Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness

Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness

Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury is key for a successful transition. But because it is about you managing your expectations of yourself, it can be one of the hardest things to do.

You are someone who believes in doing a good job. And you will go the extra mile to make that happen. After all, you have high standards and are proud of that and the work you do. It gives you great satisfaction.

You may also feel the need to prove to others that you can still do your job and do it well. And you enjoy your job and are keen to continue in your role.

So you try to do your job as best you can, as close as possible to how you did it before your illness/injury. But despite your best efforts, you are finding you can’t. You’re tired, maybe feeling dejected and not feeling like yourself anymore. You wonder if you can still do your job. And you may be afraid others are thinking you no longer can. You try to find the energy to plough on, to keep going in the hopes your recovery will kick in and you will soon feel like your old self.

Managing expectations of yourself when returning to work after #seriousillness or injury is key for a successful transition. Yet it can be one of the hardest things to do #returntowork tell a friend

 

It’s understandable

 

You don’t know any different. As I often say, you don’t know what you don’t know when you are seriously ill or injured. We know what the doctors and nurses tell us and the messages society gives us around health, illness and disability (the latter which may not be relevant to your situation or correct). We know how different our bodies feel. But we often aren’t given info on how to live well with the ongoing impact of a serious illness or injury including returning to work.

So how can you stay in work doing good work and being happy with that whilst dealing well with the impact of your illness or injury?

As I said up front, managing your expectations of yourself at work is key. There are four things you can do which will help.

  1. Adjust your expectations of yourself
  2. Learn how to live in your changed body
  3. Learn how to manage the impact of stress
  4. Set your boundaries with others on what you can and cannot do and stick to them

 

Four things you can do to manage your expectations of yourself when returning to work

 

These may feel like pretty chunky steps. And they are. This is an ongoing process. Not a tick box exercise where you do steps 1, 2, 3 and voilà you are a new person. So for a start I just give you some key tips for each and refer you to related blogs I have written on related topics. What I do know from my personal experience and that of my clients is that these steps work.

Read about the 4 things you can do to manage your expectations of yourself when returning to work after #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to adjust your expectations

 

Adjusting your expectations of yourself requires you to acknowledge the changes you have experienced as a result of your illness or injury. The changes may include what you are no longer able to do or unable to do as well or as quickly. You may have very much valued what you were once able to do.

They could also be new things you have to do because of your illness/injury. Like having to know where the toilets are where ever you go outside your home due to having bladder and/or bowel issues. Having to inject insulin before every meal due to diabetes. Or eating more healthily and exercising more.

Acknowledging the changes you have had to make may or may not be easy as I mentioned in an earlier blog on returning to work. It depends on the type of change and whether you would have welcomed the change pre-illness/injury.

Adjusting your expectations of yourself at work requires you to acknowledge the changes you have experienced as a result of your #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Linked to this is redefining who you believe yourself to be. This is about change at the core of you, your sense of identity, which is a fundamental change. This is a journey and can take time. Being willing to try on other ways of being and doing in the world can help you move through this stage with more ease and less emotional turmoil.

 

Redefining your identity is a fundamental change in belief about who you are

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to learn how to live in your changed body

 

The blog I wrote on preparing for your return to work has tips which will help you learn how to live in your changed body.

Pacing yourself to manage your energy levels is a key part of this. Clients have said learning to do less at work, not trying to be the hero and fix everything, and taking regular breaks helped. Also, being willing to use aids that helped them manage their symptoms, such as a hot water bottle or a fan to cool themselves. Which aids you use will depend on the ongoing residual symptoms you live with.

Setting goals for your rehabilitation and returning to work will also help. As well as listening closely to your body and making adjustments to your routine as a result.

#pacing yourself to manage your energy levels is a key part of learning to live in a changed body after a #seriousillness or #injury and will help you adjust to the work routine #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to learn how to manage the impact of stress

 

It’s important to manage stress because it can exacerbate any residual symptoms you may be living with. This is stress from external events and self-induced stress.

I’ve seen with clients how stress at work kept then awake at nights, the lack of sleep contributed to their fatigue, the fatigue meant they could not work or work as much as they would like, etc. It became a vicious circle.

Self-induced stress often comes from our habitual ways of being and doing in the world which no longer serve us. But we might have not yet realised that our habitual strategies have outlived their useful life. It’s important to identify these and make changes. One client made changes by identifying what was in her control to do and as a result she reported feeling less pain.

I also recommend you read these two blogs on using your personal power well to manage your health and wellness – part 1 and part 2.

