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The Future of Travel

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The Future of Travel

The return of hope and opportunity” is how The Secretary General of the World Tourism Agency described the restarting of tourism. The European Commission has provided unprecedented economic support to the sector, and as destinations throughout the Schengen Zone are once again open, this will have positive impact on economies and livelihoods. Sadly, many countries are much further away from reopening and thus gaining a part of any tourism spend.

What Will Individual Travel Look Like?

I took a domestic flight in Australia last week and it all started as I would have expected. Social distancing throughout the airport and lots of reminders to wash your hands and sanitize etc. Every second chair in the boarding gate was off limits, lounges were shut and 1.5m needed to be observed on the gangway as you boarded. But once on the plane – it was exactly the same as pre-COVID with the exception of a couple of people wearing masks. The flight was full and the measures taken to get to the flight seemed almost hypocritical. But I understand airlines need to recover too and that will be made even harder as investors lose confidence. For example, Warren Buffet sold his entire shareholding in four airlines and he’s not alone.

Without a functioning crystal ball, some of the predictions for the future of travel include:

Travel Policy

  • Travel insurance companies will need to rebuild customer confidence by, for example, making their policies around dealing with pandemics more explicit and cancellations and changes easier.

  • Health certificates might be required to travel in the future. Visas might be harder to obtain for some destinations and perhaps more vaccinations be required prior to travel. Could antivaxers have more challenges travelling?

  • Greater flexibility in bookings will be offered by the travel companies – better cancellation clauses etc.

Accommodation

  • AirBnB hosts may get elevated status if they plan breaks between each guest for a deep clean of the property.
  • Hotels will more visibly promote how they keep their property pristine and deeply cleaned. Check in procedures will be automated.

Transportation

  • While initially there may be some cheap seats going to entice travelers back, as so many travel companies are facing financial challenges, it is anticipated that fares will be generally fairly expensive going forward.

  • Airlines will require mandatory mask wearing for the duration of the journey (my experience so far does not support this but on Emirates, for example, it is currently mandatory), and less food and beverages are also likely to be served.

  • Cruise ships will come back into favour, slowly, but much stricter health and safety measures will be in place to monitor this close quartered population. Food buffets will become a distant memory.

  • Business travel will significantly decrease in the future as technology has proven itself to be a reliable alternative to having to travel to meetings.

Destinations

  • Travel will have a local focus – e.g. road trips, supporting local establishments. We will need to keep it safe and simple, at least for the near future.

  • Eco-tourism and nature vacations will be on trend.

  • Will over-tourism become a thing of the past? Will more countries follow Bhutan’s lead as they seek low-volume, high-value visitors?

  • Travel may be to destinations that need to be protected with the help of the tourist dollar e.g. safari destination in Africa to fund anti-poaching organisations. Will we travel with more of a purpose in the future?

  • It will be more than a year before travel to the countries with the largest COVID outbreaks (e.g. US and Brazil) return to anywhere near normal.

  • Wellness type holidays will also be on trend going forward as many try to de-stress after managing the impact of the health crises for so long.

When you start travelling again what will it look like? The serial traveler Michael Palin, perhaps put it best, “We will travel less, and travel better.” This is likely the reality in the short term at least.

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The What and Why of Mindfulness

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The What and Why of Mindfulness

Secular Mindfulness was introduced by Jon Kabat-Zinn, back in the 1970s. His MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme proved highly beneficial in helping patients with depression, anxiety and also those dealing with chronic pain. Still a highly effective and much used tool, Mindfulness has since received great interest and research scrutiny, finding its way into mainstream healthy living and well-being practices. So what is it and why do so many peeps practice it? 

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental present moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. It also includes the intentional nurturing of positive states of mind such as kindness and compassion. 

Why practice Mindfulness?

