Healthy Mental Habits and Managing Stress

I’ve been working with Ecclesiastical Insurance Group to talk about ways of improving broker well-being. Their survey of 200 brokers found two thirds of them suffered stress, mainly due to work load. 98% reported they didn’t take time off to deal with it. Firstly, a big shout out to Ecclesiastical for talking about this, universally all the organizations I work with say we don’t talk about our mental health enough and from conversations with many different businesses I’m hearing a similar story to Ecclesiastical’s research. Adrian Saunder’s interviewed me to talk about ways we can develop healthy mental habits and manage stress. For each of us the answers will be different, one thing I find massively boosting is running with my dogs. Admittedly I struggle to keep up with them, but like most people they have more legs than I do. Here are a few simple ideas:

1.     After a long conversation with a psychologist who studied how people coped with war, natural disaster, traumatic injury and being a victim of crime; I learned there’s no model. What works for one person might not work for another. Those who coped faced reality and found ways to recharge their psychological batteries. These were as diverse as running, gardening, dog walking, reading, music, going for a lively night out with people who’ve had similar experiences, meditation, talking, binge watching box sets- The list is endless we need to find something that works for us.

2.     Face difficult issues and they stop being so difficult. Make a habit of nipping problems in the bud and don’t suffer in silence; ask for help it’s a sign of strength not weakness.

3.     Recognise at the end of the day were all a bit ridiculous and part of the human condition as we take things personally we shouldn’t, see the bigger picture and perhaps try not to be the centre of our own universe; will it matter in five years?

4.     Marcus Aurelius said ‘If you are distressed by anything external it is not due to the thing itself, but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment’. The concept of managing our state’s not new. When we deal with difficult people, we’re unlikely to be able to change them, but what we can do is manage the way we allow them to affect us.

5.     Recognise when we become stressed our fight, flight, fright response kicks in. Throughout evolution this has been useful for dealing with things like sabre-toothed tigers, but it might not be much help in the modern office. Breathing exercises, thinking of a nice smell, a treasured memory or safe special space is calming. Humour is one of our greatest coping mechanisms and if you’re ever struggling to find things to laugh at, just look at the people around you and it won’t take long.

6.     If works piling up and it’s a struggle to keep afloat don’t keep taking on more. Sometimes people are unaware of just how much we have to do. Asking for help, delegation and prioritization Some also keep piling the work on until people say ‘enough’. Where possible play to your strengths.

7.     Take ownership for as much as possible. Ask constructive questions like ‘What am I doing I don’t need to do?’ ‘Where’s the value in what I’m doing and what should my priorities be?’ Finally plan effectively, no one plans to fail but many people fail to plan as well as they should. My favourite acronym from the army: prior preparation and planning prevents poor performance. Lastly keep calm and eat cake, no sorry fruit.

For more information here are the interviews, which are also available (along with their research) on the Ecclesiastical website:

Introduction to Managing Stress

Managing Stress

Opening Up

Helping Others




How To Have The Best Christmas Ever

I love Christmas: any excuse for a get together; not to mention that I’m seriously into the concept of peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind, but we have to face the fact for some it’s a sad lonely time with painful memories. So, first thing to do is find ways of laying the ghosts of Christmas past to rest if we have them. Our past doesn’t determine our future unless we let it. For a meaningful advent help others; instead of buying expensive presents and barraging the digestive system volunteer, perhaps give to a worthy cause.

For many it’s a frantic rush to finish work and do everything that needs doing. Plan ahead to manage the pressure because when it’s off many get colds, flu and bugs. Everything’s more enjoyable when we’re healthy so make time to be mentally and physically as healthy as we can.

Don’t overspend- keep it real. There’s huge hype around Christmas whipped up by the brilliant brains of advertising. Avoid roller coaster spending. Plan to avoid the after- Christmas blues by having things to do and some cash left over for January and February.

Be thankful for the many people who work at Christmas. A friend in emergency services told me in the last eight years they’ve only spent one Christmas at home with their partner. I looked shocked, but they said ‘Never mind it went quite quickly’.

Find, reinforce and share the treasured and helpful rituals, ditch the unhelpful ones and be flexible. Recently spoke to a lady whose daughters in their 20’s come home for Christmas and they love waking up on Christmas morning listening to Pinky and Perky music because it has so many treasured memories (well it takes all sorts). Rituals might not be the same for everyone, an element of consensus and compromise may be required.

Respect other people’s space. New families may feel the need to break with tradition and be at home. For many of us there’ll be a family house cramming competition, which can be difficult for adolescents sleeping in an unusual place. So it might be an idea to create a chill zone or safe haven eg.  sitting on the stairs or a corner where people can go for a bit of quiet time. Celebrate and tolerate differences. For many Christmas is a religious festival of great significance, for many it’s not. I have Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh friends who like Christmas and demonstrate a true generosity of spirit.

