Hi ho, Hi ho, it’s off to work I go!

Hi Everyone! Sorry it has been quite so long since my last blog post, but there has been a lot of change and movement happening here at Wanda Howell Counselling!

I guess one of the first things to say is, a very belated Happy New Year to you all! I hope you have had a good start to 2018. I have been very lucky to have been spending the last few months being super busy helping to build and decorate a home office for myself! It has been a very exciting time for me, having the opportunity to set up my own Psychological practice at home- it now means I can offer therapy in two areas in Swindon- Old Town and East Swindon, which is of course, good news for my clients!

It has been a very busy time, trying to get everything ready, and the snow we had around Christmas delayed things quite a bit, but I started working from the office last week, and I have to say, it really is nice to have your own place!

So, this is just a very quick update on why I have been so mysteriously absent from everything- every spare moment of our time has been put in to building my office, and now it is finished, I can finally unveil my little log cabin! I hope you like it as much as I do!



 

The End of One Opportunity, and the Beginning of Another!

A festive HELLO! to all my readers, followers and clients, new and old. This year has been an amazing year for me- it has been full of some real highs, and some difficult lows, but isn’t that life for all of us?

I am not one to make New Years resolutions, but some of the experiences I have had in my life, especially recently, have made me really want to grasp life with both hands, and make the most of all the opportunities I have, whether positive or otherwise. So, for me, 2018 is another chance to have fun, create, work hard and spend time with my loved ones. That’s pretty much as close to a New Years resolution that I will ever get!

So, with the days counting down to the New Year, I am going to spend the rest of 2017 relaxing with my family and enjoying some (well deserved!) down time. I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, whatever your belief, maybe its just a week or so that we can spend some time focusing on ourselves and loved ones, chilling out, and preparing for our return to work in the New Year!

Have a great time out there, be careful and stay safe. I have a few plans for blog posts in the New Year, so I shall see you all here then.

Wanda x

A New Hope…

This week has been an amazing week for me- I have completely committed to my own private practice! For the last few years, I have been splitting my time between being a mum to five wonderful (and very colourful!) kids, wife, Doctoral Candidate, NHS Psychology Practitioner and private practice Counsellor and Counselling Psychologist in training… phew, what a mouthful!

Needless to say, just reading that all back exhausts me, so no wonder I feel so tired this weekend, having left my NHS position on Wednesday. I love my job. Let me make that very clear to start with. Many people have called me ‘Wonder Woman’, and to be honest, it makes me feel a fraud. Why, you ask? Because, much the same as all of you out there, I do not have my ‘shit’ together, either. Well, I reckon we all have it together about as much as each other, to be honest. None of us have got it just right, have we?

So, I have decided to listen to my own phenomenological writings- rantings?- and something has had to give. I am not Wonder Woman, I am just a normal mum who is struggling to get the balance right. There are lots of reasons for making the decision I made, some of them I am quite happy to share with you, if asked, but some of them are personal. I love and support the NHS with my whole heart. I think we are a very blessed country to have an amazing system like the NHS. However, everyone in the NHS is working as hard as they can, but the working load is just increasing. It’s a struggle, and it’s hard work to stay positive in that environment. I left because I just couldn’t balance all of it anymore and felt I was running out of time to get everything done. Every week. Every day.

I firmly, and 100%, believe in a free National health service, and free, and readily, available access to mental health care, so being in private practice makes for a lot of questions and soul searching. I will return to the NHS at some point in my future, I hope, but for right now, I am focusing on family, Doctoral work and practice work.

I have decided that I will be available for extra clients and appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays, 9am until 8pm. I am currently in my ‘CBT’ year on my Doctorate, and so am really interested in clients who believe that CBT ((Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) could help them with their difficulties, email:

or call 0759 056 1087 for a chat about what you may be looking for.

Things are changing over in my life, in a positive way. I hope this reflects on both my practice and personal life, and I am very much looking forward to the challenges that are coming my way!

Just Call Me Wonder Woman..

