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70: How to Keep Calm Using Mindfulness (Part 2 of 2)

This week in part 2 of 2, we delve into the transformative power of mindfulness this festive season

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This episode is part 2 of 2 a guide to enhancing individual well-being during the festive season.

We’re joined by Chartered Psychologist, Dr Audrey Tang, and Sean Tolram, Mindfulness Programme Manager at HSBC, who discuss the benefits of mindfulness in managing holiday stress. Learn strategies to build mental resilience, handle seasonal pressures, and improve overall well-being.

Key highlights include:

  • Understanding mindfulness and its science-backed benefits
  • Practical mindfulness exercises, including breathing techniques and body scans
  • Strategies to increase mental resilience and handle stress during the holidays, incorporating Dr. Tang’s concept of the window of tolerance
  • Sean Tolram’s experiences at HSBC, demonstrating tangible improvements in team performance and employee well-being through mindfulness.

This episode is part one of a two-part series, offering tools and insights to foster a serene and mindful holiday season. Stay tuned for the next episode, featuring a brand new special guest, as we continue exploring the journey to mental fitness.


Connect with Sean Tolram:

Connect with Dr Audrey:

Learn more about Dr Audrey’s latest book, The Leader’s Guide to Resilience 

Check Out Dr Audrey’s Award-winning Podcast!

Listen to More on Mental Health & Wellbeing

Future of Mental Health at Work: Surprising Trends from the 6th MAD World Summit

The Psychology of Happiness at Work

Building Resilient Workplaces: The Triple Defence Approach to Mental Health in Action

You’ll find all our past episodes on our website:

Support with Mental Health and Well-being

If you have been affected by any of the themes in this episode, or are currently struggling with your well-being, the following resources may be useful.

Mind website:

If you are feeling in distress or despair, including feelings of suicide, please do consider calling the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or email

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The Transcript

⚠️ NOTE: This is an automated transcript, so it might not always be 100% accurate!

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Ep 70

[00:00:00] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: When my girlfriend passed away, um, and I was in a bad headspace. I’ve breathing, I came across breathing. So it’s so simple that thing we do all day, every day. And it literally changed my whole outlook. It was like the light bulb switched on. I had a very powerful experience.

[00:00:24] Leanne: Welcome to the Truth, Lies and Workplace Culture podcast brought to you by the HubSpot Podcast Network, the audio destination for business professionals. My name is Leanne. I’m a business psychologist.

[00:00:33] Al: My name is Al. I’m a business owner.

[00:00:35] Leanne: We are here to help you simplify the science of people and create amazing workplace cultures.

[00:00:39] Al: Hello and welcome. Welcome. Welcome. Um, I hope you’re feeling a little bit less stressed from last week. I’m not sure we are. We’ve got a lot to get do. We have to set off for the UK very, very shortly. And so we wanted to get all these done. So I’ll be honest, I’m a bit grumpy today, if the truth be told. And, um, I think Leanne’s putting on a brave face, but I am a little bit grumpy.

[00:00:59] Al: So if I get grumpy with you, listen, I’m really sorry. It’s not you. It’s me. I need to take some of this advice on board.

[00:01:05] Leanne: Yes. It’s a well timed episode. I guess we are back with part two of our special series on managing stress and staying mentally fit during the chaos of the holiday period. You might be looking forward to the break from work.

[00:01:19] Leanne: You might be dreading the time you’ll be spending with your family. Either way, we’re here to guide you through how to ho ho hold onto your serenity this Christmas. I have

[00:01:30] Al: a feeling that we’re going to have a few puns in this one. You seem like you’re in a punny kind of mood. I’m in a punny kind of mood.

[00:01:36] Al: So yes, this is part two of a two part series. Last week, we looked at the truth and lies of mindfulness and how staying present may give you the greatest. gift this Christmas. There you go. Do my own pun there. Um, and also maybe the greatest gift you can give others this week. We’re joined once again by the renowned psychologist, Dr.

[00:01:56] Al: Audrey Tang and mindfulness coach, Sean Tolrim from HSBC. We’re also thrilled to welcome a special guest here. It is Stuart Sandeman, who is the radio one DJ. Uh, he’s the host of the decompression sessions and also. I believe he’s written a book.

[00:02:13] Leanne: He has. He’s done all sorts of things. Stuart Sunnyman is very cool.

[00:02:17] Leanne: Our guests are all here to help you slay your stress this Christmas in this episode. We will be exploring three secrets, three ways that you can build your mental fitness and stay serene and centered over the holiday period. I’m not going to tell you, tell you what they are. You’re going to have to listen and find out.

[00:02:42] Leanne: But, um, but yeah, before we dive in to our three secrets, let’s reacquaint you with Dr. Audrey and Sean and introduce you to our third guest this week, Stuart Sandeman.

[00:02:53] Dr Audrey Tang: I’m Dr. Audrey Tang. I’m a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society. I’m also a business author. My area of research was on emotional labour, which is the presentation of certain behaviours and emotions that go alongside the technical aspects of your job.

[00:03:12] Dr Audrey Tang: Okay,

[00:03:12] Sean Tolram, HSBC: so I’m Sean. Um, I’m the Head of Mindfulness at HSBC Bank and, um, we’re trying to Embed mindful ways of working across the organization so that we can help employees to build happy, healthy, and successful careers. We

[00:03:30] Al: are thrilled to Welcome to the podcast Stewart Sandman, the Voice of a God. They are gonna love this.