Research shows us the benefit of adding mindful practice into our daily lives; it is a valuable tool, along with other healthy lifestyle choices which support our well-being. The 3 key areas of benefit are :

1. An increased  ability to focus and concentrate. Amongst many studies, Adam Moore and his colleagues at John Moores University in the UK found that practicing Mindfulness meditation in brief  daily intervals can positively impact and improve our level of concentration. (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2012) 

2. Improved ability to self-regulate our emotions as well as a more compassionate attitude and behaviour towards ourselves and others. There is an increasing body of research, using  neuroimaging studies which point to the structural changes of a myriad of brain regions mainly involved in emotion regulation and self-referential processing.  Studies are continuing to explore the benefits across all ages, for adults and children alike. With a growing evidence base, Mindfulness programmes are being increasingly included within our schools. The research and work by Kristin Neff on the importance of self-compassion is particularly interesting. Neff and her colleagues have identified the importance of Self-Compassion over Self-Esteem in the development of resilience. Whilst self-esteem wavers with the vagaries of success and provides little buffer in the face of challenge, self-compassion is now known to be key in surfing challenge and adversity. The Mindful practice of compassion nurtures the ability to calm the voice of inner critic and raise the cheer-leader within. 

3. General Well-Being.  Decreased stress, anxiety and depression are all promoted and supported through Mindful practices. Amongst the many research papers and studies, Nicole Geschwind and fellow researchers, in a 2011 study, found that those who had completed an 8 week programme of Mindfulness training reported greater pleasure, enhanced responsiveness and a greater appreciation of pleasant daily life-activity. How fabulous is that! We can learn to help ourselves get the most out of life within 8 weeks! 

 

If you would like to find out more or join some free Mindfulness sessions to explore its benefits please click on the link below 

https://thelivingwellconsultancy.com/services

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Don’t Ever Call Yourself Old!

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Don’t Ever Call Yourself Old!​

A few years ago, I got into a cab in Sydney and the driver asked, “Ok young lady, where to today?” I smiled and said, “Oh how nice, no-one has called me ‘young lady’ in years”. He said, “Ok, you old bag, where are we going?!” It still makes me chuckle but there is growing recognition of the language we use when we speak about ageing and the damage it can do. Terms like ‘dried up’, ‘wrinkly’, ‘old bat’, ‘over the hill’, ‘elderly’, ‘of a certain age’ and ‘vulnerable person’ pigeon-hole and demean people. Worryingly, we sometimes resort to using these terms to describe ourselves and this has implications for our mental health.

A 2013 study found that calling yourself old leads to greater levels of body dissatisfaction, anxiety, depression and more physical and mental health problems.

Carolyn Becker, of Trinity University, surveyed more than 900 American, British and Australian women ranging in age from 18 to 87. She asked questions about old talk – the kind of speech that indicates an aging appearance is unacceptable. She found it most prevalent in the women who were 46 or older. What’s more, the women who were most likely to engage in “old talk” were also more likely to report eating disorder diagnoses and decreased body satisfaction.

Our culture seems to be obsessed with youth; the anti-aging market was worth USD52 billion in 2019 and the market for botox grew 8%! It’s hardly surprising that if you obsess about your wrinkles and grey hair, you’ll really resent your age and your body.
Self-care is a huge topic and our awareness of its implications for wellbeing are huge. A very important part of self-care is self-talk. Self-talk refers to the way we talk to ourselves. What we refer to as negative self-talk is at the heart of many mental health challenges, such as stress, depression and anxiety. Alternatively more positive self-talk can really influence the way we think, feel, and behave.

So, take note of the language you use – swap out the ageist terms and thinking in favour of more constructive terminology; older, wiser, experienced, mature, perennial, vintage! Each of these words acknowledges age but emphasis the positive that accompanies it.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with talking about getting older – there are lots of benefits to it like better social skills and empathy and a happier outlook, but our aim, when we talk about getting older, is to not always focus on it being better to be young.
Catherine Rickwood of the Three Sisters Group suggests that if you answer ‘yes’ to any of the below, then it might be time to re-frame your idea of what it is to become older.

Do you say or think…

  1. “I don’t do that because I’m past it (i.e. too old).”
  2. “That’s simply what happens when you get old…”
  3. “Going to the doctors is just part of ageing.”
  4. “I’m way too old for that!”
  5. “My legs/eyes/body just aren’t what they used to be.” (Really? Compared to when – 18 months or 18 years old? And, who cares?)

How did you go?

The thing about age is that it is inevitable – the numbers go up every year. What we can change is our attitude and we can make sure we don’t demean ourselves or others with language that focuses only on the age and not the experience that comes with it.
In the words of Dawn French; “Why would I worry about getting older—what’s to moan about?”

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Go on, pursue a hobby!

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Go on, pursue a hobby!