I have just returned from an amazing family holiday- from the lovely warmth of the sun, to the not so warm sun of a UK October morning! Still, at least there is no rain, right? I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to get back in to work, when I have come back from holiday. Yes, we all have the post-holiday ‘blues’, which definitely makes it harder to focus, but it is also such a strain to actually want to put in the effort! Well, a study I read about recently may give me the answer to all my woes…

A study by Psychologists (White et al., 2017), published in the Journal for Child Development suggests that perhaps by pretending to be a fictional superhero, in this case Batman, can help 4-6 year olds focus on mundane tasks that they are given. Let me explain this a little better…

A group of 153 4-6 year old children were given computer based tasks to do, for a given 10 minute period. They were encouraged to take a break, whenever they wished, which consisted of playing an exciting game on an iPad. I know what I would want to do, but that said, I do tend to procrastinate quite a lot, and I am older and aware of what I am doing!

The children were split into three groups- the first group, the control group, were assigned to be ‘self-immersed’, meaning that before and after the task, they were asked to reflect on how well they were doing- for example, ‘am I working hard enough?’

The second group were asked to reflect from a third person perspective- ‘Is (actual name) working hard?’ The final group were asked to consider themselves as a superhero- either Batman, Bob the builder, Rapunzel or Dora the Explorer, and were asked to imagine themselves as the superhero whilst attending to the computer tasks, and asking themselves the question ‘Is Batman working hard?’ This group of children were also given a relevant prop, such as Batman’s cape, to help them. For all groups, once every minute a recorded voice asked a question, appropriate to each group- ‘Are you working hard? Is X working hard? Is Batman working hard?’

Not surprisingly, 6 year olds spent more time on their tasks than 4 year olds, but quite surprisingly, those who were in the Batman group spent 55% of their time focusing on tasks, on the self-immersed group, 35% and 22% for the third person group. The children who were focused on being a superhero focused and worked for longer than any of the other groups.

So, what does this mean to us, either as adults or for our children? Well, at the very least it is making a mundane task more interesting, but what it is also doing is allowing us to step back from what we are doing- self-distancing from tasks is known to actually help us prioritise our goals and help us to focus and resist distractions. This makes sense, as self-distancing is almost the opposite of rumination, so we are stopping ourselves from ruminating and worrying about a task, which is also linked to procrastination.. by focusing, we are getting the task done, quicker and more efficiently.

Maybe the children enjoyed taking on the characteristics of a superhero and found the tasks easier to achieve by thinking in greater depth about the ramifications and effects? The truth is that there are far too many variables here to actually work out why there was a significant difference in focus and concentration levels. But what this research does suggest, is that focus and perseverance could be encouraged and taught through role play- go in to any school or pre-school and I am sure you will find the majority of children, at these young ages, playing role play games, whether as superhero’s, doctors, nurses or mums and dads. Maybe this is the secret to helping resist that procrastination that causes me so much difficulty?

Whatever it is, don’t be surprised if you see me walking in to work this week with my Wonder Woman lasso and bracelets of submission..

 


White, R.E., Prager, E.O., Schaefer, C..K.E., Duckworth, A.L. and Carlson, S.M. (2017) ‘The “Batman Effect”: Improving Perseverance in Young Children. Child Dev’, Child Development, vol. 88, no. 5, pp. 1563 – 1571.

 

 

Change For Change’s Sake?

Hello everyone- how have you all been? This year has been very busy at Wanda Howell Counselling; I have embarked on yet more training (no, it never stops, if you were wondering!) and have been keeping busy with work, house moves and university at the same time. I have finally finished year 2 of my Doctorate!!! Very exciting times for me- only 2 more years left to go. I have to be honest and say that I have been a little slack with my reading lately, but I did just stumble over an article that caught my eye…

Frequently in my work, I work with young teens and their parents, from a whole range of difficulties like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and more. Often the parents of these teens are very concerned; perhaps their teen has difficulties regulating their emotions, or perhaps they have difficulties with their anger. There are a lot of reasons why teens and their parents reach out for support, particularly in the private sector of counselling. Parents are finding it more and more difficult to access support in the NHS, for lots of different reasons.