[00:03:36] Al: Stewart’s a Radio one DJ and host the Decompression Sessions. As I mentioned, his uh, book In Breathe Out is a Sunday Times best seller and he is a founder of Breath Pod, which is a London based practice that offers group or one-to-one breathing workshops. Let’s go meet Stewart.

[00:03:50] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: I founded a company called Breathpod and Breathpod is really about giving people the tools to empower themselves.

[00:03:58] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Um, and a big tool that I use is breathing.

[00:04:01] Al: Last week, we explored how mindfulness can help us manage emotions and stay present during stressful periods. Go back and listen to that because it’s really, really important. I think it gives you a really good basis for this episode, but there are no rules here, so if you do want to listen to this one first, absolutely fine.

[00:04:18] Al: All we’re saying is that it’ll probably make a little bit more sense if you go and listen to part one first. This week, we’re continuing the theme of individual wellbeing, but broadening the conversation to talk about mental fitness more generally, and how you can stay festive, not frosty, this holiday season.

[00:04:34] Al: With that in mind, let’s start at the beginning. What is mental fitness? We asked Dr.

[00:04:39] Dr Audrey Tang: Audrey. Well, we like using the term fitness rather than health in general, because health sounds very. That’s what it is. Static. That’s all you’re getting. Whereas fitness, we understand that to be something that can change.

[00:04:55] Dr Audrey Tang: If we work at it, we get better at it. So you’ll find a lot of mental health professionals are now using the term fitness rather than health because it reminds us that mental health is something we need to keep working at. Emotional health, resilience, we need to keep working at. Building that, that muscle, as it were, we need to keep actively seeking it.

[00:05:16] Dr Audrey Tang: I talked about this in a, an academic paper I wrote, uh, for the WHO, but also the, the best analogy or the best description I would give you is from Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. When I first came across him, he, he was writing about depression. I was in psychology, a level, and he talks about learned helplessness.

[00:05:36] Dr Audrey Tang: Cause that was his original, um, area of research, but he, he said. before he founded Positive Psychology. I used to think that I could take depression and fear and anger away from a patient and then I would get a happy patient. I didn’t. I got an empty one. And that’s because the skills of thriving are different to the skills of minimising sadness.

[00:05:59] Dr Audrey Tang: So now

[00:05:59] Al: we know what mental fitness is, let’s just dive into a little bit more about how we can build our mental fitness

[00:06:05] Sean Tolram, HSBC: levels. There’s a massive individual responsibility and I think that’s an area that we don’t. talk about enough. And certainly in my experience, sometimes even when you give people the freedom and the autonomy and everything that they need to look after themselves and create the environment that they need, sometimes they still find it difficult because of the ingrained behaviors and beliefs that we’ve built up over decades of being in the working world.

[00:06:35] Sean Tolram, HSBC: It can sometimes even be difficult for us as individuals. to look after ourselves. And you even think, you know, if you set your to do list for the day and by 3 p. m., let’s say you’re working a normal nine to five by 3 p. m., you’ve completed your to do list, most people will then fill the next two hours with more things.

[00:06:55] Sean Tolram, HSBC: If I said I was going to use those two hours to sit and reflect on everything that I’ve done and everything that I want to do. Some people would think that’s crazy. I think, what are you doing? You’re wasting time. You’re being lazy. So it’s kind of change in that ingrained mindset that we have within us to really think about, okay, how has the world changed?

[00:07:16] Sean Tolram, HSBC: Because it has changed significantly. How has the world of work changed? What are the demands on our brain in today’s world and how do we best look after our brain?

[00:07:25] Leanne: I think Sean’s advice is particularly important for younger people in the workforce because once a habit is made it’s really hard to break.

[00:07:32] Leanne: There is a lot of beef around Gen Z when it comes to work ethic. We’ve seen quiet quitting, lazy girl jobs, talk of snowflakes, not just because the winter season is here. Older people think younger generations don’t want to work. I wonder if actually our colleagues joining the workforce are trying to set some healthy boundaries from the start of their career to ensure that their work is sustainable, that work is an aspect of their life, but not entangled in their identity, a pretty healthy outlook, actually.

[00:08:03] Leanne: Sean shared his experience with stress in his early career and how he needs to shift his mindset to stay mentally fit.

[00:08:10] Sean Tolram, HSBC: I cared a lot about impressing people. About doing what I thought other people wanted me to do. Um, I would push myself, I would compete with those around me because some of us work in competitive environments, I would try to get, you know, the best end of year ratings so I could get the bonus and the pay rise and all of these things.

[00:08:31] Sean Tolram, HSBC: So all of these things that we do to climb the corporate ladder, and it was causing me a lot of stress. You know, I didn’t burn out or anything, um, but I was under a sort of a moderate level of stress all the time. Um, that’s what, that’s what I noticed. And I realized that it’s unhealthy to be in that place because when you’re stressed, There’s various changes that go on in your body.

[00:08:55] Sean Tolram, HSBC: You know, you’ve got adrenaline and cortisol flooding through your veins. You’ve got blood being diverted away from certain areas to power up the muscles. So, you know, to put you into fight or flight, your pupils dilate, your hair stands on end. There’s all these things, your breath quickens, your heart rate quickens.

