How to Stay Sane … When Your Newsfeed Goes Bonkers

Yesterday, I met a friend for lunch in my favourite part of London … Southbank.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, London’s Southbank is a colourful, vibrant area, nestled on the bank of the Thames. It’s crammed full of theatres and restaurants and a skate park and second-hand book stalls. It looks out on many of London’s most famous landmarks – St Paul’s Cathedral, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye.

But yesterday it was dank and grey – all of the landmarks obscured by a cold, grey mist.

Normally, when I have lunch with this particular friend, we’re full of sparkle.

But yesterday our moods perfectly matched the weather.

And this was in large part down to recent news events.

In the past week I’ve seen numerous posts on my social media feeds from other friends feeling equally down-hearted.

Although the internet can be a great source of up to the minute news, when the news goes crazy and we’re bombarded with stories we find upsetting / disturbing / annoying / WTF-ing it’s easy to feel trapped beneath an avalanche of gloom.

So, here’s my take on how we can maintain our sanity and inner peace in the heart of the current crap storm.

Ration your time on social media

I’m not saying come off it altogether and stop being informed. Now, more than ever, we need to be informed. But be informed in small doses. Don’t get sucked down a Facebook hell-hole, clicking on depressing link after link for hours. Get your news and go, in bite-sized sittings.

Unfollow or unfriend the people who make you feel bad

Don’t become an online rubber-necker; stalking the profiles of people you know will make you feel bad. This way insanity lies. Yes, it’s shocking and disappointing to discover that people you know (or thought you knew) and love turn out to be closet racists / misogynists / xenophobes … but don’t keep picking at the wound. Let go with love. There are far more important things that need you energy right now. Which brings me neatly to my next point…

Do something

It can be so easy to feel completely powerless in the light of global events but never forget that the power of the people is far greater than the people in power. Find out what you can do to try and bring about the changes you desire. It doesn’t matter how small it is – signing a petition, going on a march, phoning your representative, donating to a cause you believe in – all can help you feel engaged and proactive … always a way better option than disengaged and reactive.

Let your feelings out

When we’re bombarded with news stories that cause us to feel anger or fear there’s a danger of those feelings building inside of us like a pressure cooker … unless we let them out. Let them out in a way that’s constructive and won’t bring others down. So by that, I mean, no more ‘Oh great, here comes armageddon!’ posts, that are just going to spread the fear. Let your negative feelings out by writing them down in private, in a journal. Or literally shake them out of your body through some kind of physical exercise like running or dancing or going for a hike. Let your anger move through you, don’t let it corrode inside of you.

Turn your fear into fuel

Another great way of dealing with destructive feelings is to turn them into something positive. Turn your anger and fear into fuel. Create something great with it … a powerful poem, a striking piece of art, a rousing song, a funny protest banner. Think of all the great art that gets made in times of strife. Take inspiration from it and create art that will uplift and empower.

Seek out the positive

When my friend and I were chatting about this yesterday I told her that I could see real positives coming from the current situation. ‘People aren’t apathetic anymore,’ I said. ‘Events like the Muslim ban force people to look deep inside of themselves and decide which side of history they want to be on.’ I find it heartening to see just how many people are coming down on the side of love and tolerance over fear and hate. For every bad news story there’s a heartening tale of lawyers rushing to airports in the dead of night in their pyjamas to help an immigrant in need, or protesters creating a safe space in an airport for Muslims to pray. Seek out stories of hope and unity … and share them widely. Let love go viral, not hate.

Top up your inspiration tank

Another way to counter the negativity is to regularly read, watch or listen to the things that inspire you. A motivational podcast, the biography of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the quotes of Gandhi. Seek out your positive friends … the people who lift you up rather than suck you down. Keep laughing as well as crying. Laugh out the stress so that you’re able to then double down and get things done.