If there’s a bit of family tension and someone’s getting up your nose don’t rise, especially after Christmas beverages which may make us think we’re cleverer and more right than usual. ‘Perhaps say to ourselves ‘I wish I didn’t mind and I won’t let it get to me’. Rather than ‘Yer talking shite and I’m gonna to put you right.’

If someone’s being abusive, avoid becoming a victim. Seek help - it’s a sign of strength not weakness.

Plan to do fun things, walk, bike ride, play cards, board games, do stuff and accept it’s different these days as most teenagers will probably be happiest playing with their most recent video game or on their phone. It’s a fine balance.

Everyone should help out with the cooking and chores, unless of course there’s someone who really loves cooking. Don’t feel compelled to do turkey and all the trimmings, there are some great alternatives and I’m actually really surprised how many people I know who are getting fast food delivered!

Make time to connect with people, speak with family and friends - share the love

How do we solve our problems in life? It’s through asking constructive questions; which could be ‘What can I do to make it the best Christmas ever without overspending?’ ‘What can I do to help my family and friends have the best Christmas ever?’ We get back what we give out, it’s important to spread sunshine and kindness and of course to smile (but not in a creepy way) so all that remains is for me to thank you for reading my blog and I wish you a happy, healthy and wonderful Christmas and of course peace on earth and goodwill towards all mankind.

Step by Step...The Heat is On #Badwater135

At 8pm (Pacific Daylight Time) today I am embarking on the world’s toughest footrace #Badwater135. The Badwater Death Valley Ultra 135 mile "fun run' is in the hottest place on earth at the hottest time of year. It has to be completed in under 48 hours.

I’m one of the luckiest people to be alive you’re likely to meet. Blown up in a remote part of Africa in 1995 clearing landmines for the charity HALO Trust I lived to tell the tale. I have never considered myself a victim as I chose to be there. By challenging my limits I can continue to support the fabulous work of the Scottish based HALO Trust saving life and limb around the planet.

Great News! Every pound raised will be matched by an anonymous donor so donations will be doubled. Sponsor me the price of a pint of beer (or more if you wish). Please forward and share this link and click here to donate if you can.

Thank you for your support. Keep on keeping on.

#Badwater135 Adventurecorps Badwater Race

Power Of A Smile

It’s so important to smile (but not in a creepy way)


Scientists say we actually feel better when we smile. Try it, go on really smile. Look at a beautiful flower, think of a great place or something amazing you did that really made you smile (possibly best if you keep the last one to yourself). Go on smile - If you are you should be getting a warm glow.

It makes us feel better 

Dopamine, endorphins and serotonin are released which relaxes us, reducing heart rate and blood pressure. Endorphins are natural painkillers so if we can be gracious and smile when in pain it helps. If I’m suffering on an ultra-distance run (which I usually am) I think of something that makes me smile. It helps; you feel better and it gets you to the end, then you’ll smile even more when you cross the finish line.

It’s good for our health and relationships

This chemical release improves mood overcoming anxiety and depression. It relieves stress, boosts the immune system, reduces heart rate and blood pressure and also relieves pain. Studies show people who smile live longer (US study of a football team photo showed those with a happy smile lived 7 years longer). According to studies smiling also makes us look younger, thinner and more attractive. Smiling makes us seem courteous, likeable and competent and releases more feel-good chemicals in our body than chocolate. It’s also infectious.  The 9 Superpowers of Your Smile

Is all smiling good?

Don’t think so. Most of us have been on the receiving end of a sarcastic smile or a controlling smile when someone’s displeased with us. Here are the types of smile to avoid: insincere, creepy, controlling, bullying, smug and psycho. In the movie The Shining, Jack Nicholson axes through a door, smiles and says ‘Wendy I’m home’ giving an example of a psycho smile that’s not good. (Yes, you can Google it and try not to do one).  Psychology of Smiling: can you tell a fake smile from a genuine one?

What’s behind the smile? 

Most of us can tell a genuine smile, or can we? The best thing to have behind a smile is a thankful heart and an I’m ok you’re ok attitude.  The human being can’t be in two conflicting emotional states so if we feel down, make a conscious effort to smile and put on a happy face we’ll actually feel happier. People with a pencil between their teeth, forcing their lips into a smile, actually feel better.

We get back what we give out

When talking to someone who was having a tough time they frowned and said ‘Wherever I go people look miserable. That’s the way the world is.’  We did some work on getting them to focus on a happy state, sing their happy song and smile more. A week later they phoned and said ‘Wherever I go people smile and my world’s so much better’. What goes around comes around. Just as kindness and courtesy cost us nothing having a generous accepting view of the world in which we smile and spread some sunshine is important (unless you’re standing next to a psycho- in which case move) and it’ll almost certainly be reflected back in far great quantity.

Further reading:

There's Magic in Your Smile

Benefits of smiling

The Power of Smiling: 7 Health Benefits of Smiling

The Power of a Smile