[00:09:12] Sean Tolram, HSBC: And if you’re in that state for long periods of time, it can be detrimental for your health because the stress response is designed to work in short bursts. And I realized that. So by implementing principles of mindfulness, I’ve been able to control those stress levels, but more importantly, it’s given me the awareness of How I feel in my environment so that I can make better decisions so I can decide, okay, for me, I’m going to spend this one hour on reflection, and I’m going to put that in my calendar and reserve that time or, um, okay.

[00:09:49] Sean Tolram, HSBC: Maybe for the rest of this week from four to 5pm. I’m going to reserve that time for a particular thing that I want to do. So just being able to take control of my time. Um, and really think about how I want to use it. I mean, that has been transformational for me. It’s reduced my stress levels. And it’s made me more effective and more productive in the workplace.

[00:10:10] Al: Dr. Audrey agrees that sustainability is key. If you don’t find time to rest and recover, then your body will find time for

[00:10:18] Dr Audrey Tang: you. Sustainability is probably the key implication or the key consequence. If you yourself as the leader are not looking after your own self. There comes a point. I mean, we’ve had it.

[00:10:30] Dr Audrey Tang: It’s an old cliche. If you don’t make time to be well, your body will find time to be ill. And the issue there is physical health is not necessarily under our control and mental and emotional fitness will have an impact on it. If we are working so hard that we’re losing sleep, if we’re not, um, emotionally, Sound or emotionally fulfilled or at peace that can cause us lots of other stressors.

[00:10:59] Dr Audrey Tang: If that’s affecting our sleep, if that’s affecting our digestion, if that’s affecting all of the practical physical things, our body’s going to respond. And unfortunately, If you’re then getting things like high blood pressure, heart attack, stomach ulcers, which are all often precipitated by stressors and mental health issues, you have to almost hand over your health to the medical professionals because your body has got to the point where with the best will in the world.

[00:11:29] Dr Audrey Tang: You still can’t manage. So that’s one of the, the first reasons why, if, if you don’t look after your health, this lack of sustainability will happen to you personally. And if you’re not doing the job, who is then secondly, if you’re also not investing in yourself, that’s going to have an impact on everybody else because it’s likely the culture.

[00:11:47] Dr Audrey Tang: is going to be one of not investing in other people, in which case other people also will learn not to take care of themselves. And so the vicious circle continues. I’ve

[00:11:58] Leanne: coached leaders who struggle with making time for themselves, time to nurture their own wellbeing. I mean, let’s be honest, I have been one of those leaders.

[00:12:06] Leanne: I burnt out and I burnt out. One of the techniques that I used in my recovery and to maintain my sense of equilibrium since is to map out my time, time to rest and recover. We often focus a lot on the rest or relaxation aspect of this when we think about self care or building our mental fitness. And, and that’s for good reason, you know, relaxing was a good one.

[00:12:31] Leanne: book, watching a film, it does impact our body. It lowers our sympathetic activation, which means a heart rate and blood pressure are lower, but recovery activities can also be important. Things like hobbies, exercise, spending time with friends and family, doing a crossword puzzle, or just something you’re good at.

[00:12:51] Leanne: Al loves nothing more, and I don’t get it, but he loves nothing more than chilling out in the office on a weekend and spending a few hours coding. Don’t get it. But then I enjoy spending three or four hours cooking a Sunday roast. I don’t get that. You know, these are examples of mastery activities. So they’re fun, they’re challenging, they bring us joy, they build our confidence, they help us feel like we’ve achieved something.

[00:13:15] Leanne: And that’s really important when we’re in a role that can sometimes feel never ending. There’s also that added barrenness that by focusing our attention on something different helps us to detach from work. There’s some really cool research by an organizational psychologist called Professor Sabine Sonentag.

[00:13:31] Leanne: She’s an expert in rest and recovery. So Professor Sonentag is found that relaxation results in more positive, effective state. So being calm, being quiet, whereas mastery, mastery activities get as excited and alert. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, a relaxing activity in the evening is going to be more appropriate, but if you’re looking to refocus your attention in a way that perhaps mindfulness does, but you’re not quite at the point in time when you’re able to practice that effectively, indulging in a mastery activity.

[00:14:01] Leanne: We’ll have the same effect. It will refocus your attention. It needs to be something that’s engaging enough that requires concentration, but not so intense. It prevents us from recharging. As Professor Sonentag puts it, go for where the greatest need is. But whether it is a rest over or recovery that tickles your crown breeze this Christmas, the important thing is to carve out time.

[00:14:22] Leanne: That was, that was unintentional, actually carving the turkey, carve out time to make sure it happens. Dr. Audrey explains more, including how you can let others know when you’ve decided to take that me time.

[00:14:34] Dr Audrey Tang: A book in time for yourself. As in in your calendar, so whether that is blocking off lunchtime. So I, I see my dad every Tuesday.

[00:14:42] Dr Audrey Tang: He has dialysis and I take him out for lunch every Tuesday, blocked off time. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my best client and, and that’s, that’s it. That time is non negotiable. And. If we do that, we remind ourselves that the things we care about are as important as all the other people that we’re fitting into our calendar.

