cinzano really wants her milk, and that is now more important than anything else. When I get a dog, I’ll have even more to do that I just won’t have time to worry! (Here’s hoping…) Your pet needs food and love, which really can distract you from everything else.

An upside down Cinzano

Animals are always home

Sometimes the world can be a lonely place. When you have a pet, someone is always around. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t a human being (in fact sometimes this is a bonus), it’s just nice to have another living thing sharing your space.

 

The best thing about our cats is that they love me, no matter what I am feeling. I will always take care of them as well as they take care of me.

Antidotes to Anxiety

Antidotes to Anxiety

I saw a quote this week which said that appreciation is the antidote to anxiety. Ever since, it’s had me thinking – what have been my antidotes? My anxiety has definitely improved in the last few months, but what have I done to make this happen?

  • Being present

Easier than it sounds..! If you practice mindfulness already then you’ll know how hard this can be. I keep reminders on my desk at work, in my car and at home which nudge my mind into remembering to live in the present. Even a post it note can do the trick, as long as you know it is your reminder to stay mindful.

I also note my thoughts and feelings when I notice they are there. By gently saying “thought” or “feeling” to myself when I notice them, and changing my focus of attention to whatever is happening in the moment, I don’t follow them which is what my anxiety feeds on.

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Seeing this in the car reminds me to come back to the present
  • Saying No

This is personal to me, because historically I have had such a hard time doing this. I am a people-pleaser, and will do things for other people at the jeopardy of my own happiness or well being. This also covers making decisions which involve other people, for example choosing what film to watch in the cinema. The first challenge was making decisions for my partner and I, which felt uncomfortable at first but I now feel more at ease doing this, without feeling guilt. I am now working on saying no to things I don’t want to do socially, with no excuses or panic.

  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal

This is something I decided to do myself after reading that appreciating the good rather than dwelling on the bad is a habit we should all be getting into. I use the journal app Day One on my phone, which means I can update it whenever I feel like it. I use this to journal every day, but just before bed I make a list of three things I am thankful for that day. It means I go to sleep with these thoughts in my head, and I feel happier.

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My daily gratitude journal puts things in perspective
  • Swimming

On Friday 18th March, I took part in the Sport Relief Swimathon. I signed up for the 5k swim challenge back in January, just after starting therapy.

When I went back to work in February, swimming gave me a focus on something other than anxiety. It gave me a feeling of being me, a feeling of achieving something that existed outside of the office. Before diagnosis, the only identity I had for myself was my job title, and the only thing which seemed of any importance to me was whether my work was done. Now, I had something else which mattered.

When I get in the pool after work, I literally feel the weight of the day wash away. I have also started using it to practice mindful meditation. I count every length, and if my mind wanders easily I count every stroke, timing myself each time. All I think about is getting to the end of the pool, before starting again. Once I’ve finished, I head home and feel amazing. Not only because I have exercised, but because I’m not worrying about work. At all.

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Half way through the 5k
  • Smiling

Sounds strange, but when I feel stress or anxiety, I try and smile. It eases my mind and helps me relax. Along with some appreciation for what is good in my life, smiling goes a long way. Try waking up with a smile too. It seriously works.


I think as long as something works for you, keep doing it. There are so many ways to divert your mind from those anxious feelings, but remember that you can’t get rid of it completely. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have an anxious day, I still have them and I just try to ride it out, wake up the next day, and start a fresh. Oh, and don’t forget to look at your Me List if you need to.