For a lot of us, spending time on a hobby feels like an indulgence or a slightly guilty pleasure. Something to be sneaked in, only once the Mountain of Everything Else has been successfully scaled. Often, when life gets too busy and frenetic, the hobby is the first casualty; craft gets packed away, the garden gets neglected and the hobby-related connections get shelved ‘for now’. Leap forward several months, years, even decades and we catch ourselves saying things like, “Oh yes, I used to love photography (insert your own hobby here) when I was younger. I was part of a club and we had such great times”.

Mothballing a hobby is often a source of regret and its loss can have implications for our wellbeing too. After all, a hobby is a marvelous way to unwind from the rigours of our daily routine. Our lives feel so busy – the urgent things have strident voices and refuse to get in an orderly queue! The trouble with hobbies is that they are too well mannered and quietly spoken for their own good, accepting of the neglect. But it’s not just the hobby that gets neglected – we suffer too. Spending time on activities that we enjoy can help improve our mental health and wellbeing. This is really important when we consider that anxiety and stress are two of the most common mental health problems of the modern world; the Anxiety and Depression Association of America cites that 18% of adults in the US experience anxiety disorders each year!

I can elect something I love and absorb myself in it.
Anaïs Nin

Research shows that people with hobbies are less likely to suffer from low moods, stress and depression – essentially hobbies allow us to easily self-medicate. A recent survey on stress and wellbeing conducted by the Australian Psychological Society found that four in five participants found activities like listening to music and spending time on a hobby was an effective way of managing stress. So, take some time out of your busy day to rekindle a hobby and feel the benefits!

Different hobbies bring physical, mental, emotional, and creative benefits and combine to make life more meaningful, relaxing and fun!

There is creative reading as well as creative writing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Physical hobbies like swimming, tramping and yoga have clear physiological benefits because they increase both your heart rate and brain function. Other benefits include lower blood pressure, weight loss, building muscle, strengthening bones, and an overall increase in energy.

Mental and emotional benefits accrue when we leverage a hobby to take our minds off the more pressing concerns of daily life like work, family conflicts and paying bills. Also, hobbies like gardening, painting, drawing, cooking and photography can give us a sense of mastery which is good for our esteem.

Hobbies that help us form friendships and meet others add another layer of support to our lives which is also good for our wellbeing, particularly in our Third Age. Meet Up is a great platform for this – there are dozens of groups in every city dedicated to all kinds of hobbies like exploring new restaurants, seeing movies, discussing philosophy, trying new technology, playing music etc. It is likely that you’ll find others interested in the same things you are!

Hobbies that engage our creativity are also great for our wellbeing. Examples include writing. cake decorating, knitting, woodworking, restoring old cars etc.

Ultimately, hobbies take many shapes and sizes and that’s the beauty of them. They are without question, good for us and well worth the time invested. If you’re still struggling with any feelings of guilt or over-indulgence, look at it this way, hobbies are a public service! In pursuing a hobby and actively managing stress and anxiety, you’re doing a good thing for yourself, your family and your community. You’ll be calmer, more creative, healthier and more confident and one heck of a role model for anyone needing inspiration. Thank you!

Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
“Calmness is the cradle of power."
J.G. Holland

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Is Now the Right Time to be an Entrepreneur?

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Is Now The Right Time to be an Entrepreneur?

Is now the right time to take the plunge, back yourself and start your own business?  This might sound crazy at a time like this, but I bet it’s crossed the minds of many.  The economic impact of COVID19 has meant that lots of people are being furloughed, retrenched, made redundant or forced into early retirement, and lots will be thinking about what’s next for them.  The prospect of a drawn-out job search, perhaps long-term unemployment or accepting lower pay and benefits could be just too gloomy for many, especially those who were looking to do something different before all this mess happened.

Research in 2019 from Penn State University found that older people are an underestimated source of entrepreneurial flair! They found that people like us often have a wide variety of interests and these stimulate and feed ideas and innovation.  In addition, our ideas often have community interests at their core. 

The perception that innovation and entrepreneurial behaviour is the domain of the young is unfounded – research from MIT and Northwestern University highlighted that entrepreneurs 50 years and older are nearly twice as likely to achieve success than those in their 30s.

The reasons for this success are likely to include things like a richer network to tap into for suppliers, co-founders, new hires and financial supporters. Older entrepreneurs are also likely to have their own money to invest in the venture and we can’t overlook the years of experience they bring to the equation.  Even better if the startup business is in the same industry because then we can leverage all our experience and knowledge. 