[00:14:59] Dr Audrey Tang: Another lovely thing is not being afraid of the out of office. Now I just dislike it because sometimes I get a lot of spam after I’m out of office. But, um, if you, if you use that, what you’re actually, and then put the message of following my own advice, I’m actually taking a break. You’re, you’re encouraging other people.

[00:15:20] Dr Audrey Tang: To recognize that self care is important, so don’t be afraid of using the out of office to, to make a point that you’re looking after your own self care. Another silly thing, uh, well it’s not that silly because there’s been very recent research on it, Dr. Laura Björk has done this research, on emailing, is, um, If you’re emailing, say, at a weekend, because that’s what you do, and that’s, that’s fine, put a very simple statement at the top that is, I might be emailing now, but this is, there’s no rush to do this.

[00:15:52] Dr Audrey Tang: Tell the other person that it’s okay not to, not to drop everything over the weekend and respond. Our

[00:15:58] Leanne: special guest, Stuart Sanderman, is a BBC Radio 1 DJ and host of The Decompression Sessions, a show that combines music and helpful advice. To help you escape the noise of the world and improve your mental fitness.

[00:16:12] Leanne: The relationship between music and emotions has been an area of fascination of research for decades and that’s behavioral research. As if we’re talking philosophers, perhaps millennia, I actually saw a quote that, that Plato, um, is, is accredited to, to Plato saying that music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind.

[00:16:32] Leanne: Fight the imagination and life to everything. As Stuart explains, music is also a great tool for relaxation.

[00:16:39] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: No, I think the, that’s the beautiful thing about music is music. We entrained the rhythm of music. Now music has got personal taste too, depending on what we like and what we feel and what emotion we link to that sound.

[00:16:55] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: So it is personalized. But there’s a lot of research now around, um, certain sounds, certain frequencies, certain sound waves that will make us feel a certain way, whether that’s for relaxation, whether that is for energy. What I do in the decompression session, I don’t go deep into the science of that. I just create nice music that is really.

[00:17:14] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Um, interesting to listen to. And usually the music will fit the show. So if it’s a show on confidence, probably a little bit more upbeat. If it’s a show, a sleep show, then it’s real ambient and stripped back. Very, very relaxed music. What happens when we listen to music is it creates that feeling in our body.

[00:17:32] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Our breathing rhythm will start to change and we’ll start to feel a certain way and start to relax or, or maybe feel like, Oh, we’ve got loads of energy to go and hit the gym or go for a run. So yeah, music plays a big part in how we feel and how that affects our body and mind. If

[00:17:47] Al: you’re a leader or a manager, then it’s even more important to carve out your own time for rest and recovery.

[00:17:55] Al: We’ve just concluded some research at Oblong, which is our consultancy, um, that has shown that employees believe leaders are more effective, engaging and inspiring if they invest in their own mental health. It’s that kind of old analogy that Leanne uses all the time. You need to put your own oxygen mask on before you try and help others.

[00:18:12] Dr Audrey Tang: Well, business leaders need to invest in their own mental health because Actually, they’re role modeling their behavior to everybody else. If you as a business leader are going around saying, Oh, well, we care about your wellbeing, but perhaps you’re actually burning the candle at both ends, or perhaps your actions aren’t matching up with what you’re saying.

[00:18:34] Dr Audrey Tang: That can be very problematic for everybody else. Organizations are quite organic in the way that they. Respond, and they can often teams can often take on the personality of the leader of the team is very, very stressed, very snappy. It’s creating a toxic environment. We do kind of have to look a little bit further up and see what are the demands coming downward.

[00:18:54] Dr Audrey Tang: So the leader is well placed to understand their own emotional demands and what they’re placing on everybody else. To some extent, and therefore need to role model their own looking after their own health. However, the other reason why leaders need to invest is because they are in the position to make changes.

[00:19:13] Dr Audrey Tang: They’re also in the position to recognize when something’s going wrong because So often we go to the workplace and we do everything we work hard. We want to get praise. We want to do well. We want to improve ourselves, and we might be pushing ourselves to the point where we’re struggling to cope. And when you’re in the situation.

[00:19:34] Dr Audrey Tang: You can’t see it. And you also may not know where you can reach out to help. So the leader has an extra responsibility to recognize and put in, not only ways to perhaps change the reasons for that stress in the first place, but to support that individual who’s going through all of those issues.

[00:19:51] Al: Dr.

[00:19:52] Al: Audrey had some advice for those leaders, maybe a word of warning for people who may be inclined to brush off this importance of investing in mental fitness and the needs of our emerging

[00:20:02] Dr Audrey Tang: workforce. When it comes to Gen Z, the problem is for organizations is if they are not understanding this and they’re just writing people off as, Oh, you’re entitled or you’re not capable, then they’re not even going to get.

[00:20:18] Dr Audrey Tang: Mindset. They’re going to have a brain drain and they’re not going to get that mindset making decisions at the higher level because they will never, the Gen Z wouldn’t, employees will never reach there because they’re just going to say, do you know what? I’m not going to be part of this. And they’ll leave.

[00:20:31] Dr Audrey Tang: And so organizations, again, it’s that sustainability. They’re not doing themselves any favors by not listening and learning from Gen Z. Just because you’re asking somebody what their needs are doesn’t mean that you’re going to have to fulfill all of them. I think we have this weird kind of belief that if we ask someone what they want, we suddenly have to give it to them.