The purpose of my post is not to bash the NHS or to apportion blame to anyone. Life is, I think, more difficult for teenagers now, and all of the teens I work with are simply trying to figure out who they are and how they fit in to society. It is a tricky time for them, and not matter how much support these teens do get, parents are always concerned that there is never enough. We all want the best for our children, so we all try and utilise the support we find, wherever we can.

For parents, it can be really tricky- worrying ‘what have I done wrong? My child does xxx- is it the way they were raised, or is it just their personality?’ Will it ever change, or if they are like this as a teenager, is it too late? The study was published in December 2016 and is the first of it’s kind to follow up on teenagers and their personalities, from the age of 14 to 77 (Harris et al., 2016) and the findings are good news for all worried parents out there!

The study was started in 1947, using the Scottish Mental survey, where teachers in Scottish schools rated 1,208 14 year old children on six personality characteristics. In 2012, the team of researchers traced as many of the original participants as they could, inviting them to take part in a follow up study to find out if there was a correlation between their six personality traits in 1947, and the same traits in them, as 77 year olds, in 2012- a 63 year period! You will be very happy to find out (or not!) that personality does change over time, but that some aspects of personality, such as conscientiousness and stability of moods, do not, suggesting that some of our personalities in older age may actually relate to our personalities in childhood.

So, is this good or bad? Well, I guess if, as a child, you had lovely sunny moods and were conscientious at picking up your toys when your caregivers told you too, then yes, this might be great! If you have a child, or if indeed you yourself, are the opposite, and struggle with mood and temperament, this study shows that it doesn’t have to be a difficulty for the rest of your life; we can, and we do, change. Life is different for all of us; our experiences, as well as how we are raised, make us who we are. Fundamentally, we as adults can take charge of this. We can mould ourselves, and we can be the people that we want to be and become.

I think the key point to take home here, is that we change, and that it is never too late to change. We all change, be it from choice or situation, and we can make changes to our lives if we don’t find those changes that are forced upon us as acceptable. So, if you find that there are elements of yourself that you’re not so keen on, with some progressive, and (dare I say it?), conscientious work, your life and your emotions really are within your own hands and it is your own ability that can ensure that things change for you.

Me? Well, I would like to slow down a little, so I am going to start working more on my meditation- I would like to do this a little more regularly, so that I can stop and smell the roses a little better. Otherwise, before I know it, they just won’t be there anymore.


Harris, M.A., Brett, C.E., Johnson, W. and Deary, I.J. (2016) ‘Personality Stability From Age 14 to Age 77 Years’, Psychology and Aging, vol. 31, no. 8, December, pp. 862–874.

 

 

 

 

Finding Time For Your Mind(fulness!)

I’m really busy at the moment- are you? I have just gone back to University for my second year of my Professional Doctorate in Counselling Psychology, after a 2-year absence. It feels very strange to be back, studying again, especially whilst I am still working! It feels like there is not enough time in the day and that I need to squeeze a few more hours in somewhere! I know I cannot be the only person who feels this way?

I see a lot of people in my work, who are also feeling stressed and anxious, because it just doesn’t feel like we are working to the best of our ability; it constantly feels like we are missing things out. Do you feel this way too? I am sure it helps to know that you are not the only one!

I have been so busy, it didn’t occur to me that I had stopped my Mindfulness practice, because I had not had time to fit it in to my working day! How ridiculous, I thought and chastised myself for not following my own professional advice! Then I remembered that the key thing, when one is feeling stressed, is to be kind to yourself!

No, I cannot fit everything in to one working day- we’re not supposed to! There is a lot going on in life, and sometimes we need to just take a breath in and slowly breathe out, calming yourself so that you can think in more depth of a solution to what is happening or going on for you. Even if you cant find a solution, taking some moments to relax and breathe will certainly make you feel better!