Trust in Love

Put your faith in something bigger than you and political systems. If you believe in Love, have faith that Love is always stronger than fear in the end; that love – not hate – is always the answer. Take inspiration from Anne Frank, who was able to find hope in the most terrifying of circumstances…

“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

When it all gets too much, go outside, look up at the sky and, like Anne Frank, know that tranquility will return once more.

With love,

Siobhan

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When the News Gives You the Blues

I was once in an abusive relationship that left me so traumatised I even contemplated suicide.

It was a long, long time ago and I thought I was totally over it, until a recent news story involving a certain misogynist started ‘grabbing’ the headlines.

As I watched news coverage of this man trying to intimidate a woman he was supposed to be debating with I could feel an ancient fear deep inside of me spark back into life.

When you’ve lived with a man who needs to demean and terrorise women to make himself feel less small you recognise the signs.

And it made me feel sick to my stomach when I saw people defending this man on social media.

Just as it makes me feel sick to my stomach when I see people saying hateful things about refugees and other innocent people in dire need of help.

I can’t remember a time when the world was so full of hate and fear.

I can’t believe that bullying and racism are being legitimised by certain political leaders.

And, due to our 24 / 7 connection to the world’s news outlets via the internet, it’s impossible to ignore.

At first I thought that the answer was to argue back every time I saw a post on social media that encouraged hate.

But all that did was make me feel even more angry and fearful, getting sucked into pointless debates.

So, I took a few days out from the news and I came up with a plan.

And, if you’re also feeling sick and tired of all the hate, you’re very welcome to join me…

 

ONE: Sift through fear’s lies for love’s truth

First, I reminded myself that our press and media have an agenda. In a nutshell it’s FEAR SELLS.

So we’re fed story after story designed to scare and divide.

I don’t want the likes of Rupert Murdoch controlling my world view. So I’m going to seek out my news from other outlets, like the wonderful Positive News.

And in future these are the only kinds of news stories I’m going to share on my Facebook page.

Stories that educate and uplift and inspire rather than encourage hate.

I’m going to make it my intention every day to sift through fear’s lies for love’s truth.

 

TWO: Keep on hoping and dreaming

In the light of so much negativity it’s easy to give up hope.

Last week I found myself thinking things like, what’s the point of dreaming about new books and business ideas when so many people are suffering?

It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about anything much when you see children being bombed and turned away.

But now I’m thinking that maybe more positive and hopeful dreamers are EXACTLY what the world needs now.

Especially if our hopes and dreams involve doing good.

Which brings me to my next point…

 

THREE: Be a beacon of kindness

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,‘ Gandhi once said.

The only way we can ultimately defeat hate is with love.

Martin Luther King Jr knew that.

And so did Jesus when he told us to ‘love your enemy‘ and ‘turn the other cheek‘.

It can be really, really hard to come from a place of love when faced with hate, but we need to break the cycle or we’ll just keep on spiralling down.

Last week I set myself the challenge of doing at least three random acts of kindness every day.

This has changed everything for me.

It’s snapped me out of my angry, bitter thinking and given me something far more constructive and fun to focus on.

By actively seeking out ways in which I can bring more love to the world it’s helped me feel a lot less powerless.

I’ve signed up for charities I believe in, I’ve given away books to people who need them, I’ve donated clothes to refugees.

We’re not helpless.

We all have the ability to bring love.

So let’s start bringing it like never before.

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Five Life Lessons from Mother Nature

Recently, I spent some time in the Andalucian region of Spain. Surrounded by mountains and olive groves and orchards of orange, lemon and walnut trees, all nestled beneath a canopy of the brightest, clearest skies, it was impossible not to be awestruck by Mother Nature.

I learned a lot too – just from being still and really watching.

Here are five of the key lessons I learned – which I hope are just as applicable to you.