[00:20:51] Dr Audrey Tang: That’s not true. But we open a dialogue and we open a conversation. The number of times I’ve had young people talking about mental health on my radio show, and I’ve, I’ve asked them, well, what one thing can we do? They’ve all said the same thing. Listen to us. Listen to us. Don’t, don’t advise us. Don’t just, just listen, because if you listen, then you can form some sort of negotiation and you might have ideas that they didn’t have.

[00:21:16] Dr Audrey Tang: They might have ideas that you didn’t have. It’s, it’s not about one thing is right on. The other thing is wrong. It’s about being open and not living in. our own echo chambers for both sites. So communicate and speak to them and ask them what are the issues. It’s the same thing that I say to any generation.

[00:21:35] Dr Audrey Tang: If you’re leaving a workplace and you’re not happy, give the exit interview because even though you may not be able to do anything for you, what you can do is at least alert the organization to the things that you’ve been struggling with. So they may be able to put in changes for the next lot of employees or the people who are

[00:21:52] still

[00:21:52] Al: there.

[00:21:52] Al: Happily, Sean has already seen this shift in HSBC. What

[00:21:55] Sean Tolram, HSBC: we’re finding is that the conversation about, um, mental health and how the brain works. And what we, what needs we have as human beings, that’s becoming a bit more normal. Um, and when we talk about these things, particularly in the boardroom, it’s not an unusual thing now.

[00:22:17] Sean Tolram, HSBC: So it’s something that we discuss, you know, we’ve got stats to back up the work that we’re doing. So it’s becoming something that’s more real and more tangible rather than something that’s theoretical and may or may not be useful. And so that’s the biggest difference that I’ve seen. Um, And I’m being called to do, um, sessions for lots of, uh, senior management teams are the top people in the organization.

[00:22:44] Sean Tolram, HSBC: And, uh, we are seeing now that there is that recognition at the top, that it is important. And, you know, even if those people at that level don’t do mindfulness, what I really like is that they can see how other people might benefit. And they can think, okay, I don’t do mindfulness, but I’m going to support it because I can see that all of these people are getting something out of it.

[00:23:07] Sean Tolram, HSBC: So for me, that, that’s the shift. And, and I think that that’s a really positive thing, which, which I want to see more of.

[00:23:13] Leanne: So that is our first secret rest and recovery. But once we’re relaxed, like a well baked fruitcake, what? Our second secret to staying calm this Christmas is reflection. So reflective practice in psychology is fundamentally about consciously thinking about and analyzing what you do.

[00:23:34] Leanne: So it’s a key aspect of growth, of learning, and it’s about critically Analyzing our actions and experiences to foster that development. By engaging in this type of practice, we can better understand our thoughts, our emotions and behaviors that in turn encourages self awareness, emotional intelligence, problem solving skills, and that in turn can build our psychological capital, which is our levels of self efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience.

[00:24:01] Leanne: Put more simply, reflecting on how we overcame challenges in the past gives us confidence that we can do it again in the future. Psychological capital is a valuable resource in building a positive psychological state, and that has an impact on our wellbeing and overall life and work satisfaction. Sean is an advocate for reflection, explaining that it not only helps us to internalize and process events, but identify opportunities for the future.

[00:24:26] Leanne: One thing that I think

[00:24:27] Sean Tolram, HSBC: is really important is to give yourself time to digest the events that have happened throughout the day or throughout the week. Because, in many instances, we, we go forward in a state of autopilot. As humans, we’re very resilient. We’ll get our heads down, we’ll plow through the work, and we’ll just, we’ll just keep going and going and going.

[00:24:48] Sean Tolram, HSBC: Um, sometimes, we go too fast, and we end up going very fast, but going round in circles. So by taking that time, it allows us to slow down, so that we can then move slower. But in a straight line, that’s kind of the way I describe it. So in that time, reflecting on what’s gone well, what hasn’t gone well, any opportunities that might’ve presented themselves.

[00:25:14] Sean Tolram, HSBC: And sometimes once you give your brain that space. You can come up with ideas and insights that you wouldn’t have had before. You know like, people have shower moments. They say, I was in the shower and I solved this problem. Or they wake up the next morning and they’ve got the answer. It’s because when your brain is working hard, and you’re in a state of fight or flight, it’s very difficult to access your higher brain function.

[00:25:38] Sean Tolram, HSBC: Because your resources are going towards power in fight or flight mode. But when you allow your brain to calm down, to slow down, it then gives you better access to your higher brain function so that you can come up with these ideas and you can be more creative and innovative and you can make connections that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

[00:25:58] Sean Tolram, HSBC: I’ve made. So, um, that’s, that’s what I use the time for. And I always find that at the end of it, I look at my notepad and I’ve got four or five ideas that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

[00:26:08] Al: As a chartered psychologist and leadership trainer, Dr. Audrey also believes that reflective practice is a powerful tool when it comes to building capability and mental fitness.

[00:26:16] Al: Her books, which are the leader’s guide to mindfulness, to resilience, and the leader’s guide to wellbeing are packed with practical advice, including some incredible frameworks to facilitate this reflective practice. I want to know if she had any particular favorites across the books or some that may be a good place for people to start when they’re on their journey to building mental fitness.