How do I know this, you may ask? Well, when I took my certificate in Mindfulness, there was a key study that was referenced back to, nearly all the time. Now, if you have read my blog, or know me in any way, then you know that everything I do, in my work, has to come from an evidence base; this means, there needs to be studies, published in peer review journals, that back up what the treatment claims. Now, for mindfulness, there is one study that really shows, just how much mindfulness can help you, in your daily life, not just when you are stressed!

Now, this year, a new study has come out. Backing up previous studies of Mindfulness. (Gotinka et al., 2016) Conducted a study where they compared 21 fMRI studies and 7 MRI scans from people who practised long term meditation, with people who had been on an 8 week program for Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) in a systemic review of the literature that is already in peer reviewed journals.

The studies was consisted of two groups, those who practiced meditation on a long term basis, and those who worked on their MSBR over an 8 week period. For the latter half of the group, their brains were scanned using MRI prior to starting the 8 week program, and then again after the 8 weeks. Two of these studies performed both elements, studying people who meditated on a long-term basis, and those who were on the 8-week program.

The idea was to see if the effect of mindfulness, in the short term, has the same effect as meditation has on people who have been using it in the long term.

What the study found was that practising mindfulness for an 8-week period, gave the same results in the brain as someone who had been meditating for years..

‘. the findings suggest that the 8-week MBSR training evokes similar brain responses to traditional long-term meditation styles. The connectivity between prefrontal cortex, hippocampus and amygdala indicates a neuronal working mechanism of how this secular training induces emotional and behavioral changes.’ (Gotinka et al., 2016) pg. 41

 Ok, I hear you, shaking your head. What does that mean? Well, although the study does have area’s that need to be improved, or researched further, this study tells us that there are measurable changes in various parts of the brain, that help us to regulate our emotions and to regulate our behaviours. In short, practicing mindfulness over an 8 week period, can give us the same emotional changes that longer term meditation does; feeling less stressed, calmer and responding in a more regulated manner.

Essentially, we can all have the inner peace of a Buddhist monk within an 8-week period.. Or can we? There are some limitations of this study, but even if practicing mindfulness every day for 8 weeks will give a little more calm and sense to your life, it seems like a worthwhile prospect.

Even if you are not experiencing any difficulties in your life, practicing Mindfulness on a daily basis will set you in good stead for the future- schools have even been bringing it in to their school day. Sometimes it is called meditation, but it really doesn’t matter what you call it. The idea is to just let yourself be in the present moment. Your mind will wander, and that is ok!

If I asked you NOT think about cute fluffy kittens. How they play, how they run around, how they purr when you tickle them? Etc. It’s not easy, is it? You need to make yourself STOP thinking about them, don’t you? So, now you can see why Mindfulness can be tricky; if you are not trying to think of something, you will always end up thinking of something! The trick is to think of the moment. The air on your face, the sound of the clock ticking, the cramp in your leg from where you are sitting.. these are all things that are in the present moment. This is the nature of mindfulness. To be in the present moment.

So how can mindfulness really help? Well, I started to pay a bit more attention to my practice; instead of rushing it when I had a spare 10 minutes, I started to practice regularly, every evening at 7pm. I only practice for about 10 minutes, but that is all that is needed. A short period of time, giving yourself a calm space to just relax, and afterwards, I am sure you will notice how much more peaceful you feel, and the issues that were there prior to the mindfulness session, may still be there, but there impact on you will be reduced. It does make on think, however, where would one be with regular practice, on a longer-term basis.. I’ve set an alarm on my phone to practice. What about you?


Gotinka, R.A., Meijboomb, R., Vernooija, M.W. and Marion Smitsb, M.G.M.H. (2016) ‘8-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction induces brain changes similar to traditional long-term meditation practice – A systematic review’, Brain and Cognition, vol. 108, October, pp. 32-41.

 

 

Is it time to give yourself a break?

My word, it’s been a long time since I updated on my blog- life has well and truly got in the way. But, you know what? I am not beating myself up about it, and do you know why? Because life is hard enough as it is, without me making myself feel worse!