If you are considering the bold move to your own business, maybe you should! Carefully consider the need for your business idea.  While it might sound contradictory, it is clear that recession hits small businesses the hardest.  However, it also creates a fertile ground for innovative startups. For example, I recently saw an online start-up where the service being provided was the set up and facilitation of wonderful online events e.g. birthday parties, 50th wedding anniversaries, etc.  Not an idea that perhaps would have gotten much traction in 2019, but 2020 is a whole new ballgame! 

In addition, research suggests that it’s the things we don’t do in life that we regret the most! So, if you do want to start your own business there are some important steps to get busy on:

1) Get clarity on your idea

Try to understand what you want to do and why you want to do it.  Getting clarity here is critical.

2) Conduct your research

Is there demand for your idea? Do the research to make sure that you have support for your assumptions; check that people will pay for what you’ll offer, understand who are your competitors and what will you do that competitors aren’t doing already?  You’ll also need to explore likely pricing, costs and profitability. Also review what skills you will bring to the enterprise and where you might be lacking. Is it realistic for you to bridge those skill gaps yourself or can you fund buying these skills in?

3) Create a business plan

This will help you test profitability, understand your financial needs, and give you a roadmap for bringing your business to life and growing it. There are some helpful business planning tools online to help with this.  Over estimate how long it will take you to begin to earn income, can your finances carry you through that period?

4) Obtain registration and incorporation

This step usually includes things like choosing a name, deciding on the legal structure for your business, obtaining a bank account, obtaining a domain name for your website, getting a tax number etc.

5) Corral the team

Round up the people with the expertise you’ll need for success, for example marketing, customer service, technical support, accounting, banking etc.  To keep expenses down at the outset while you test your concept, can you do some of this yourself, or do a barter agreement for something you can provide? OR this could be rewritten to say identify what you can do yourself and what you MUST outsource at the outset. Those you must outsource, can you do any form of barter agreement with the provider or pay in installments?

6) Financial Resources

There are multiple sources of funding and interest rates are at their lowest in years.  However, take time to explore the costs and benefits of each potential source of funding, such as your own cash, a loan, an overdraft, cofounders, friends and family etc. 

Don’t get me wrong!  I am not advocating that this is a great time to set up a business. Ultimately, with the world and domestic economies in a state of uncertainty, it’s probably a difficult time to summon the courage and follow your dreams in terms of starting your own business.  However, whether it’s by choice or not, more people than ever will be questioning the merits of the standard employer/employee relationship and thinking strenuously about what’s next for them.  If you took the plunge, what would you do?

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Yes, Its Stressful, but You’ve Got This!

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Yes, Its Stressful, but You’ve Got This!

By: Tracy Stodart

There’s no denying, this is stressful time for most of us. COVID-19 is changing the way we work, socialise, travel, access healthcare, exercise, shop and live. Many people are feeling anxious, stressed and worried.

Our fight or flight response is doing its utmost to protect us, triggering a cascade of hormones including adrenaline and cortisol, that surge through the entire body.These hormones increase heartbeat and the circulation of blood to support quick action, mobilize fat and sugar for immediate energy, focus attention

to track the danger, prepare muscles for movement, and more.

This response to stress has served us well in the past; helping us to resolve short-term, life-threatening problems.  However, prolonged or repeated stress, common in times like these, can have harmful physical and psychological consequences, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and depression.

Fortunately, while we’re not that familiar with COVID-19, we are no strangers to stress and lots of great research exists to help us mitigate its negative effects. Melanie Greenberg, writing for Psychology Today, outlined 6 proven ways to reduce the negative effects of stress;

  1. Slow Down 

With everything happening so quickly, we’re not always getting time to relax, rest and recover before the next challenge appears.  One way to compensate is to take 5-10-minute mental breaks throughout the day and try to notice any signs of tension and worry in your mind.  By consciously asking ourselves what the wisest thing to do isand progressing toward this helpsus to be more mindful and this is great for managing stress. Meditation is another tool; there are some great apps to help with this, e.g. Calm or Headspace.  Research shows that mindfulness interventions can lower your blood pressure and help your brain deal with stress more effectively.

  1. Exercise

Walking, or any other aerobic exercise Aerobic exercise, has many stress-relieving benefits. Studies show that it combats the effects of chronic stress by enhancing mood, helping you sleep and lowering blood pressure.