[00:26:37] Dr Audrey Tang: My favorite is the wellbeing wheel. Now that most people know it as the wellbeing wheel. I like to use that for goal setting, but it’s not just used for that. You can use that for a project that you’ve got to do, or you can use that for finding out your ideal life or thinking about that. And I’m just going to give you a quick demo of the wellbeing wheel here.

[00:26:55] Dr Audrey Tang: It’s you. You have a circle and you fill it with the things that make your ideal life, but you tell me the size of the pies. So, for example, if family comes into that, not just ideal life, it might be just your goal, whatever your goal is. So, say it’s ideal life, family, it might be career, but maybe career is more important than family.

[00:27:14] Dr Audrey Tang: That’s okay. It’s okay. Um, it might be money, but maybe money is not so important. Or it might be exercise and maybe exercise isn’t so important. And the reason I love this is you are telling me what your priorities are. If this person were to say, well, why is my life out of balance? Then the answer will be, well, probably because you haven’t spent enough time with your family or exercising.

[00:27:37] Dr Audrey Tang: And then the reason why you create the segments of your own size in terms of your priorities, they might say, well, families, three or four exercises, only one or two. So maybe I need to work on exercise. But then you, as the coach can say, well, actually no exercises, a lot smaller than family. So maybe you’ll.

[00:27:54] Dr Audrey Tang: feel better because this is a much more important aspect of your life. If you see what you can do to notch family up.

[00:28:00] Al: Stuart agrees that reflective practice is an excellent way of building self awareness and managing our emotions and understanding what he calls a lower case trauma. Here’s Stuart to explain a bit more about this lower case trauma.

[00:28:13] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: When we think of the word trauma, we often think of the big T, the PTSD, um, somebody coming back from war, or somebody who has experienced some sort of abuse, or somebody who’s gone through grief, or a real impactful challenge. When I talk about little t, I’m really looking at maybe the things that we don’t think are really affecting us, but they are, and that might be told by a teacher when they’re younger that they’re not good enough.

[00:28:42] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Or something that we start to create this belief around ourself that we play out as an adult and we still see that play out in the workplace. So although it’s little t, it, for me, it’s just as impactful, especially when we see it in the workplace and we see it, um, for so, so many people and we all have these.

[00:29:00] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: We all have these experiences, um, negative tapes, I often call them, um, thought patterns that we have, uh, that I call little t because it’s maybe less obvious. It’s less, uh, less kind of, you think, Oh, I’m okay. This isn’t maybe a thing that’s impacted me, but it really is. And it sits in that more therapeutic space and understanding ourselves better.

[00:29:21] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Cause once we get better understanding ourselves, we’re more awareness of what makes us. Do the things we do. We then can understand why we’re reactive in certain situations, which is really, really important in a workplace. Uh, instead of being reactive, instead of that reaction to stress triggering, um, something or a way of being with your team or a decision that you have to make in that moment, instead of being more responsive, being able to find that calm within the eye of the storm and feeling that real sense of calmness, even when there’s chaos around you.

[00:29:57] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: And To manage that and understand that we need to understand what makes us us and what are triggering us in stressful situations. Which is where that little tea concept comes

[00:30:08] Leanne: in. But of course, reflective practice and positive thinking isn’t a magic wand. And if we’re not careful, we may creep into the world of toxic positivity.

[00:30:18] Leanne: So toxic positivity is caused by an excessive and ineffective emphasis on positive outcomes and experiences. And that can often lead to the dismissal of genuine feelings of sadness, distress. or even suffering. It can actually be really harmful as it discourages people from acknowledging and dealing with their emotions.

[00:30:38] Leanne: Toxic positivity overlooks the complexity of our feelings as humans and the value of navigating through the full range of emotions for psychological health. Dr. Audrey explains more, giving the advice in some circumstances. Rather than staying positive, stay curious.

[00:30:55] Dr Audrey Tang: Uh, I would say the biggest piece of advice for anybody, whether this is an organization or whether this is an individual, if you are in that place of fear or sadness or anger or perhaps people are off sick or it’s a toxic environment, toxic workplace, you cannot jump from that spot to happy and joyful and thriving.

[00:31:19] Dr Audrey Tang: Just by thinking I’m going to be positive and I’m going to do happy things. It doesn’t work that way. So I come back to Martin Seligman. He says if you can minimise the sadness, you get this emptiness, you get this neutrality. If you cannot minimise the sadness, use a state of curiosity. Ask yourself, why am I feeling as I do?

[00:31:41] Dr Audrey Tang: What can I do? Who can I ask for help? How has it worked for me before where I’ve been able to feel better? And if you use the state of curiosity, that bridges the gap between that sadness and toxicity or negativity and happiness enough where you can actually start to take healthy steps forward. And this works for individuals, this works for organizations.

[00:32:05] Dr Audrey Tang: It’s

[00:32:05] Al: tough to stay positive when managing a business, but that’s the job. You are the buffer between business problems and employees. You shouldn’t be transferring your issues down the chain. It should be the other way round. This is why your own resilience is absolutely. key when managing and leading teams.

[00:32:25] Leanne: So that is our second secret reflection. So

[00:32:29] Al: our third practical tip to make sure you have a holly jolly Christmas is to, um, I am, I don’t know whether I love or hate these notes, Lee, um, to have a holly jolly Christmas is to breathe. So let’s hear from my guest Stuart Sandeman on how he found breathing and the impact it’s had on his wellbeing and mental

[00:32:44] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: fitness.

