Mental Health Awareness Week took place last month and, rather unsurprisingly given the current circumstances, the event was given much more ‘airtime’ than usual. Perhaps as lockdown means that people have become acutely aware of all positive and negative emotions in their lives.

And, I’m not ashamed to admit that I have been struggling significantly over the past fortnight. But Post-it notes have really helped. Yes, really.

Don’t worry I haven’t bought shares in Paperchase, nor is this another blog about ‘how to survive lockdown’. Mainly because there are many more qualified people out there who have no doubt already covered this to saturation point, but also because I think it’s important to be completely open and honest – the good, bad and ugly.

So, rather let’s label this as a ‘I hear you’ piece – filled with a level of honesty that’s rare from a business owner – alongside a solution that’s worked well for me time and again when I am feeling overwhelmed with worry.

To set the scene…

As I am sure many of you can relate, it’s such a strange time at the moment. Nothing feels normal, yet Q2Q as a business is fully functioning, most of our clients are okay, my children are still working and, other than not going in to the office or networking with my local gang, my life isn’t massively different.

But somehow it feels SO different. To begin with, I find that I feel intensely worried about the things I can’t control – such as the health and wellbeing of my family, friends and colleagues who are juggling work and young families 24/7.

Naturally, my concern extends to our clients and theirs too. But above all, I’m also very much self-conscious of feeling anxious when I should be grateful that we’re all okay and things could be a whole lot worse!

The heightened activity in my brain also means I’m really struggling to sleep. And, for anyone that knows me well, rest is something that’s been eluding me for nearly two years now. I was already averaging around four hours a night, so for that to get worse is only compounding my emotions.

My Post-it note exercise

Bear with me on this one, but I’ve found it really helps to organise all the information, ideas and challenges whizzing around in my head at any one time. To give it a go, you need three colours of Post-it, ideally red (or pink), orange and green work best – as the aim is to represent traffic lights.

To begin, scribble on the red squares everything that’s frustrating, upsetting, distracting or you feel is out of control – no matter how insignificant it might seem. Dedicate a Post-it to each and do it quickly, don’t stop to dwell on any of them, just empty your brain as fast as you can!

Then, arrange your troubles in a horizontal line on the wall. The aim here is to try and group them into categories such as home, work, relationships, family, finances, physical and mental health.

Next up, the green notes are for reflecting on ‘what would great look like?’  Under each of the red stickers, put an ideal solution to the situation. Try to imagine there are no barriers in place, simply envision the perfect solution. It’s important not to let your mind tell you this vision isn’t possible, just imagine what it could be like – or what you wish would happen – with the assumption that anything is possible.

Of course, sometimes you have to accept that something cannot change, therefore you may decide to move on from it. But in areas like this, seek to develop an idea that flips your feeling on its head and maybe asks the question ‘what could you learn that will serve you well in the future?

A small deviation from the task in hand…

On the topic of the green Post-it notes, if you cannot imagine a future where the issue doesn’t exist, there’s a great exercise called ‘the miracle question’.

Close your eyes and take a few deep, calming breaths. Imagine that you have woken up from the best night’s sleep you have ever had and overnight, a miracle has occurred and the problem you are focused on has simply disappeared. If it’s something relating to the past, imagine it’s been erased from your memory and will have no bearing whatsoever on your future.

Next, try to picture what a typical day for you would be like without the ‘hangover’ of the past affecting it. Explore every small moment and try to imagine how it would feel if you were released from the problem.

How would your new day be different, and what do you notice and feel as you go about your daily routine? How would this change affect your personal and professional relationships – and could it give you an entirely new level of confidence? Think about the smallest detail, and not solely the life-changing things.

Back to the Post-it notes, and on each of the orange cards it’s time to put down the bones of an idea which could improve the red situation and take you a step closer to the green. It’s important to challenge yourself here – and consider what advice you’d give to someone in a similar situation.

Before you finalise that Post-it and stick it on the wall, ask yourself, ‘is this the smallest step I could take?’ – this is not the time for big plans and ambitions.

How do I make a positive change?

When you take a step back, those orange squares form the basis of your new ‘to do’ list. Take the actions and order them from easiest to hardest – then get going. Taking this approach will give you a sense of achievement as soon as you begin making those changes.

As you work through the plan, it’s important to keep revisiting the red squares – can any be removed or have any new ones cropped up? Each time you tick off an orange step, make sure to add another ‘to do’ in its place, with the aim of taking you one step closer to the green. Be willing to put the time in for those small steps and eventually you’ll turn that red light to green.

At Q2Q HQ, you’ll often find us running a quick-fire version of this process when creating technical solutions for customers – so it’s not just a mental health exercise! Give it a go, and drop me a note on LinkedIn to let me know how you get on.

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