How many of us are really kind on ourselves? Honestly? If you get a compliment today, what’s your first reaction? Is it to dismiss it? Or do we thank the person who gave us the compliment? Well, being that we are such a negatively biased species, we tend to dismiss the compliment in favour of self-rebuke; “What? This old dress? I got it in a sale and it doesn’t even fit me well!” Instead of “Thank you- it’s a pretty dress, isn’t it?”

So, why don’t we accept a compliment? Why is it so hard for us to do that? Well, only you can answer that question for yourself. I know why I do it- I feel that it might make me sound big headed. But then, like my Mum says- “If you’re not going to blow your own trumpet, who else will?”

The hardest thing I have had to do, was to create this website! I had to list ALL the good things about me, as a Counsellor. That was tough- trying to ensure that I did justice to my training, and myself, without making it sound pompous. I hope I got the balance right!

I was reading an article today about how being kind to yourself doesn’t make you weak or immodest- see, there is an article and study that was written, purely to show us all that being kind to ourselves is actually a good thing!

The article Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves? (Robinson et al., 2016) took 161 young adult participants and asked them about their self-compassion and rated these based on 18 character dimensions. They were then given two scenarios where in one, they treated themselves with self-compassion and the other where they treated themselves harshly and were critical of themselves.

The cohort was then split in to two groups- those who were more self-compassionate and those who were more self-critical. Surprisingly, both groups, those who were more self-compassionate, and those who were less self-compassionate, tended to not differ in their opinions of self-compassion, or the fact that self-compassion is good for oneself and one’s wellbeing. However, the less compassionate group of the cohort said that after showing any self-care, they felt that they would see themselves differently; specifically, the less compassionate group felt that they would feel less ambitious, responsible, modest, careful, industrious and competitive, compared to those in the group who were rated as more self-compassionate!

Added to this, the less self-compassionate participants felt that after being self-critical, they would feel stronger and more responsible. So, what does this mean? Well, both groups of people are just as interested in success and achievement as each other, but the less compassionate group felt that being kind to yourself meant that you were weaker, as a person. Is this true? Is this really the case? The implications of this study is that we need to challenge the negative assumptions we have about being kind to ourselves, because it doesn’t change what is happening, but life is easier and less imposing if we do show ourselves a little self care.

So, how do we show ourselves self-care? Well, it really depends on what floats your boat.. Do you enjoy going to the gym, cooking, having your hair/nails done, walking the dog, yoga or just playing some games on your Xbox? It really doesn’t matter what it is you do, as long as you give yourself a little ‘downtime’ to concentrate on yourself.

It isn’t being selfish; it is taking care of yourself. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of anyone else around us? How can we cope when things get bad, if we don’t have a source of stress release? It is really up to you how you do this, but the main thing is that you do it!

I know, I know- life is busy and you haven’t got the time to take time out for yourself.. this is a real circular argument, however. If you are feeling stressed, because there is so much to do, then you need to take some time out for yourself, to de-stress yourself. Yes, there are kids to look after, washing to put on, dinner to cook. But all of that will still be there, even if you do take 30 minutes out of your day to focus on yourself.

After you’ve taken some time out, how do you think you will feel? A little better? Re-energised? Raring to tackle those problems? Yes, actually, it will make you feel better. I cannot promise you that you will be dying to wash the skirting boards clean, but you will certainly be looking forward to your next little bit of me time!

Everybody needs some time out, from time to time, and there is nothing wrong with saying so. We need to find creative outlets- life isn’t one single journey, from a-z, it is a great big wild adventure, and all those small moments in between, that’s what makes up life. So why not go out for coffee and cake, if it makes you feel better? Why not buy a new bag, if you can afford it? Visit that park you’ve been meaning to, because if you don’t enjoy the small moments, you certainly wont be prepared for the bigger ones.


Robinson, K.J., Mayer, S., Allen, A.B., Terry, M., Chilton, A. and Leary., M.R. (2016) ‘Resisting self-compassion: Why are some people opposed to being kind to themselves?’, Self and identity, vol. 15, no. 5, April, pp. 505-524.