[00:32:45] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Got into breathing actually through grief. My girlfriend was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away, and it was a really challenging time, as you can imagine, and I didn’t find breathing at that time. I didn’t really have many coping mechanisms, but when she passed away, One thing that, amazing that happened, I took my mum for Mother’s Day to a breathing class.

[00:33:07] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: That’s as far as I thought about breathing. I’d spent my life too busy to breathe. I’d been all, um, performing music, I worked in finance, and so I’d kind of jumped from a few things before that. I was quite heavily involved in sport. When my girlfriend passed away, um, And I was in a bad headspace. I’m breathing, I came across breathing.

[00:33:27] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Sounds so simple, that thing we do all day, every day. And it literally changed my whole outlook. It was like the light bulb switched on. I had a very powerful experience. Um, felt like the weight of grief was pulled off me. But it also felt like my girlfriend was there holding my hand, saying, this is exactly where you need to be, which is very strange, very weird, very wonderful, very helpful.

[00:33:50] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: But also. Left me with more questions than answers. So that’s where I set off on this journey around breathing and breath. Like what just happened in this session? Why haven’t I been looking at breathing before? If this is the one thing that keeps us alive. Um, why was I not looking at breathing as a tool to manage myself throughout my life, whether that was sport, whether that was creatively with music, whether that was being in a busy office when I worked in finance.

[00:34:19] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Um, so that’s what got me into breath and breathing. And I think for many practitioners or many people, when you find something that impacts you so heavily and so, and you find something that helps you transform so much, because it wasn’t just grief. That was like the, the onion layer that peeled off. I felt like obviously.

[00:34:40] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Worked through grief, then my sleep got better, my energy improved, I started to realize deeper aspects of myself, the way I’ve been living, the way I’ve been thinking, the way I’ve been operating, the reactive states that I was in, my deeper kind of belief systems from my past. So I start to really kind of uncover, um, and change in a positive

[00:35:00] Al: way.

[00:35:00] Al: When I met Stuart, I had so many questions, but I’d start with the obvious. We all breathe, but clearly not effectively. So what are we doing wrong? Why are we not getting the effects that you’re getting from breathing?

[00:35:13] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: There’s a multitude of different things. And the one thing that I think is very interesting that’s often overlooked is when we go through an emotional experience, we hold our breath.

[00:35:28] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Now, the natural flow of emotion means our breath will start to move when we emote, when we laugh. Our breath kind of judders when we cry, does the same. But we unconsciously or consciously hold our breath to stop the natural flow of emotion. So that might be holding our breath to stop laughter. Because we shouldn’t find something funny, we hold our breath.

[00:35:51] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Or maybe if you’re at work and you’ve had some upsetting news, but you’re in front of your team and you’re trying to hold it together and you can feel the tears start to flow, well we’ll hold our breath back to stop the tears flowing. So in essence what we do is we contract our breathing muscles. So we tense our body.

[00:36:07] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: And this can be very minute or, or, um, little contractions in our breathing. Our breathing changes. And because our breathing is sending a signal to our brain about our environment, all of a sudden we’re sending a stressful signal to our brain. So we can have different experiences where we’re not allowing ourselves to fully feel because it’s A, not appropriate, or maybe our mind says it’s not safe to feel this right now, and our breathing contracts.

[00:36:31] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: And then we can get stuck in these stressful breathing patterns, or archetypes is what I call them in the book. We have different breathing archetypes, and because the breathing rhythm and rate and depth at which we breathe at, it’s Will trigger us into feel certain ways. Then when we stuck in these breathing archetypes, you’ll find that people with a similar archetype will maybe feel the same things throughout the day.

[00:36:55] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: That might be the anxious breather, the stressful chest breather, and it might even be the breath grabber I, I talk about, which is somebody that’s kind of really breathing a lot too fast and they might button in conversations, et cetera. So there’s all these different archetypes that we can have, and it will link to breathing and dysfunctional breathing patterns.

[00:37:16] Al: The way we feel affects the way we breathe, but does that mean we can actually evoke an emotion by breathing a particular way?

[00:37:25] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: What I, the way I usually explain it is, thinking happens in our mind, we know that. And feeling happens in our body, driven by our breathing pattern. And when our thinking and feeling match, that creates our state of being.

[00:37:39] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: So if we’re saying my state of being is anxiety, well that anxiety is a product of anxious thinking. And our breathing pattern will match. So, two ways to break that loop. We could change our thoughts, which many practices try to do. A lot of our thoughts are deeply ingrained habitual thinking, so it’s quite hard.

[00:38:03] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: But if we jump in and override our breathing pattern, we will send, it’s almost like this feedback loop. Thinking a thought, our breathing is matching the thought, but if we override and take control of our breath, then we are skewing that signal. So even if the mind’s saying, I’m feeling really stressed, overwhelmed, or I’m really anxious or really nervous.

[00:38:22] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: Then our breathing starts to change. We might be holding our breath in tight. We might be breathing too fast. We might have this change in rhythm. So if we take control of that, our breath in that moment, we’ll send a new signal back to our brain. So we’re almost taking control of how we feel in any moment.