Being very aware of what causes you to feel stressed and managing the impact effectively can reduce any negative impact stress can have. Important when you are returning to work after a #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to set your boundaries with others on what you can and cannot do and stick to them

 

This is so important. And can be so hard to do. Because it means you have to say no to people. And sometimes we don’t like saying no because we feel we aren’t helping the other person and we like to help others. Or we feel obligated to do what other people need from or want of us. Or we feel a need to make others happy by doing what they want from us.

This also requires you to develop the belief (if you haven’t already) that you are important, your needs are valid, you are worth it, and so it is ok for you to put yourself first and look after yourself. AND to operate on that belief in your life.

What I wrote about managing others’ expectations of you in a earlier blog in this series on returning to work helps you to start setting those boundaries on what you can and cannot do.

And remember, boundaries can change for the right reasons during the process of returning to work.

How easy do you find it to set boundaries at work and stick to them when living with the impact of a #seriousillness or #injury? #returntowork tell a friend

 

But something else is key in all of this

 

The willingness to adapt and be flexible.

And being gentle with yourself. Shower yourself with compassion.

 

Picture of a woman showering herself with self-compassion

 

If you try something and it doesn’t work, focus on what you learned and try something else. Also make sure to have good people at work and in your life who encourage you.

Remember, you are doing the best you can in not the easiest of circumstances.

 

Picture summarising what you can do in managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury

A summary of the blog on managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What aspects of the above blog resonate with your situation? What do you find difficult or easy to do? If you have returned to work after a serious illness or injury, what have you done to manage your expectations of yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you will soon be returning to work after a serious illness or injury or are already in the process of doing so and want to work through the recommended steps in this blog with support, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

What health coaching is like for people with serious health issues

A former client, Wendy H., has graciously shared her health coaching journey to give you a taster of what it is like and how it can support someone to live well with the impact of the health issue they have. Wendy starts her story before we started working together, sharing with you the serious health issue she lives with and everything she tried to help herself before trying health coaching. She then shares what health coaching was like for her. 

I made very little changes to what Wendy wrote. I added in a word here and there and the titles, and moved some sentences. I also drew the pictures. At the end of this article I provide a link to the questions referred to by Wendy. They will help you think about your own situation and what you want to be different. There is also the opportunity to try coaching for yourself for free.

 

Return to wellness: My health coaching experience

 

When my life changed forever

 

It was 7 years ago – in another life – since I was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis (TM), resulting in a weakened left leg with inevitable muscle wasting, dropped foot and a multitude of other symptoms associated with the condition such as bladder and bowel issues and fatigue.

I had always been sporty and active so over the past few years my rehabilitative journey took on a multitude of self-help strategies, importantly, finding out as much as I could about the condition.  I read books on neuroplasticity, brain training and mindfulness. I joined exercise programmes, the gym, saw a sports physiotherapist, neuro physiotherapist, trained how to do Nordic walking, which led to me taking up hippotherapy (horse therapy, or simply put, horse riding).

I have been measured for orthotic insoles and used a Functional Electrical Stimulation device (FES). I even went to acupuncture for weeks. I was on the verge of sinking into depression so was referred to a clinical psychologist, resulting in a short course of anti-depressants.

 

The irony….

 

Even after all this determination and sheer will power to get back to my previous life, it wasn’t really working.  I did a reasonable job at maintaining my physical strength. However, it seemed I was fighting a losing battle and began to feel ‘exercised out’.  I would put pressure on myself to exercise and scold myself if I didn’t.

I’d watch people running and walking in the street or on TV.  I found myself analysing their gait. How do they do this simple activity…. automatically?

I obsessed about how TM had affected me, was consumed with frustration, anger, loss, depression.

Finally, a few months ago I realized I had become STUCK.

After all this effort.

I was STUCK.

Everything became a mammoth task or a hassle. I’d stopped exercising. I became anxious and tearful.  I lost motivation, interest and confidence in almost everything. I couldn’t move on or come to terms with or adjust to how my world was now.

I still fretted about my past life. I was still angry and frustrated. This mountain was in front of me and I didn’t have the energy to climb it again.

Then it occurred to me – I had been focussing mostly on my physical state and been neglecting my mental health state. I really hadn’t learned how to adjust, accept or come to terms with this long-term medical condition Transverse Myelitis.

Picture of a person with a serious health issue stuck between their old life and the mountain (i.e. figuring out their new life)

Wishing for your old life but starting a new one feels like a large mountain to climb

 

You've done everything you can to live well w/ your #serioushealthissue #seriousinjury #chronicillness but you’re still stuck. Imagine this. A magic wand is waved as you sleep. In the morning, you still have the health issue, but… tell a friend

 

The turning point

 

At this time, an article in a newsletter from the Transverse Myelitis Society reminded members about a bursary to provide health coaching, guided by Barbara Babcock. I did have some apprehension and wondered whether this would be another fruitless journey.