Lesson from the Olive Tree: Sometimes the most loving thing you can do is just be there for another

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The first time I came across this tree I felt compelled to sit on the white stone between its roots. As I leaned against the gnarled trunk, nestled between the roots, it felt as if I was being hugged by a giant. I felt so safe and protected by the tree’s presence. And, just knowing that I could rest in its strength, made me think about love and how so often, the most loving thing we can do for another is just be there for them. Not interfere or tell them what to do, or what we would do if we were them, just be there and really listen so that they can soak up our strength. I realised that I need to be more like this in my own relationships with my loved-ones – not race to try and fix things all the time but be strong and still for them so they can find their own way.

 

Lesson from the Flower: Authenticity is beautiful and requires no effort

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Spring had just arrived in Spain and the first splashes of colour from the flowers were a beautiful contrast to the faded greens and greys of the olive trees. So much of today’s online-based world is phoney and filtered but none of the pictures in this post have been ‘Instagrammed’. They didn’t need to be. When I came across this flower I was struck by its beauty and it led me to make the following jotting in my journal: authenticity is beautiful and it requires no effort. Faking – whether it be in our relationships, work or on our social media – requires a hell of a lot of effort. But when we can let go enough to let our true selves bloom it’s effortless and it’s beautiful.

 

Lesson from the Rocky Path: When the going gets tough focus on the present

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This trail dates back to the middle ages, when merchants would transport their wares via donkey to the remote villages dotted around the mountains. There were places where the path got so narrow and so slippery under foot it was impossible to think of anything other than where you were going to plant your next step. If you got distracted or started gazing off along the trail there was the real danger you would lose your footing and go tumbling over the side. Once again, I was able to see how this lesson from nature could be applied to life. When the going gets tough, stay firmly rooted in the present moment. Don’t worry about what might happen in a day or a week or a month, focus on what’s going on right now.  Tackle the present one small, careful step at a time and the future will take care of itself.

 

Lesson from the Orange: Nature is full of gifts, physical and emotional

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There was something so lovely about this picture to me. One solitary orange against the faded background of the olive tree. What a splash it makes! As I stood in front of it, marvelling at its beauty, I thought to myself that it was way too beautiful to pick. There was something so therapeutic about seeing an orange in its natural habitat – as opposed to stuffed in a crate in the supermarket. But then, as I was about to walk away, the orange fell from the tree and landed at my feet with a gentle thud. It was as if the tree was giving it to me as a gift.  So I sat down on the grass and ate the orange and it was the sweetest, juiciest orange I’ve ever tasted. The whole experience reminded me that plants and trees don’t just sustain us physically but emotionally too – if we remember to let them!

 

Lesson from the Mountain Top: The higher you climb, the further you see

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One day, we climbed to the top of a mountain to visit a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Many of the world’s spiritual traditions believe that there’s true wisdom to be found at the top of a mountain. Having now experienced it for myself, I can whole-heartedly agree. The silence at the top of the mountain was so thick you could practically slice it and I was instantly overcome by a tremendous sense of peace. As I looked down on the world below I was able to gain a whole new perspective on my life. My so-called problems seemed tiny in comparison to the majesty of the mountains and this was probably the greatest lesson for me. The higher you climb – be it physically or spiritually – the wiser you become and the further you see.

 

Challenge…

If you’ve been inspired by this post, I challenge you to go to a place of natural beauty close to you – a park, some woodland, the beach, a canal – and soak in the surrounding nature for any lessons it might have for you. Before you set out, think of any issues currently troubling you and ask that you might be guided to find the specific answers you need. (If you do this I would LOVE to hear how you get on in the comments).


End Your Year on a High by Counting Your Blessings & Learning Your Lessons

Holy baubles, it’s almost Christmas!

But before your world becomes a crazy whirl of Baileys-supping, turkey stuffing, party going and mistletoe smooching, take a moment – a quiet moment – for you.

The beginning of December is the perfect time to pause and take stock of the fading year.

The perfect time to count your blessings, learn your lessons and figure out what and who you’d definitely like to keep in the new year – and what and who you’d like to let go of with love.