  1. Connect with Nature 

A recent study by Stanford researchers showed that walking in parkland reduces anxiety and worry more than walking on a busy street and had cognitive benefits as well. In another study, stressed students that were shown pictures of empty pathways and trees had faster cardiovascular recovery from stress than those shown pictures of urban scenes with cars and people.

  1. Smile 

A study by Kraft and Preston at the University of Kansas showed that smiling, even a fake smile, helps you resist stress. The researchers found that moving your facial muscles to form a smile sends a message to your brain that can influence your mood and lower your heart rate.

  1. Stand Upright

Standing in an upright pose, as opposed to slouching, can help manage stress.  A study in the Health Psychology Journal showed that great posture helped those under stress perform better, have less fear and have a more positive mood.  They were also less self-conscious. So, the next time you’re under stress, get tall.

  1. Think of Stress as a Positive Challenge 

A study in 2012 found that our attitude to stress is important and that we can learn to be more positive.  Managers from a large bank were shown either a video showing the negative effects of stress while the other group saw a video promoting stress as positive. Those who viewed the positive clip reported 23% less stress and were more engaged, happier and healthier.

So, if you’re feeling stressed, here’s the thing to do;

Walk tall through a park for 5-10 minutes, smiling to yourself whilst trying hard to see the stress as positive!

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Sports for all – at all ages!

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Sports for all – at all ages!

By: Michelle Sabti

As of 2008, there were 506 million people in the world older than 65 years; in 2040, there will be 1.4 billion (Kinsella & He 2009). Subsequently our population health is expected to decline.  Yet in research by ScienceDirect, when older adults play sport it can contribute to theexperience of positive and successful ageing.

Although it is well known that doing physical activity and engaging in sports in later years has compelling health benefits, the decline of people aged 55 yearsand above engaging in exercise is still widely reported. 

Why do some older adults continue to play sports in later life? What are the driving factors?

 

In order to understand more, a significant review of tglobal reseach by Elsevier B.V. on behalf of Shanghai University of Sport,leveraged the results of 30 studies.

Not surprisingly, the findings identified that maintaining health and well-being are the main reasons people gave for participating in sports.

However, sport participation also provided three additional benefits:

(1) Opportunities for having social interactions, being a part of a community, developing relationships.

 

 

 

The importance of this factor should not be underestimated, given the increased risk of isolation and loneliness that older people experience and the negative impact this can have on their experience of ageing.

(2) Experiencing competition and achieving goals.

It was interesting to read that ‘competition’ still plays a role in motivating us to do sports in our older years, albeit maybe not in the traditional sense.  It seems that as we get older, our spirits mature and, may I suggest,we are more comfortable in our skin.  It seems the ‘competition’ factor is driven by a desire to test our own limitations, setting goals and achieving them!  This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes from Ken Doherty, “The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.”

 

(3) Contributing to the overall sense of successful ageing.

Rowe & Khan, authors of ‘Successful Aging’ defined this as, “Multidimensional, encompassing the avoidance of disease and disability, the maintenance of high physical and cognitive function, and sustained engagement in social and productive activities.”More recently, the definition has been expanded to include emotional health and well-being.

For those of us not exercising currently, to leverage these benefits, the World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that older adults should:

  1. Engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderateand vigorousintensity activity.
  2. Aerobic activity should be performed in sessions of at least 10 minutes duration.
  3. For additional health benefits, older adults should increase their moderateintensity aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or engage in 150 minutes of vigorousintensity aerobic physical activity per week, or an equivalent combination of moderateand vigorousintensity activity.
  4. Older adults, with poor mobility, should perform physical activity to enhance balance and prevent falls on 3 or more days per week.
  5. Musclestrengthening activities, involving major muscle groups, should be done on 2 or more days a week.
  6. When older adults cannot do the recommended amounts of physical activity due to health conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.

WHO : Information sheet: global recommendations on physical activity for health 65 years and above

 

Bottom Line – for so many more reasons than physical health benefits, we need to ensure that physical activity, to whatever level that we can is embedded into our lives as we get older.  How could you incorporate some/more of the WHO’s recommendations in your exercise routine?

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I Could Just Kick COVID19’s Ass!

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I Could Just Kick COVID19’s Ass!