However, having plucked up the courage to contact Barbara, she reassured me about the process and that we would have telephone contact at times to suit us both.  She also provided lots of preparatory articles and questions to think about prior to our first communication, so I felt somewhat relieved and prepared.

 

Health coaching journey – One of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness

 

Over the weeks that followed, my health coaching journey became one of enlightenment, empowerment and self-awareness.  I was amazed with how comfortable it was talking to Barbara on the phone and I soon realized that she didn’t put pressure on me to fulfil her agenda.

This was totally me guiding the script and pouring out my anxieties, stresses, frustration and anger. And importantly, we tackled the obstacles in my way, with a much more energetic and positive attitude.

I learned how to recognise my feelings within my body, not just the negatives, but the positives too.  It was frightening that I rarely felt these ‘positives’ because I had focussed on the negatives for so long.  It took practice, but I now consciously recognise when something feels ‘good’ and that this is the ‘anchor’ I needed.

I became more attuned to acknowledging anger and anxiety and importantly, how to manage, process and take control.  With Barbara’s guidance and simple strategies, I learned how to ‘feel’ where in my body the emotion was and what thoughts arose.

By simply giving the emotion a name and spending time with it, enabled me to process these thoughts and feelings.  This may sound daunting, but the nature of talking about your underlying feelings, in this safe environment, or writing them down was incredibly powerful.

Picture of a person writing about their feelings which is a powerful thing to do

The power of writing about your feelings.

 

The nature of talking about your underlying feelings in this safe environment of #health #coaching, or writing them down, was incredibly powerful. #serioushealthissue #chronicillness #spinalcordinjury #TransverseMyelitis tell a friend

 

 

Health coaching empowered me to focus on what I can do

 

My health coaching journey has now ended, but my journey to wellness and normality continues.  This is my new philosophy.

If you feel you have a mountain to climb or feel ‘stuck’ and have determination and the willpower to want to take your first steps, I would strongly recommend health coaching.

Be prepared to be open and honest and be aware that emotions may become overwhelming and distressful. And be prepared to work at it.

Barbara will pose unexpected questions and prompt when you are off your guard. If you expect Barbara to tell you what to do and how to do it, you will realise that this is not how it works and you will not reap the benefits.

I am learning to focus on what I can do now, and although I still have a mountain to climb, I can tackle it in smaller chunks.  I am more positive and less fatalistic. I am able to recognise anger. I am now able to move on. I am managing fatigue. I have resumed physical activities and registered for a one-mile open water swim.  I no longer feel ‘stuck’.

Wendy H, York

 

Picture of a person having found her path to wellness and a new normality because of health coaching

Finding your own path towards wellness and your new normality

 

What’s it like for you?

 

In what ways did Wendy’s story mirror your own or someone you know? How do you think health coaching could help you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to a sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

You can also download the questions I sent to Wendy for her to think about ahead of our first session via this blog post.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 3

How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 3

Accepting a serious health issue can be hard so for the past few weeks, I’ve been describing strategies you can implement to transform that struggle into acceptance. The strategies have focused on mindfulness, how to be the fly-on-the-wall of your life, dealing with unhelpful thoughts and what acceptance really means. These strategies come from Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT). This week I explain the final two strategies: how taking Committed Action aligned to your Values are integral to getting to a place of acceptance with your health issue.

This is incredibly important. When we know what is truly important to us, we can more easily make decisions and take action in line with that. And that leads to living a meaningful life, which is what we all want for ourselves.

I’ll recap the ideas of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) here and its benefits so you can see how all the strategies hang together. If you wish to read the series in full, you can find the first post here and the second post here. In fact, I encourage you to because it has useful ideas and strategies you can start implementing immediately. It will also give you the full picture of ACT thereby demonstrating the benefits of this talking form of help.

Taking action which aligns with what is important to us enables us to live a meaningful life #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend

 

Accepting a serious health issue – Using ACT

 

The official definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, referred to as ACT (say it as the word ‘act’), is:

‘The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility: the ability to contact the present moment and the psychological reaction it produces, as a fully conscious human being, and based on the situation, to persist with or change behaviour for valued ends.’ (Harris, 2007; Mindfulness Training Ltd., 2017)

Or to put it simply – To create a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain and suffering which goes along with it.

You may read ‘accept the pain and suffering’ and think, ‘I’ve already got accepting this serious health issue to deal with!! What the hell is she on about?!’

Let me explain. Of course, we want to be happy more than we are sad or upset, yet sometimes life throws unpleasant or downright awful things our way. Sh*t happens as they say and it’s not fun. So when I say ‘accept’ this, I am not advocating saying ‘yes, this is such a great thing to have happened!’ It’s about acknowledging that yes, this sh*t thing has happened, this is how it has impacted me, this is how I feel about it.