To make things super simple for you, I’ve created a template below.

All you have to do is fill in the gaps.

Take some time when you know you won’t be interrupted, copy the template into a notebook, or copy and paste it on to your pc, and let the words flow.

The best thing about 2015 has been………………..

This year, I’m really proud of the way I………………..

The most important lesson I’ve learnt is that………………..

My greatest achievements have been………………..

I’m really grateful to have had the love and support of………………..

One way of behaving that hasn’t served me this year has been………………..

Next year, I shall replace this behaviour with………………..

A situation that hasn’t brought out the best in me this year is………………..

Next year, I shall change this for the better by………………..

I’m disappointed by the way my relationship with………………..has been this year.

Next year, I shall resolve this by………………..

If I had to pick one positive word to sum up 2015 it would be………………..

In 2016, I shall bring more love and joy to the world by………………..

And if I had to pick one inspirational word / statement / quote to have as my motto for 2016 it would be………………..

Here’s to ending the year with a heart full of hope and gratitude, blissfully baggage-free.

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Some Loving Words for When You Need to Be Strong

Sometimes in life, we’re called upon to be the ‘strong one’.

When a partner is made redundant.

When a friend is given a scary diagnosis

When our kids get sick.

There have been many times in my life when I’ve had to be the strong one.

As a teen, when my parents split up.

In my twenties, when my marriage broke down.

In my thirties, when my partner got sick.

Each time, I’ve cried and ‘why’-ed, then picked myself up and got on with it.

You can do this, you’re the strong one,’ I’d tell myself. ‘You’ve always been the strong one.’

Then, this summer, someone very close to me got very ill and they needed my support.

But instead of feeling strong, I felt wrung out.

The ‘strong one’ title that I’d held on to for years suddenly seemed to be sliding from my grasp.

‘I can’t do this. I can’t be strong any more,’ I thought … and that thought terrified me.

Then I did what I always do when I get desperate – I hit my knees and I began to pray.

Why do I always have to be the strong one?’ I cried. ‘Why do I always have to be the rock for other people?’

(Please note: This isn’t true, I have loads of people who are there for me too, but what can I say? When you’re in the middle of a self-pity party logic and reason aren’t on the guest list.)

Because being strong for other people is how you get to experience true love,’ the voice of wisdom answered inside my head. ‘If you choose to see it that way.’

If I choose to see it that way.

I thought about my situation.

I saw myself at a crossroads, with two possible routes.

I could choose fear.

Or I could choose love.

Something deep inside of me shifted.

Instead of feeling sorry for myself – which wasn’t going to help anyone at all, least of all me – I realised I should embrace the chance to choose love.

When we choose to love others selflessly and unconditionally we unleash a superpower within us.

When we focus on how we can love, we block out why we might hurt.

If you’re being called upon to be the strong one right now, try it and see.

Instead of filling your head with fear thoughts, ask yourself the simple questions: How can I bring love into this situation – for the other person and myself? And how can I navigate this minefield gently and in peace?

Whatever the situation that’s calling upon you to be strong, choose the loving path to get you through it.

Because ultimately, when it comes to helping others, there’s nothing stronger than being love.

SIDE NOTE: I’m not a member of any religion but I strongly recommend the power of prayer. When the chips are down, when the tears are flowing, when fear is all around, simply turn inwards and ask for guidance. Ask God. Ask the Universe. Ask Love. Ask your inner wisdom. It doesn’t matter. Then keep your mind open and still and wait for the answer…

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Learning to Forgive … Over and Over and Over Again

I have a confession to make.

I don’t always practice what I preach.

Sometimes – OK, oftentimes, I find myself thinking or doing something and this snarky, know-it-all voice in my head (think cocky city banker) says, ‘But, Shiv, that’s not what you tell your coaching clients to do, that’s not what you write on your blog.’

I hate that snarky voice with a passion.

