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How to Keep Your Mental Boat Afloat

How to Keep Your Mental Boat Afloat

    In March 2011 I had my first anxiety attack. It was gross. It was scary. It was completely unpleasant.

    But the worst part? My doctor decided that I needed medication in order to function. Highly addictive medication, that is.

    I used the happy pills for about a week before throwing them out the proverbial window and taking the following risks:

    1. I got a new doctor (duh!)
    2. I quit my stressful, micromanaged job (sweet relief!)
    3. I decided to move to Paris (Oui, oui)

    At my first appointment with my newfangled holistic doctor (we’ll call him Dr.Happy), he handed me some pearls of wisdom on which I have entirely based my well-being (and this blog post). This is what he said:

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    “The healthiest people do two things differently. First, they know when something is off. And second, they know what to do in order to fix it.”

    Dr. Happy knew what he was talking about. With those words, he changed the entire direction of my life. I can now say that I’ve learned how to recognize when my mental boat is a-rockin’, and I’ve spent the last 15 months collecting the tools needed to find my equilibrium after a storm. Now, I’m here to share my pearls of wisdom with you.

    STEP ONE:  How to Tell if Your Mental Boat is Rockin’

    So how can you tell that your life is out of whack? Simple. Ask yourself the following question:

    Is this how I want to feel?

    If the answer isn’t, “Hell yeah! I love feeling like this!”, then you’re in good company. Please continue to step two.

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    STEP TWO: How to Get Back to a Blissful Mental State

    My doctor recommended “taking time for yourself”.

    “Take time for myself?” I thought, “What kind of woo woo crap is that?”

    As it turns out, taking time for yourself can come in the following forms:

    1. Practicing self-compassion
    2. Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities
    3. Finding flow
    4. Investing regularly in small pleasures

    Practicing self-compassion is a fancy way of saying “be nice to yourself”. Let yourself indulge in some reality TV, a bowl of ice cream, or skip your work-out without letting the devil on your shoulder tell you how lazy and pathetic you are.

    This doesn’t mean that you should do these things all the time. Of course not. However, when your self-control muscle is tired, give it a break!

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    Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities comes in a variety of forms. My favorites are meditation, jogging, and taking a nice hot shower. You can also spend 10 minutes writing, sign up for a class, or watch the clouds pass in the summer sky (I spent hours doing this during my June 2011 Facebook hiatus).

    Finding flow is one of my favorite concepts. When you are in a state of flow (or in the zone) time passes quickly. When you’re in flow, you’re working with your greatest strengths.

    The formula for flow is simple: find something that you like to do and that also challenges you. Don’t make it too challenging, or you’ll create anxiety. Likewise, an activity that you enjoy but that is too easy will make you bored.

    For more on flow, check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TEDx talk (he discovered it, after all).

    Investing regularly in small pleasures involves just that: spending small amounts of money (under $10) on things that make you happy.

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    I regularly visit the local coffee shop for an iced tea, buy greeting cards to send to friends, grab a drink on a restaurant terrace, and buy books for my Kindle.

    STEP THREE: Your Next Step

    Now that you’ve got some fancy and fun ways to keep a cool head, grab a piece of paper and jot down 20 more ways that you could prepare yourself for a mental shit show. This list will become your tool box. Practice one of these activities tonight… and another one tomorrow morning! Remember: preventative care is better than a band-aid after battle!

    (Photo credit: Flying Life Preserver via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on August 4, 2020

    The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

    The Gentle Art of Saying No For a Less Stressful Life

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to master the Gentle Art of Saying No:

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    1. Value Your Time

    Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”

    2. Know Your Priorities

    Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

    For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.

    3. Practice Saying No

    Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

    4. Don’t Apologize

    A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.

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    5. Stop Being Nice

    Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets.

    Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

    6. Say No to Your Boss

    Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no,” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning.

    But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

    7. Pre-Empting

    It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

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    “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

    8. Get Back to You

    Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them:

    “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

    At least you gave it some consideration.

    9. Maybe Later

    If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

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    “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

    Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.

    10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

    This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

    Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

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    Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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