As a society, we tend to push away and suppress bad things which happen to us or ‘bad’ feelings. So much so, anything ‘bad’ has become stigmatised. It is as if we ‘should never’ feel bad and ‘should always’ be happy. Yet when we suppress the ‘bad’ feelings, we don’t acknowledge them. And the ‘bad’ and unpleasant feelings so want to be acknowledged, they will leak out. The strategies used in Acceptance Commitment Therapy help you to visit with those feelings and acknowledge them so they become recognised as a normal aspect of your life. This all helps the process of accepting a serious health issue.

Accepting a serious health issue means coping with unpleasant feelings

You don’t have to unpack and live with overwhelming feelings.

 

The key aspects of ACT are referred to in the above definitions:

  1. The ability to contact the present moment is being able to bring our attention openly, non-judgementally and with curiosity to what is happening in the here and now to ourselves, to others around us, to the situation. This is also known as mindfulness.
  2. Another side to contacting the present moment is being able to step outside of and observe ourselves. This is the first step in learning how ‘to stand in another person’s shoes’ and experiencing empathy with and for another. This can be learned.
  3. Become aware of our psychological reactions to the present moment and identify whether these are helpful to ourselves or not.
  4. Pain and suffering is a normal part of life, including unpleasant reactions we have to our here and now experiences, and it is important that we accept that. And accept the good things too.
  5. If our reactions are not helpful, then we may wish to change our behaviour.
  6. We change our behaviour to obtain what it is we value and want, i.e. our valued ends. But we need to know what it is we value to ensure our behaviour and actions we take align with that.

The following diagram shows these themes:

Key components of acceptance commitment therapy picture

The Key Components of Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

Let’s move on to talking about the last two principles of ACT, Values and Committed Action.

 

Values

 

Values are:

  • What you believe and value in life like learning, having integrity, fairness, security, etc. You may make decisions based on our values. For example, some people preferred to be employed because they value the security of the pay check every month. Others may prefer to work for themselves because they value freedom of choice. When you make decisions which aren’t aligned with your values, there can be that sense of disquiet that something is not quite right.
  • What you want for yourself in various areas of your life, the direction you want your life to take. These are the implicit or explicit goals you have for yourself regarding your:
    • Physical health
    • Psychological/ Emotional health
    • Occupational – Your work, career, education whether paid or unpaid
    • Relationships with family, friends, your social life
    • Hobbies, personal interests, fun
    • Finances
    • Where you live – home, town, city, state, county, country
    • Spirituality, religion, faith
    • Culture
    • Personal growth

This values exercise in this picture will help you learn more about what you value in life.

Accepting a serious health issues is easier when you know your values picture

Clarifying your values so you can take action which aligns with them can help in accepting a serious health issue.

 

And to identify the direction you want to take in various areas of your life, get the Wellness Assessment which will help you do just that.

 

Committed Action

 

Committed Action means to take action to help you move in a valued direction in your life. Action can be something you say or do, a behavioural action for example. Or something you think or feel inside.

The Wellness Assessment I just mentioned will help you to start identifying some early action you can take in important areas of your life.

This is about committing to something for yourself. And that’s a lovely thing to be doing!

It is not about being perfect. Or expecting everything to happen perfectly.

It’s not about achieving everything by tomorrow. Small, even tiny goals that build on one another over time are great.

You will make mistakes, go off track, etc. That is part of life. It’s about learning from that and getting back on the track of your valued direction in life.

Small even tiny goals that build on one another and are aligned to our values can become the tidal wave of change we have been seeking. #AcceptanceCommitmentTherapy tell a friend

So taking action which aligns with what you value will result in you living the meaningful life you want even with the health issue you have. And that helps so much in accepting a serious health issue. I often find when clients do this, the good things in their life take priority.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What is most important to you in your life? If you were living your life as you wanted whilst still having the serious health issue, what would you be doing?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness or injury, or are caring for someone who is and would like support identify what is important to you so the action you take in 2018 aligns with that, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Special offer for Christmas and the New Year – 20% off all coaching packages between now and 31st January 2018. Quote code #XMAS17NY18

If you were living your life in 2018 as you wanted whilst still having #healthissue you have, what would you be doing? tell a friend

 

Have a happy, relaxing and joyful holiday season and all the very best for your 2018!

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout. Available here, (2017, November 20).

Whitfield H. (2011), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Handbook, ACT Four Day Skills Intensive Part 1 & 2. London: Mindfulness Training Ltd.

You can transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 2

You can transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 2

Last week I described what Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) is, and how it can help you transform the struggle of a serious health issue to acceptance. I focused on two of its six principles – Contact with the Present Moment and The Observer Self. This week I explain the next two principles, Defusion and Acceptance.