 

 

A Rose By Any Other Name?

It is a little late, but welcome to 2016! I really hope that, so far, you have been making the most of the New Year and have settled in to your stride. Personally, I have been so busy with my practice and my NHS work, I have barely had a chance to stop and breathe, but! It is now half-term and I have a few (well deserved!) days off, and what better than to write a blog post in celebration of this fact?

To be honest, part of the reason I haven’t written a blog post is down to the fact that over Christmas, there are very few studies and research papers that come out- and of the ones that did, they didn’t quite float my boat, in the research stakes. Until this one… which led me to my keyboard and some thoughts I have been having, whilst working with clients/patients and attending (the never ending!) training.

Tim Lomas, from the University of East London published a study recently, in the journal of Positive Psychology (Lomas, 2016) which made me smile, interested me and made me feel a little sad, at all at the same time.

Tim decided that he was going to study words that appear in other languages, but not in the English language; he found 216 words for positive emotional states and concepts, that we do not have in the English Language. Tim is constantly updating this list, so if you have any words that you know of, how about adding to the magical lexicon online;

Dr Tim’s Magical Lexicography

So, I suppose you want to know what led me to this study, and why I chose it as my return to blogging? Well, in the wonderful, humbling and constantly evolving profession of Counselling and Psychotherapy, we see clients/patients everyday who come along and tell us all about their lives- this experience always makes me feel very privileged; that my client/patient has chosen me to tell their precious life story to and that they trust me to hold them, securely, in that moment, to investigate what these musings or queries mean to their lives. It is an awe inspiring place to work from, and all to often, our clients/patients come to us with their negative emotions and experiences.

As the role of therapist, I am not trying to change your life, to make it better; I am trying to guide you to do this. In order for you to make those changes, accept those difficulties that you cannot change, it does require hard work, on both yours and my behalf. Looking for the positive, in a life that feels like it is filled with negatives, can be very difficult and disheartening, so this article felt quite important to me- ways in which we can look for the joy in life, when we don’t always see it.

Anyway, take a look at some of the words below- see which ones you think would be useful in your daily life. I know there are a few that I would love to use, and you know, by thinking more positively, we can affect our life and make changes to our life. It’s not easy, sometimes it’s not pleasant; but we can do it. By taking a negative, and questioning it, perhaps it can give us another way of looking at the experience. I am not saying it will go away or change, but maybe it will give us the space and clarity we need to come to terms with it.

 


 

Words relating to feelings, including the subcategories of positive and complex feelings (definitions are taken from Lomas’ paper):

 

Gula – Spanish for the desire to eat simply for the taste

Sobremesa – Spanish for when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing

Mbukimvuki – Bantu for “to shuck of one’s clothes in order to dance”

Schnapsidee – German for coming up with an ingenious plan when drunk

Volta – Greek for leisurely strolling the streets

Gokotta – Swedish for waking up early to listen to bird song

Suaimhneas croi – Gaelic for the happiness that comes from finishing a task

Iktsuarpok – Inuit for the anticipation felt when waiting for someone

Vacilando – Greek for the idea of wandering, where the act of travelling is more important than the destination

Gumusservi – Turkish for the glimmer that moonlight makes on water


 

Words relating to relationships, including the subcategories of intimacy and more general prosociality:

 

Nakama – Japanese for friends who one considers like family

Kanyininpa – Aboriginal Pintupi for a relationship between holder and held, akin to the deep nurturing feelings experienced by a parent for their child

Gigil – Philippine Tagalog for the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much

Kilig – Tagalog for the butterflies in the stomach you get when interacting with someone you find attractive

Sarang – Korean for when you wish to be with someone until death

Myotahapea – Finnish for vicarious embarrassment

Mudita – Sanskrit for revelling in someone else’s joy

Karma – the well known Buddhist term for when ethical actions lead to future positive states

Firgun – Hebrew for saying nice things to someone simply to make them feel good

Asabiyyah – Arabic for a sense of community spirit


 