[00:38:38] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: So exactly that we can start to really change the way we feel in the moment. And where I find it very interesting is. If our breathing in the moment triggers us to feel a certain way, and then that feeling, well, our feelings that last a week, we call a mood, a mood that starts to last a couple of months, which is a temperament, a temperament that lasts years, which is our personality.

[00:39:06] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: So we can start and see. Um, that all this stuff, parts of ourself, we might think that, Oh, I’m just an anxious person. And yes, we can have anxiety disorders and things, but for many people it’s because they’ve felt a certain feeling and they’ve been breathing a certain way for so long that they just think it’s part of who they are.

[00:39:25] Stuart Sandeman, BBC Radio 1: And a lot of the work that I do and help people through is trying to break through some of that patterning. Now that would be thought patterns, for sure, which are often harder and more stubborn to change. But when we start working with the breath, it’s kind of like the, the key to the back door, where we can start moving through some of these patterns.

[00:39:43] Leanne: Stuart’s social media is packed with breathing exercises that will help you to regulate your breathing, retrain your mind and help build your mental fitness. We will leave some links in the show notes for you. There is one really simple breathing exercise that I use myself and with my coaching clients actually, it’s called the 748 method.

[00:40:03] Leanne: So basically you breathe in for a count of seven, hold your breath for a count of four and exhale for a count of eight and repeat that pattern for about a minute. I’ve found it’s helped me in situations where I can feel my anxiety, anxiety kicking in. I’m not a big fan of flying, so I tend to do that during takeoff.

[00:40:22] Leanne: My heart rate’s going a bit. It just helps me to regulate my breathing and bring my heart. Heart rate down. And the clients that I’ve worked with have said that just by going through that process helps them to refocus, particularly if they’re feeling overwhelmed, they find they’re focusing on on the counting and the breathing rather than everything else that’s going on.

[00:40:41] Leanne: Don’t do it for too long though. Um, just to warn you anything more than a couple of minutes, you might feel a little light. So

[00:40:46] Al: that’s our third practical tip to inhale the joy and exhale the stress this Christmas. It’s just to breathe. If you’re a business owner or a leader and you’re thinking, yeah, this sounds good.

[00:40:56] Al: I’d like to achieve some mindfulness or mental fitness at work in January. That is amazing. And we’re genuinely behind you on this, but it does come with a few words of

[00:41:04] Leanne: warning. Yeah. I mean, there is often a debate about who’s responsible for wellbeing. Is it the individual or is it the organisation? And inevitably it’s both.

[00:41:14] Leanne: But as Dr. Audrey explains, investing in our own mental fitness, our own well being, is pretty useless if we’re not supported with our well being at work. Whenever

[00:41:24] Dr Audrey Tang: people go off sick with stress, burnout, rust out, all of those mental health issues. What happens is organizations up their well being interventions.

[00:41:34] Dr Audrey Tang: They bring me in, they do lunchtime yoga, they get things like gym cards or restaurant cards and so on. It’s all about the individual. However, if I were to go to work and fall down a hole, health and safety would not give me lessons on how to walk around a hole. They would not bring in training about how to get out of a hole.

[00:41:58] Dr Audrey Tang: They would fix the hole. And this is the whole point that well being interventions, well being incentives, which aren’t quite as good as interventions and approaches to well being. They really focus on the individual, but what we need to be looking at is the system and the causes of the stress in the same way as you would take a health and safety practical approach to stopping the causes of physical

[00:42:25] Leanne: injury.

[00:42:26] Leanne: So those are our three secrets for keeping calm this Christmas. Find time to invest in rest and recovery. Find time to engage in some reflective practice and if all else fails, just remember to breathe. Now we have tried to lighten this episode with some Silly Christmas based puns here and there, but we have also covered some pretty heavy themes.

[00:42:51] Leanne: If you are struggling with your mental health, if you are feeling in distress or despair, if you need to talk to somebody, we would always recommend that you contact the Samaritans. We will leave the telephone number and the website in the show notes equally. Check out the mind website. There are some awesome resources on there to help people who need support with their mental health at this time of year.

[00:43:12] Leanne: And finally, if there is. Anything else that’s come up in this episode, any questions, any concerns, you can always get in touch with us directly at truth and lies. Our email is in the show notes.

[00:43:21] Al: Nice Leanne. Nice. And also just quick note that Samaritans is a UK based charity, but I believe is available on email, um, and possibly even text message or web chat.

[00:43:30] Al: So you, even if you’re not in the UK, you can, you can contact the Samaritans in confidence, but I’m hoping that, um, for most of us, we’re going to be able to manage the stress a little bit better this Christmas. I’m hoping that. Um, we keep talking about uncle, what was his name? The knobhead? Uncle Kevin who gets drunk and starts being a bit racist and you have to bite your tongue.

[00:43:49] Al: Anyway, so next week, part one of our predictions episode, we have brought in some incredible guests. Let’s

[00:43:56] Leanne: give some teases. So we’ll have some returning guests, some guests who’ve been on the podcast before with brand new insights, some pretty awesome CEOs to bring their two pennies worth. Oh me, I’ll be there.

[00:44:07] Leanne: Hi. And I’ll

[00:44:08] Al: be there too. So we’ll see you next week. Bye. Bye. Bye.

[00:44:22] Al: I look down quite a bit on that. There’s not much I can do. Fuck it. There’s only gonna be eight people watching this youtube video. So

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