I am going to recap some of last week’s post but you can also find it here if you wish to read it in full. In fact, I encourage you to because it has useful ideas and strategies you can start implementing immediately. It will also give you the full picture of ACT thereby demonstrating the benefits of this talking form of help.

 

The recap – Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

The official definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, referred to as ACT (say it as the word ‘act’), is:

‘The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility: the ability to contact the present moment and the psychological reaction it produces, as a fully conscious human being, and based on the situation, to persist with or change behaviour for valued ends.’ (Harris, 2007; Mindfulness Training Ltd., 2017)

Or to put it simply – To create a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain and suffering which goes along with it.

The key aspects of ACT are referred to in the above definitions:

  1. The ability to contact the present moment is being able to bring our attention openly, non-judgementally and with curiosity to what is happening in the here and now to ourselves, to others around us, to the situation. This is also known as mindfulness.
  2. Another side to contacting the present moment is being able to step outside of and observe ourselves. This is the first step in learning how ‘to stand in another person’s shoes’ and experiencing empathy with and for another. This can be learned.
  3. Become aware of our psychological reactions to the present moment and identify whether these are helpful to ourselves or not.
  4. Pain and suffering is a normal part of life, including unpleasant reactions we have to our here and now experiences, and it is important that we accept that. And accept the good things too.
  5. If our reactions are not helpful, then we may wish to change our behaviour.
  6. We change our behaviour to obtain what it is we value and want, i.e. our valued ends. But we need to know what it is we value to ensure our behaviour and actions we take align with that.

The following diagram, referred to as the hexaflex, refers to these themes as follows:

Key components of acceptance commitment therapy picture

The Key Components of Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

Let’s move on to talking about the next two principles of ACT, Defusion and Acceptance.

 

Defusion

 

Sometimes we can become so caught up in our thoughts, we look at our lives through them. When these thoughts are unhelpful, we feel miserable and as if nothing will change. We may often say to ourselves, ‘Here we go again!’

But sometimes we don’t even know these thoughts and our resulting actions can be unhelpful. We actually think we are doing something good for ourselves. I often see this with clients in relation to living with a serious health issue. For example:

My clients want to live a good life. They tell themselves they don’t want to ‘give in’ to their condition, and they keep going, working hard, telling themselves they must not grumble and can’t stop for a break because what would people think. They take their medication early to reduce the pain. They feel better and end up working a longer day. This cycle continues until they are so tired and worn out, they have to take time off. They feel like they have ‘given in’ to the condition and the condition has ‘won’.

That’s a hard place to be in. What I love about Acceptance Commitment Therapy is its approach to dealing with these situations. ACT helps you to ‘defuse’ yourself from the thoughts and strategies you use which may actually not be helping you. ACT helps you notice what you are doing by using mindfulness and putting yourself into your Observer Self, which you can learn how to do here.

This means that rather than looking through the glasses of unhelpful thoughts and strategies, you take those glasses off and see the situation for what it is – you trying to help yourself in the best way you know how. But you realise it’s not working that well so you want to find a better way to help yourself.

 

Here is that new way

 

Our thoughts are our thoughts. We are NOT our thoughts.

Unhelpful thoughts can pop up in our minds like unwanted internet pop-up windows.

The aim here is not to banish the unwanted thoughts, because the good and the not-so-good are part of life and sometimes unhelpful thoughts can be a bit like those pesky internet pop-up windows. They can just happen. Acceptance figures in here and an explanation of that is coming up. The aim is to raise our awareness of our unhelpful thoughts, what triggers them, and find ways to move them swiftly along to reduce their negative influence.

When you notice an unhelpful thought, say to yourself, ‘I notice I am having the thought that….’ Write it down even.

Using that language and writing down the unhelpful thought puts you in your Observer Self. This in turn puts distance between you and the unhelpful thought so you can evaluate it. To evaluate it, ask yourself:

  • Is this thought in any way useful or helpful?
  • Is this thought an old story, one I’ve heard before?
  • What does it give me to buy into this story? What does it cost me?
  • Does this thought help me take effective action? Does it get me to where I really want to be in my life?

You can also picture the thought on a cloud and watch the wind blow it away.

Or picture the thought on a stick or a leaf in a stream and the flowing water carries it away.

Or put it on a boat that sails off somewhere and you don’t know where.

Or put the thought on a train, and you don’t get on that train.

Or hear the thought using a silly voice.

Enhance your #wellness by putting unhelpful thoughts on a cloud and let the wind blow them away tell a friend
Get rid of unhelpful thoughts picture

How Defusion works in Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

Acceptance

 

Acceptance is about accepting that the bad happens as well as the good in our lives. We can’t always prevent a serious health issue from happening like a spinal cord injury, cancer, heart attack, subarachnoid haemorrhage, stroke, Parkinson’s, etc.

