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  • Kevin Patton

Coming Back on Course

Updated: Sep 17, 2019

In my last blog, I said that we would explore some useful strategies to help us come back on course when our feelings are telling us that we’ve started to drift.

If everything starts to feel overwhelming, STOPP.

Event + Response = Outcome

Things that move us off course Excessive overtime

Bringing work home

Long stretches without time off

Keeping stress “bottled up”

Passive/aggressive responses Always saying “yes”

Refusing help

Increase in smoking/drinking/comfort eating Procrastination

Avoidance There is a difference between Self-Care and Self-Indulgence

Self-care builds resilience, allowing us to come back to equilibrium faster when we experience difficult life events. Self-indulgence is an attempt to control our internal experiences by changing the way we feel. This isn’t surprising. Everyone likes to feel good. No one likes to feel bad. So quite naturally we try hard to avoid or get rid of “bad” or “negative” thoughts and feelings. This is the agenda of emotional control.

This can be extremely effective in the short term and it makes sense to keep doing it when we start feeling uncomfortable! However, the reality is most, if not all, human beings over-rely on control strategies; and when we use them excessively or inappropriately, our quality of life suffers.

Take eating chocolate, for example. When we eat a piece of good-quality chocolate, we feel good (assuming we like chocolate, that is). Use this simple control strategy in moderation, and it enriches our life. It’s workable. But do it excessively, and it may well start to have costs to our health, such as weight gain.

Things that help keep us on course At Work - Take regular breaks

- Utilise available support

- Debrief with colleagues

- Practice mindfulness

- Eat and drink sufficiently

- Ask for help when needed

- Keep communication open

- Get enough sleep

- Manage time effectively

- Use annual leave

- Limit overtime – assert your capacity

- Reinforce boundaries (role, time)

- “De-role” at the end of the day

- Use self-care action plans!

- Leave work at work!

Outside Work - Healthy/regular eating

- Sufficient sleep

- Address health issues

- Make time to relax

- Make time for fun

- Exercise

- Be with friends/family

- Enjoy nature

- Take holidays

- Make time for self-reflection

- Laugh/cry!

- Mediate/pray

- Listen/dance to music

- Sacred time for hobbies and ”me time”

- Live life!!

In my free pamphlet "BALANCE", we explore some of the science behind this and look at some other things you might wish to try.

Arrange to meet a friend for lunch every day. Just 30 minutes away from the office. Having a chat and sharing a laugh works wonders. Share your worries and get a 'sense' check from friends.

Pause for thought

Introduce small moments of relaxation into your day. Take a moment to stop and look around, or close your eyes and listen to the sounds you can hear. Mindfulness techniques like this can help you to feel calmer and more in the moment.

Try active relaxation

Gentle exercise like yoga, tai-chi or Pilates, or a stroll in the fresh air can give you time to unwind your body and mind. Exercise also releases ‘feel-good’ hormones, which can help reduce depression and anxiety.


Gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping the pace slow and regular. Slowly tense then relax all the muscles in your body, starting at your toes and working up to your head. Afterwards just take some time to be still and focus on how your body feels.


Mindfulness is the art of “staying in the moment”, based on Buddhist philosophy (though not religious). Using a focus, such as the breath, it has been described as the “art of observation” and it can help us respond to life’s pressures in a calmer way by recognizing and "stepping away” from habitual reactions to (stressful) events

Mindfulness ABC A – Awareness B – “just Being”

C– seeing things and responding wisely

The challenge

Fold your arms, wasn’t too hard, was it? Now, fold them the other way. That took a bit more thought, didn’t it? When people cross their arms, they do so naturally, without even thinking about it. When they are asked to fold them the other way they, for the most part, stop, refold their arms again and then try to figure out which arm was on top, which arm moves first and so on.

If something as simple as folding your arms in a different way gave you pause, just think what making the course corrections to start moving towards the life you want to live might entail.

Coming back on course requires hard work, perseverance and the practice of self awareness (initially at least)

How do We keep Going?

When we start doing something new, our brain has to work a bit harder to process what it is we have to do and how well we’re doing it. To help this happen, the body releases adrenaline and serotonin, increasing our arousal state. If we are already running “hot”, this can take us over our tipping point and our automatic pilot cuts in with the usual avoidance and indulgence

A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Footstep…

Start with something small, the idea, here, is to start building new habits, not changing your life in a day. Taking action, however small, can improve your life at work or prevent stress developing in the first place. You may be free to do some things without reference to anyone else, but some things you will need to negotiate, formally or informally, with family members, friends, colleagues or managers.

Self Care is about taking charge of our own health decisions and doing the best we can to get and stay physically and mentally fit. Self Care is sleeping and exercising to maintain physical fitness and good mental health. It is also about eating well, practicing good personal hygiene and avoiding health hazards such as smoking and drinking and taking drugs. Self Care is also about taking care of minor physical problems and long term conditions. It’s a bit like having a vaccination to protect us against particular diseases. We can build up our immunity and natural resources to enable us to deal with distress.

The acronym SELF Care can remind us what we can do regularly in order to keep ourselves healthy and stable. If we take care of ourselves, we can protect ourselves against vulnerability. This means we are more likely to be able to cope with the mental pain that is so often associated with emotionally distressing situations.


Eating & Exercise

Look at – Alcohol, Drugs, Smoking, Treating Illness

Find something every day that gives you a sense of Achievement, Ability and Enjoyment

Be kind to yourself

Be kind to yourself and treat any physical illness. Encourage rather than criticise yourself. Treat yourself the way you would a friend in a similar situation.

Exercise Regularly

Being active helps lift our mood, reduce stress and anxiety, improves physical health and gives us more energy. Get outside, preferably in a green space or near water. Find an activity you enjoy and just do it.

Eat healthily

Eat regularly, eat breakfast, eat healthily, eat fruit and vegetables, drink water.

Take up a hobby/Learn a new skill

Increase your confidence and interest, meet others or prepare for finding work.

Help others

As well as benefitting others, you will be doing something worthwhile which will help you feel better about yourself


Make time for yourself, allow yourself to chill and relax. Different things work for different people.

Have some fun and/or be creative

Having fun/being creative helps us feel better and increases our confidence.

Balance sleep

Get into a healthy sleep routine – including going to bed and getting up at the same time every day.

Connect with others

Stay in touch with family and friends – make regular and frequent contact with them.

Beware drink and drugs

Avoid using alcohol (or non-prescribed drugs) to help you cope. This will only add to your problems

SELF Care skill stresses the importance of looking after ourselves

If you’re riding a bike, when is the best time to put on your crash helmet, after you crash, or a the start of your journey? Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to start your SELF care, do it today so, when life knocks you sideways, you can regain your equilibrium more easily.

List 3 or more things that you will do before starting work: (e.g. open a window, go for a walk, wash hands, stretch, listen to music)

List 3 or more things that you will do at the end of each day or evening: (e.g. put away work, take a shower, yell out the car window, talk to a friend, exercise, watch TV, etc)

List 3 or more things that you will do at least one time each week: (e.g. exercise, go out with friends, visit family, see a therapist, do something fun)

List 3 or more things you will do monthly: (e.g. get into the country, see a movie, etc)

List 3 or more things you will do in your working day: (have a break away from the office, eat and drink sufficiently, go for a walk, look into a new project)

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