Words relating to character, including the subcategories of resources and spirituality:

 

Sitzfleisch – German for the ability to persevere through hard or boring tasks (literally “sit meat”)

Baraka – Arabic for a gift of spiritual energy that can be passed from one person to another

Jugaad – Hindi for the ability to get by or make do

Desenrascanco – Portuguese for the ability to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation

Sprezzatura – Italian for when all art and effort are concealed beneath a “studied carelessness”

Pihentagyu – Hungarian for quick witted people who come up with sophisticated jokes and solutions (literally “with a relaxed brain”)

Kao pu – Chinese for someone who is reliable and responsible and gets things done without causing problems for others

Prajna – Sanskrit for intellectual wisdom and experiential insight

Wu Wei – Chinese for “do nothing” (literally) but meaning that one’s actions are entirely natural and effortless

Bodhi – Sanskrit for when one has gained complete insight into nature

 


 

Lomas, T. (2016) ‘Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being’, The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol. 1, no. 13.

 

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is finally upon us! I’m sure for all of us, it’s a relief it’s here- either to finally get it over and done with, or to enjoy it with your loved ones.

However you feel about Christmas, please remember it’s only one day; life carries on regardless.

For all who celebrate, I wish you a peaceful holiday. For those who don’t, for whatever reason, I hope the next few days are a chance to rest and regroup.

To all my clients, past and present- thank you for allowing me the privilege of learning about your life, to support you to make the changes you want/need. I hope 2016 is a positive step forward for you all.

Finally, I am taking a well earned (I think, anyway!) break and am not returning to work until the 6th January.

See you all on the flip side!

Wanda

Still Waiting For That Email?

So, having been sick from work for a while, I am slowly getting back in to the swing of things. As I run my own private practice, this includes responding to emails, a task which is usually reasonably quick for me!

However, I am having difficulties with my ISP (internet service Provider) at the moment (they shall remain nameless!) and some of my emails are not being sent, going missing, I am not able to pick up some emails and, perhaps the most frustrating of all, some emails I am being sent are bouncing back to clients, so I am not even getting them!

Whilst I am trying to find fixes for these (oh-so frustrating) issues, I came across this article which was from the Conference Steering Committee for the World Wide Web in Florence, Italy this year, which explains quite a lot as to the difference in responses with some of my clients and colleagues!

Have you ever been frustrated at how slowly (or quickly!) some people reply to your emails? I am one of those people who respond as soon as I am in a position to, as quickly as possible! So, when I have to wait for a response, from a friend, client or colleague, I can become quite eager to see that little red circle with a number in it appear on my email app!

I began to wonder, what is the difference in the speed of replies for emailing people? Is it based on IT skills- would a younger generation respond more quickly, being that email/messaging has been around for most of their lives, or because it plays such an important part in their lives? Or would the older generation be quicker? Seeing it as a politeness issue; non-response would be like ignoring someone? Or maybe every age group felt exactly the same?

The study ‘Evolution of Email Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’ by (Kooti et al., 2015) found a variety of answers to some questions, namely;

  • More than half of the responses contain fewer than 43 words.
  • If people are going to respond to an email, 90 percent will do it within a few days.
  • Responses on the weekends are the shortest.
  • Teens reply the fastest, shooting back a response in 13 minutes, on average.
  • It takes people, ages 35-50, about 24 minutes to reply.
  • People age 51 and older take a whopping 47 minutes to reply to their emails, on average.
  • Women take about four minutes longer than men to send a reply.
  • Only 30 percent of emails exceed 100 words.
  • People aged 20-35 are almost as speedy, sending a reply in 16 minutes, on average.
  • Half fire off a response in under an hour.
  • Want a lengthy reply? Make sure your email arrives in the morning.
  • The most common responses contain five words.

So, what did I learn from that? Well, I learned that people deal with email information (over) load in very different ways! Younger people are quicker at responding, but respond with fewer words- could this be down to the urgency of life when you are younger, or just that fewer words are needed to get your point across? What it didn’t explain, for me, was why some people respond and others don’t? No one likes to be ignored, and not receiving a reply to an email is a way of being ignored. The study also did not stress the importance that we place on emails and responses, only that we do try to respond.