When I say acceptance in this context, I am not saying we have to like it, want it or approve of it. Acceptance is not resigning to the condition thereby giving it the power over us. Far from it.

Acceptance is about the willingness to be with the unpleasantness rather than escape, avoid or try to get rid of it. By being with the unpleasantness, I am not asking you to unpack and live there. It is about visiting with the unpleasantness for a fixed period of time and exploring it using mindfulness.

Acceptance of a serious health issue isn't about giving up, giving in or resignation. It's the willingness to be with unpleasant feelings rather than escape, avoid or try to get rid of them tell a friend

 

I explain one way you can explore unpleasant feelings and emotions through an activity here. Another way is to describe what the feelings are like for you by giving them a shape, colour, weight, temperature, texture, a voice, etc.

What this process does is rather than using your energy to push the unpleasantness away, you use it to let the unpleasantness be where it is and notice it. Paradoxically, clients find this process lessens the unpleasant feelings and frees up their energy to focus on what is important to them and the action they can take to make that happen. We focus on this in next week’s post.

Acceptance is letting feelings be and noticing them picture

What we resists persists. Acceptance means to just let it be and notice it.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What thoughts have you found particularly difficult to live with? And what has helped you to dampen their negative influence? Feel free to share your thoughts below via the comments.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness or injury, or are caring for someone who is and would like support on your journey of acceptance, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

I also have a special offer on for Christmas and the New Year – 20% off all coaching packages between now and 31st January 2018. Just quote the code #XMAS17NY18.

 

Want to help me research ‘acceptance’?

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, use the sharing icons to pass it forward.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout. Available

https://thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/2007%20Introductory%20ACT%20Workshop%20Handout%20-%20%20Russ%20Harris.pdf, (2017, November 20).

Whitfield H. (2011), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Handbook, ACT Four Day Skills Intensive Part 1 & 2. London: Mindfulness Training Ltd.

 

How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 1

How to transform the struggle of a serious health issue into acceptance – Part 1

Acceptance. I hear this word a lot in relation to living with a serious health issue, whether that be an illness, injury and/or disability. I often here clients say,

I can’t accept this.

I just got to get to a place where I can accept this.

I think my issue is accepting what has happened.

Or a variant thereof. There is a lot of meaning wrapped up in the word ‘acceptance’ for my clients. And struggle. Emotions. Hope. For them, it’s often about finding a way back to a place of peace and calmness in relation to living with the impact of their illness, injury and/or disability. And experiencing a quality of life and sense of wellness.

Some years ago I came across Acceptance Commitment Therapy and wondered if this was a therapy that helped people get to that place of acceptance. I read more about it. And earlier this year I completed an 8-day course on it. I learned that it can help you transform the struggle of living with a serious health issue into energy you can apply to what you value in your life.

In this post and the next two, I will explain how Acceptance Commitment Therapy can help you do that. It has so many useful nuggets and ways of thinking that can help you to create the life you want whilst living with a serious health issue. And I’ll be sharing those strategies which you can start implementing immediately to get yourself and your life going in a direction you value.

Also, when you decide to get help adapting to living with a serious health issue, you may be wondering what the potential benefits are, how the process works, what is expected of you, and will it work. Experiencing some concerns, anxiety and just wanting to make sure your money is well spent is normal. This post and the next two will also help answer those questions too.

First, I have a disclaimer. You see Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and wonder if I am a therapist. I am not a trained therapist and so I do not practice therapy. I am a trained coach and you can see my qualifications here. You can also learn more about coaching and my approach here.

Even though ACT originated in the therapy world, there are aspects which can be used by professionals in other helping professions. In fact, on my training there were other coaches and Human Resources and Learning & Development professionals in addition to therapists. Supervision is important to ensure this is done within the professional’s skillset and competence. And that I have.

Disclaimer done.

 

So, what is Acceptance Commitment Therapy?

 

The official definition of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, referred to as ACT, is:

The goal of ACT is to increase psychological flexibility: the ability to contact the present moment and the psychological reaction it produces, as a fully conscious human being, and based on the situation, to persist with or change behaviour for valued ends. (Harris, 2007; Mindfulness Training Ltd., 2017)

Or to put it simply – To create a rich, full and meaningful life whilst accepting the pain and suffering which inevitably goes along with it.