By: Tracy Stodart

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we’ve followed the progress of what started as something happening in China to what is now a full-blown pandemic with over half a million people infected across the world.  In the same way that the World Wars and 9/11 changed the world forever, this is one of those moments!

For all involved, it’s stirred up a lot of feelings.  Each of us is struggling with all sorts of challenges and emotions; fear for the health of our loved ones and ourselves, perhaps a sense of panic over potential and actual job cuts.  Many are worried about their savings, their financial commitments and their ability to get through the next few months, let alone the wider and longer-term implications for the world’s economy.

Frankly, we’ve never really experienced anything like this, so with nothing to compare it to, it’s hard to know where or how to begin when sifting through and sorting out all of our feelings about what’s going on.

Even if your encounter with COVID-19 has been minimal so far, it seems we’re all experiencing some sort of loss, whether it’s our personal freedom, security, connection with friends and loved ones etc.  Aside from the immediate worries, e.g. my job and elderly parents to name a couple, I even find myself sad for the loss of my plans in the short to medium term.  It feels like it will take ages for things to return to any sort of normal.

When we lose something, there is a process to get through to the other side.  The famed psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlined five stages from the initial loss itself all the way through to acceptance.

Let’s take each of the stages and relate them to how we might be feeling as this can be really helpful in finding our way through this really challenging time.

Stage One is Denial.  Just a few short weeks ago we rationalized the new threat with comparisons to SARS, H1N1 etc. and because it seemed unlikely to affect us, we didn’t take it too seriously.  I think most people have moved past this now!  If you have, what was the turning point?

Stage Two is Anger.  I’ve felt really angry about the Corona virus.  I’m angry that so many lives have been lost or completely tipped upside down, that I need to cling to my job and that so much has changed in such a short space of time. How are you feeling?  Frustration, worry and anger are really common at this stage.

While Anger is an acknowledged stage of the journey, it doesn’t last forever and we will eventually move to Stage Three, Bargaining.  During the Bargaining Stage we tend to make promises to ourselves for when things return to normal.  We also bargain by agreeing to uphold things like social distancing, self-isolation and pay cuts in return for things going back to something close to normal.  What bargains have you struck?

When the anger turns to sadness, you have probably moved into Stage Four, Despair.  Staying at home and having little interaction is hard on our mental health.  To get through this stage, try to stick to the routine of getting up, getting some exercise and of keeping in touch with friends and family.

Stage Five is Acceptance – finally!

This is where we get some perspective, understand what happened and start to work with what we’ve got.  It’s about accepting, what Debs Lloyd from the Living Well Consultancy is calling this the “Strange New Normal” and doing the best we can for ourselves and those around us. I think Acceptance is when the plans and dreams start to formulate again and when we can visualize taking positive steps forward. There is no set or prescribed time for this but like you, I hope it’s very, very soon! I know we’re all looking forward to the chance to say, “We kicked COVID19’s ass!”

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Not Knowing is the Worst!

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Not Knowing is the Worst!

By: Tracy Stodart

Part of being human is our ability to think, and therefore worry, about the future.  We know the future existsbut especially in times like these, we don’t know what the future holds Some are estimating that COVID19 will deliver economic, social and political carnage. Is this true? What does this mean for us as individuals and what can we do?  The unknown can be a huge source of distress.   

I for one, much prefer certainty to uncertainty, and I’m not alone.  Research has shown that most people would rather get an electric shock now than maybe get one later.  Its apparently more stressful waiting and not knowing when the shock will arrive than the actual shock itself.  It’s the uncertainty that impacts us the most and we’re hardwired to react to it with fear.  

In a recent study by the California Institute of Technology, scientists imaged subjects’ brains as they were forced to make increasingly uncertain bets.  The less information the subjects had to go on, the more irrational and erratic their decisions became.  As the uncertainty of the scenarios increased, the subjects’ brains shifted control over to the limbic system, the place where emotions, such as anxiety and fear, are generated. 

This tendency lingers from when cavemen worried about what might be about to pounce out of the bushes, a time when overwhelming caution and fear ensured survival. Today, this tendency can be a hindrance, especially in times like these wheimportant decisions need to be made yet there is so little information to support our evaluation of risks.(nice!) 

In recognizing and minimizing our tendency toward a fight or flight reaction, we might be able to cope better in times of extreme uncertainty.  By acknowledging the source of any irrational thoughts, we might be better able to pack them back into the box where they belong and focus on the information we do have to go on.  To manage uncertainty, we need to let our rational brain take charge!    