But I hate even more the fact that it’s always right.

About a month ago, I was coaching a client about the importance of forgiveness. And what I was saying – about forgiveness being the highest form of love and absolutely vital for our sanity – felt so true and so right. And yet…

And yet.

Recently, someone really, really peed me off.

And since then, I haven’t been able to let it go.

Every so often, I will think about what they did and it will spark a torrent of of self-righteous moaning in my head, all about how they’re so this and they’re so that and they’re so frickin’ the other.

And sometimes I even play out little scenarios in my mind, while I’m doing the dishes or walking along the street, where I imagine confronting this person, soap opera stylie, and launching into a ranty monologue full of pithy put-downs all about how I’m so right and they’re so wrong and yada, yada, yada.

But any sense of satisfaction this gives me is always short-lived.

It’s actually really draining not forgiving another person.

Or, as Buddhists and Alcoholics Anonymous like to say: ‘it’s like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’

Yesterday, I travelled up to the Midlands with a friend.

We hadn’t seen each other for ages so I was l looking forward to our journey together almost as much as the wedding we were both attending.

We bought bucket-sized cups of tea and bags of pastries, got settled into our seats on the train and embarked on a marathon catch-up.

We caught up on each other’s good news, funny news and work news.

And then of course, we got to the not-so-good news about things that had peed us off recently.

Long story short, it turned out we both had people we needed to forgive.

Our train arrived in Coventry with hours to spare so we decided to go on an impromptu sight-seeing visit.

We ended up at Coventry Cathedral.

Coventry Cathedral, it turned out, was almost destroyed by the Nazis during the Coventry blitz of 1940. Only the tower, spire and outer wall of the 14th century building remain.

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The morning after the bombing, the decision was taken to preserve what was left of the cathedral, not as an act of defiance to the Nazis, but to embody Jesus’ key teaching – to love your enemy.

When the cathedral stonemason noticed that two of the charred roof beams had fallen in the shape of a cross they were placed on an altar of rubble with the words FATHER FORGIVE inscribed on the wall behind them.

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As my friend and I looked around the beautiful ruins I got shivers running up and down my spine.

Not even an hour before we’d been talking about how we wished it was easier to forgive and now here we were, standing in the middle of a vast shrine to forgiveness.

As I read about the work the cathedral continues to do for peace and reconciliation in war-torn parts of the world, I felt truly humbled.

It also made me think of the jaw-dropping bravery and dignity of the relatives of the victims of the recent shooting in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in South Carolina. And how, just a day after losing their loved ones in the most cruel and brutal way imaginable, they’d made a point of going to the courthouse to declare to the gunman that they forgave him.

When asked why relatives of the victims of the shooting had gone to court to declare their forgiveness, a pastor from the church replied simply ‘because we have to.’

Standing in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral I saw so clearly that he was right.

We have to forgive – no matter how hard it is.

We can only bring peace to this planet and to our hearts if we ‘love our enemy’ instead of rant and rave and moan about them.

If people can find it in their hearts to forgive bomb and gun attacks; if they can forgive the murder of their loved ones, then surely we can all forgive the smaller-scale annoyances in our day to day lives.

So, here I go again, searching inside of myself for the flickering light of forgiveness.

Letting go of my anger.

Understanding that I don’t know everything about the situation – it’s impossible to know everything about a situation.

Remembering that people usually do hurtful things because they’re hurting themselves.

And letting that knowledge lead me to feelings of compassion.

There’s no quick and easy route to forgiveness.

It’s a lesson we have to keep on learning and a choice we have to keep on making, every single day of our lives.

But when we do make that choice – when we see a prayer of forgiveness made from charred timber and a heap of rubble, when we hear the words ‘I forgive’ through a grieving mother’s sobs – that’s when we see the true loving potential of the human spirit.

That’s when we see the hope for a much happier world.

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D2D-frontcover-finalawComing soon – Dare to Dream, the book