As we get busier and busier, and our working lives’ get more stressful, this study shows that we do still try to answer our emails, but that we answer fewer emails and with fewer words. The main take-away from this, is that if you have an email that you really need a reply to, ensure it is there, bright and early for the recipient to read, when they arrive at work!

But how does this affect us? Does it just mean that when we arrive at work, instead of 10 emails, we are going to arrive to 100? Does it mean that we need to change the way in which we work?

What this boils down to is how much work we have on and how willing we are to prioritize our work- are you good at prioritizing you work? Do you know what is the most important work to get done?

Do you procrastinate and go to the easy to answer emails first? Leaving the harder ones to deal with as the day wears on, and indeed, you wear on? What the study found was that social importance was of higher importance than the actual importance of the content of the emails; so for example, if the email was from a friend at work, we would be more likely to reply to that, than to an email from our boss asking if our work was done. But, does this then add more pressure on us? Are we making our working lives harder?

These are all questions that need to answered by further studies, but I wonder how many of you can empathise with what the study found? Do you feel under more pressure to reply to more and more emails? Do you find that you need to answer emails out of working hours? And, if so, when does that stop?

The pressure can be different for people who run their own business, as for people who ‘traditional’ employees- I know from my own experience, working for myself means that I am never ‘off’ work. So, what can we do to limit the stress?

Well, to start with, we can learn to switch our mobile devices off when we get home from work! I have been doing this for a while now- on days off, evenings and weekends, I will not answer calls/texts/emails from my clients. I am not being rude, I just need to have boundaries that mean I get some time off too! Perhaps that could be a good starting point for you?

Do you give yourself a lunch break? It is really important, during your working day to give yourself a complete break from work; to let your mind rest and recover, to give you the energy to get through the day. It is really easy to just grab a quick sandwich, at your desk, replying to emails or answering phone calls, but are you getting a rest and do you feel like you are getting a break? If you feel that your work is encroaching into your lunch break, make a ‘lunch date’ with friends, try going out for a walk (yes, even in this grotty weather!), or what about sitting in your car for 15 minutes? Something that will mean you are taking your mind off of your work and on to other things!

What about practicing so mindfulness or relaxation at your desk? You could do this in the morning for 10 minutes, or the afternoon, or both! You could even invest in a cheap pair of ear buds, to block out the noise! Anything that relaxes you a little and helps you get through the day is a good thing, wouldn’t you say?

Some colleagues I work with go for a power walk, or yoga session at lunch time; maybe you don’t have the time for that, but at least getting up and having a walk around the office can get you moving and break that habit of sitting there all day!

Finally, what about being kind to yourself? If you get 50+ emails in one day, on top of your daily work, being honest and accepting that you cant possibly answer all of those emails. Yes, I know, it feels rubbish to do that, its like accepting defeat, but is it realistic to expect you to do all of this extra work? If it can’t fit in to your normal working day, perhaps a chat with your boss about your work expectations and the level of work you are getting is needed?

We always expect more of ourselves, but this has to be within sensible limits, doesn’t it? Life isn’t all about work, or at least, I don’t believe it should be, do you? If you are worried about your work/life balance, perhaps it is time to take a look at it. Maybe you can’t reply to all those emails in one day, maybe you shouldn’t have to? But the study above does show us that we need some better management tools to manage our emails, so perhaps it is time we invested in ourselves, our own ‘management tool’ for our working lives?

That said, it is Friday night and time for me to enjoy my weekend! I hope you all have a great weekend; step away from the phone and stop answering your emails! Monday will be here before you know it- surely they can wait until then?


Kooti, F., Aiello, L.M., Grbovic, M., Lerman, K. and Mantrach, A. (2015) ‘Evolution of Conversations in the Age of Email Overload’, Proceedings of the 24th International Conference on World Wide Web, Florence, 603-613.