When we’re stressed, our minds are flooded with negative thoughts, and these escalate the worry and anxiety.  In contrast, positive thoughts help reduce the fear and irrational thinking and can refocus our attention.  Take time to think of a positive and affirming memory and go to this when you find yourself stressed and worried by uncertainty.  Also, try to focus all your attention and effort on what you can do, despite the uncertainty, to better your situation. 

Also, in times like this it can seem like nothing is certain.  However, one tool that may help you manage thisis to make a list of what is known, gather all the facts you can, acknowledge that there are things you don’t know and make the best damn decision you can!  Doing this will give you confidence and will turn down the volume on the worry. When things are as uncertain as they are, there is no such thing as a perfect decision – we’re human and we’re fallible.   

When caught up in worry, we often find ourselves stressing over things that really don’t matter in the big scheme of things.  Working out what the big, hairy issues are can help us prioritise issues and park the irrelevant ones.  In the recent days, I’ve dragged my children through about 9 time zones to sit out COVID19 in rural New Zealand.  We’re in lock-down now and its serious, yet I found myself worrying about the kids missing a day of on-line schooling and me not being able to go to town to buy gas! Good grief!  

When things are as uncertain as they are, we hope for the best, but we need to be open to the fact that we might get it wrong.  If we can accept this, then we’ll also be open to making contingency plans and leveraging our rational brain in the process.   Considering what-if scenarios is importantas long as we manage any catastrophizing.  Ultimately, try to take charge, make a plan to the best of your ability and focus on taking action! And for inspiration consider this; you’ve already survived 100% of your worst decisions, why break the trend?! 

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Hard Times to be Happy!

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Hard Times to be Happy!

By: Tracy Stodart

20th March is International Happiness Day; launched in 2013 by the United Nations to advance happiness as a fundamental human right.  7 years on and COVID-19 has meant we don’t have much to smile about on the 20th March, 2020.  As I write 100 million people are on lockdown as countries battle the virus and there have been over 6,000 deaths.

As I’d planned to write on happiness, I reached out to Dr Louise Lambert, editor of the Journal of Positive Psychology and a positive psychology and happiness expert, for a great quote on brushing off these challenging times.  Instead, she was far more realistic and commented, “To downplay the seriousness of the situation is to insult people’s intelligence.”    Perhaps rather than happiness, she said that, “This was a time to focus on resilience and for people to keep walking” to get through this.  Essentially, Keep Calm and Carry on!

So,it seemed I was somewhat back to the drawing board in my quest for upbeat content to help celebrate International Happiness Day.  However, then Dr Lambert and I discussed some great research that I had planned to use in this article; a massive study of life satisfaction, involving 1.3 million randomly sampled people from 51 countries showing that happiness follows a U-shape over the course of a lifetime.  Those in their late teens and early 20s report high levels of happiness – perhaps they’re just thrilled to be past all that early teenage angst!  According to the study though, it’s a downward trend after that, with people reporting being progressively more miserable until their late 40s and early 50s. 

The apparent reason why people hit their lowest at this time is because they are often wrestling with the most senior job of their lives and all the challenges this entails.  Many also report the challenges of obnoxious teenagers and aging parents as particularly impactful on reported happiness. 

Anyway, this U-shaped curve suggests that if you’re on the high side of 50, things are looking up!  The best part is that happiness continues to increase well into our 60s and longer, especially if our health holds up!  In fact, in 2016, research from the UK Office for National Statistics concluded the most joyful age bracket was 65-79. A similar research study in the United States pegged the peak years for overall satisfaction with life between age 60 and 69.

Apparently, connectedness and physical activity are two big influencers in the happiness we report.  Sedentary activities like watching television and staying at home impact happiness while being more active and socializing, volunteering, walking and exercising support higher levels of happiness. 

So, the research tells us that people our age are happier than we’ve probably been in decades!  It also tells us that happiness is a journey, and that the tough times of our late 40s and early 50s pass.  Perhaps here we can draw parallels between the U-shaped curve of happiness and our current and very real crisis with COVID-19.  I sincerely hope that we reached the COVID-19 equivalent of our 40s and 50s and that we can all quickly move into some better times. In the words of Dr Lambert, if we keep walking and remain resilient, we’ve got a lot to look forward to!

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