The key aspects of ACT are referred to in the above definitions:

  1. The ability to contact the present moment is being able to bring our attention openly, non-judgementally and with curiosity to what is happening in the here and now to ourselves, to others around us, to the situation. This is also known as mindfulness.
  2. Another side to contacting the present moment is being able to step outside of and observe ourselves. This is the first step in learning how ‘to stand in another person’s shoes’ and experiencing empathy with and for another. This can be learned.
  3. Become aware of our psychological reactions to the present moment and identify whether these are helping us or not.
  4. Pain and suffering is a normal part of life, including unpleasant reactions we have to our here and now experiences, and it is important that we accept that. And accept the good things too.
  5. If our reactions are not helpful, then we may wish to change our behaviour.
  6. We change our behaviour to obtain what it is we value and want, i.e. our valued ends. But we need to know what it is we value to ensure our behaviour and actions align with that.

The following diagram, referred to as the hexaflex, refers to these themes.

key components of acceptance commitment therapy

The Key Components of Acceptance Commitment Therapy

 

How will Acceptance Commitment Therapy help me?

 

The best way to share the benefits of ACT is to give you a taster of it following the hexaflex above. Today’s post will focus on points 1 and 2 above – Contact with the Present Moment and The Observer Self.

 

Contact with the present moment (mindfulness)

 

This is something you can easily practice throughout your day. When you are drinking a cup of tea, walking/rolling somewhere, eating lunch, brushing your teeth, changing your clothes, etc. Whatever it is you are doing, deliberately notice the experience.

Feel your hand cupping the warm mug, or your hands as they push the wheels of your wheelchair or power its control. Feel the sensation of the cool air on your cheeks, the feel of toothpaste in your mouth. Notice everything in exquisite detail. Notice it as you do the activity.

If you start thinking of something else, that is ok. There’s no need to get upset with yourself. Just bring your attention back to the activity and notice what it feels like as you do the activity. I have to bring my attention back a lot!

mindfulness acceptance commitment therapy

Mindfulness is the process of refocusing your mind’s attention

 

Keep practicing. Notice when you feel upset, angry with someone, rejected by someone, and other unpleasant emotions and feelings. Notice what you are telling yourself, what you are thinking.

Notice where the unpleasant sensations are in your body. Describe them or even draw a picture of them. Sometimes people feel a heavy weight on their shoulders, or a fluttering in their chest, or a ball of knots in their stomach.

Also notice when you are being kind to yourself and when good things happen – what you tell yourself, how you feel, where you feel those pleasant feelings and sensations in your body and what they are like. That is equally important.

 

The Observer Self

 

This is about stepping outside of yourself (figuratively) so you can notice what you are doing, saying, thinking and feeling. You start to do it by getting in touch with the present moment (mindfulness).

A great analogy is being the fly on the wall of your own life so you see everything that you do, the impact on others, their impact on you, etc. When you are the fly on the wall, you have stepped into your Observer Self.

fly on the wall acceptance commitment therapy

You are you and the fly on the wall.

 

Another analogy is chess. The black and white pieces are playing a game, or fighting a battle with the aim of winning. The chessboard hosts the game but is not invested in the outcome. It doesn’t care about who will win; it just hosts the game of chess.

In this analogy, you are the chessboard, not the pieces. You host the game. You notice what is going on in the game. But like the chessboard, you are not invested in who wins or loses. You are not invested in the struggle.

When you step into your Observer Self, you step into a place of being and you notice what you are doing, saying, thinking and feeling, and there isn’t the concern of winning or losing, of giving in or resignation.

Observer Self Acceptance Commitment Therapy

The advantages of being the chessboard in your life

 

Imagine what that would be like. To notice, to let go of the concern of winning, giving in or resignation, to just be and feel that sense of calmness that comes with it. To live in the present moment.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What helps you to turn your attention from the past or future and live in the present moment? What are your thoughts of the analogies of being a fly on the wall or the chessboard? Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness or injury, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to help you objectively look at your life and live a valued life, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

I also have a special offer on for Christmas and the New Year – 20% off all coaching packages between now and 31st January 2018. Just quote the code #XMAS17NY18.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the icons.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Introductory Workshop Handout. Available

https://thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/2007%20Introductory%20ACT%20Workshop%20Handout%20-%20%20Russ%20Harris.pdf, (2017, November 20).

Whitfield H. (2011), Acceptance & Commitment Therapy Handbook, ACT Four Day Skills Intensive Part 1 & 2. London: Mindfulness Training Ltd.

How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to a serious health issue?

How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to a serious health issue?

How do you know if you need help adapting emotionally to living with a serious health issue? This is a big question. And it raises so many more questions, concerns, and maybe fears.

You may wonder if you are going crazy. Or you think should be able to cope on your own. In fact, you may feel it would not be right to have to ask for more help. You already feel a burden on everyone around you.

Family and friends may be saying in a well-meaning or exasperated way to ‘be positive’, ‘get on with it’, and ‘we all have difficulties’. People offer suggestions, so many you are swimming in them.

Like I wrote last week, you didn’t choose to enter the world of serious health issue, so there is also the element of not knowing what you need to know. That makes it hard to get help because you don’t know what would help.

Adapting to the physical changes can take priority and sometimes that is all we have energy for. Attending to the emotional side of the changes often comes much later in my experience.

No wonder it can be hard to know when you need help. All these things can make it genuinely difficult to get the help when you need it. So I’m going to share some of the signs I’ve come across in my own experience and that of my clients to help you know when help might actually be a good thing. And the one thing that could still trip you up in getting the help you want and deserve.

help to improve emotional health

When taking action to improve our emotional health helps

 

Signs that help would help your emotional health

 

These are some of the signs that you may be ready for help. This isn’t easy reading because the situation you find yourself in isn’t easy to deal with. So as you read it, if anything resonates with you, just notice that and be gentle with yourself.

  • You feel a sense of disquiet or struggle on the inside.
  • You feel like you are on an emotional roller coaster, out of control.
  • Things are so different now, life can feel like a struggle at times or a lot of the time.
  • You miss your old life, want it back, you keep comparing yourself to how you used to be and trying to live like that despite the changes. But it feels very hard to achieve.
  • You may feel alone, like no one really gets it however much they try and are lovely.
  • You are ignoring the changes that have happened to you.
  • Food, alcohol, drug intake, or risky behaviour has increased. They offer you an escape from this new unwanted life.
  • You isolate yourself from others more and more.
  • Whenever you talk about your health and the changes, you get upset or angry, or both.
  • People offer help, or comfort, and you snap back in anger.
  • People might tell you the changes they see in you, that help might be a good idea, and you might not like that.
  • You don’t do very much anymore, not even favourite activities.

Yet…

You desperately want to be happy again. You want to find hope, sometimes you still feel a flicker of hope inside you. Figuring out how to be happy, but in a changed body, and making sense of everything the serious health issue means can feel like a very large mountain to climb or an icky large swamp to swim through.

 

But this one thing can trip you up from getting help

 

The expectation that you should be able to do this all on your own.

What fuels this expectation?

  • The assumption we will be an imposition on others and we feel guilty as a result.
  • The fear of being seen as weak. When we say, ‘I cannot or do not want to do this on my own,’ we make ourselves vulnerable. In our society, vulnerability is mistakenly equated with weakness.
  • We are showing our difference and so setting ourselves apart from the groups we belong to. We may feel our sense of belonging is threatened and don’t want to risk that disconnection.
  • We are acknowledging the change that has happened to us and what we’ve lost as a result. This can be so hard to do.
  • We worry that by not doing it by ourselves, we will feel worse. Being able to do things ourselves feeds our sense of self-worth.
  • We worry about being ‘needy’, which doesn’t have good connotations in our society.

No wonder why we expect ourselves to do everything on our own! Some of these are myths and and others are genuine issues and I explain how and why here.

asking for help and neediness

We are all needy. B Babcock 2016

 

So when are you ready to accept and receive help?

 

I often find the following combination in action when people are ready to reach out for help. You:

  • realise how you feel and are behaving isn’t helping you, and you’ve had enough of feeling that way
  • want to make a change, that desire is there
  • feel a flicker of hope that things can be different. You may or may not know exactly how you want things to be, but you feel ready to start exploring that
  • get to the point of saying, ‘I’ve done all I can on my own and I’m not getting to where I want to be.’

It’s at this point I find people ready to take a leap of faith, to reach out and connect with another to help them get to where they want to be even if they don’t know where that is. Paradoxically, this is your first step in taking back control, which is a big thing to do to help restore your confidence, self-belief and self-worth.

leap of faith

The artwork is by Charlotte Reed of @maythethoughts. Make sure to check out her fab work!

 

Here is a small step you can take to get support

 

If you are thinking about getting support to help you emotionally adjust to living with a serious health issue, sign up to get the free Prepare for Coaching guide. It will help you think through the changes you would like to make, what helps you to make such changes, and how you would like coaching to help you do that.

Completing the form will also automatically sign you up to the Return to Wellness newsletter which is an email delivered every 2 weeks with the most recent blog post plus links to articles or videos, news, any special offers and latest freebies.  I don’t like spam and value privacy, so I don’t forward or sell your email to third parties.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What concerns do you have about reaching out for help? When you have reached out for help in the past, what made it more difficult or easy for you?

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to take that first step in making change, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Between today, 9 November 2017 and 31 January 2018, I am offering a 20% discount on coaching packages for individuals. It’s an early Christmas and New Year treat! Make sure to use the code #XMAS17NY18 when you get in touch.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, share using the social icons.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

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