Episode 66: Staying positive through COVID – getting back to basics with Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee
The pandemic’s third wave left many people with an uncertain roadmap of what’s coming in 2021. This sense of uncertainty can feel overwhelming — where are we going? What are we going to be doing? However, hope is not lost. When your world feels riddled with anxiety and negative emotions, it’s time to go back to basics.
In this episode of You Are Not A Frog, we are joined again by Dr. Amrita Sen Mukherjee. Amrita shares her knowledge of positive psychology concepts that can keep us from sliding into despair. We also tackle how to better connect with our loved ones by understanding two concepts: optimum support matching and love languages.
Tune into this episode to learn more about getting back to basics to support yourself and others during these uncertain times.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Understand the importance of embracing negative emotions without drowning in them.
- Find out how you can deal with limited options for coping strategies and adapt to these unusual times.
- You will learn the fundamental building blocks of staying in a positive mindset.
- Permission to Thrive membership with Dr Rachel Morris and Dr Caroline Walker
- Sign up here for the Vortex of Busyness and COVID team wellbeing resource
- You Are Not A Frog Ep. 35 with Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee
- You Are Not A Frog Ep. 56 with Dr Jo Scrivens
- Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
- The Happiness Lab with Dr Laurie Santos
- The 5 Love Languages by Dr Gary Chapman
- Five ways to wellbeing: New applications, new ways of thinking by the New Economics Foundation
- BBC One – The Truth About…, Boosting Your Immune System
- Follow Dr Mukherjee on Twitter @YourwellbeingDr and Instagram @yourwellbeingdoctor
- Check out Dr Mukherjee’s website
- Get in touch with Dr Mukherjee’s email: Amrita@yourwellbeing.doctor
[04:28] About Dr Amrita
Dr Mukherjee is a portfolio GP.
- She’s an expert in positive psychology and wellbeing.
- [05:01] What We Have To Be Positive About This 2021
- The vaccination program being rolled out is something to be excited about.
- We can also be hopeful about the future of renewed science.
- Amrita is also hopeful about Joe Biden’s presidency.
- When things are tough, Amrita tries to minimize the peripheral noise and concentrate on the things that ground her.
[07:30] The Importance of Embracing Negative Emotions
- Emotions are not binary. This wide range of emotions can be fatiguing.
- Difficulty and negative emotions sometimes have lessons to offer.
- Difficult and uncomfortable times help us savour the happier moments.
- Allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel at this moment can fill you with some hope for the future.
[14:32] How to Hold On to Positivity
- Acknowledge that you’re not able to be positive all the time.
- Recognize that the emotions we’re feeling are different from what we might experience in a pandemic-free world.
- Know that these emotions will pass and that you won’t always feel like this.
- Strip things back, get back to basics, and incorporate those basics into your life.
- Think about the things that you can control.
[19:14] Going Back to Basics
- Go back to the basics and figure out what about those coping strategies helped you.
- Once you’ve extracted the main principle of that coping strategy, try to apply it to the current environment that you have.
- Be flexible and understand that this, too, shall pass.
- We are all facing the same pandemic, but recognize that everyone has different experiences.
[26:04] Building a Positive Mindset
- Connect with yourself and understand what you need.
- Practice optimum support matching by communicating with your loved ones about your needs and love languages.
- Engage in positively-based psychological processes like gratitude, journaling, connecting with others, and learning.
- Move away from toxic things in your life — bad habits, or things that don’t make you feel good.
- Learn more about optimum support matching, love languages, and fundamentals of a positive mindset by listening to the full episode!
[42:27] Top Tips to Get Through the Next Few Weeks
- Go back to basics!
- Figure out what it is that you and those around you need. Connect with yourself, and communicate it to those around you.
- Have compassion for yourself and those around you.
- Don’t be scared of your negative emotions.
- Find or plan things to look forward to later in the year.
7 Powerful Quotes from This Episode
[10:55, Amrita] ‘Sometimes we have to feel the difficult times, the conflict, the discomfort in order to appreciate the good.’
[14:13, Amrita] ‘I think allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel at this moment, allowing yourself to miss those things, knowing that this will pass, knowing that we will get through it, and knowing that actually there are brighter days coming, can hopefully fill us with some hope for the future.’
[19:53, Amrita] ‘If we allow ourselves to align with our own values and principles, that can strip away all of the peripheral noise that we might be hearing.’
[22:50, Amrita] ‘We’re all weathering the same storm, the same pandemic, but we have completely different experiences in it.’
[23:33, Amrita] ‘I think we can be positive about the way in which we’ve all dealt with this current situation and the new human behaviors we’re seeing, because I’e seen a lot of kindness and compassion over the ten months, and I really hope that continues.’
[36:00,Amrita] ‘It’s not about the number of connections you have, it’s not about engaging on social media. It really is about the depth of the connections that you have with people and making sure that those relationships are really valid.’
[41:54, Amrita] ‘When you don’t know the answer, when you’re having trouble figuring something out, go back to basics.’
Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee is a GP with experience in occupational health, wellbeing, and physician health. She attended the University College London where she obtained a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics with Management Studies. She then studied medicine at Kings College London and achieved distinctions in Medical Sciences, Clinical Sciences, and Clinical Practice.
Dr Mukherjee currently works at NHS and Kings College London Medical School as a medical educator and facilitator. She leads the London Next Generation GP team and is also the First5 Wellbeing Lead for the Royal College of General Practitioners. To pursue her credentials in Wellbeing, she is undertaking an MSc in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology and is working towards her EMCC accreditation in coaching.
Interested in Dr Amrita’s work? Check out her website, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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Dr Rachel Morris: Does it feel like Groundhog Day to you? And are many of your usual coping and well-being strategies, such as meeting friends for coffee, just not possible right now? And are you finding it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even if you know that it’s there? If that’s you, you’re not alone.
For many of us, this third lockdown and the third wave is harder than the first two, even though we’re hopeful that the vaccines will bring this whole thing to an end. That’s why I’m chatting to Dr. Amrita Sen Mukherjee in this episode, who is otherwise known as your Well-Being Doctor, who knows how hard it is herself, and she has a special interest in positive psychology. Amy shares her expert knowledge about what might just keep us from sliding into despair , what will help us to feel better, how to support our nearest and dearest, even if it involves embracing some of those emotions we just don’t like.
So we share some practical tips and insights from the world of positive psychology. So do have a listen to find out why embracing some of the emotions we don’t like can be helpful after all. Why understanding the different love languages of your family and friends and colleagues might make all the difference, and how to get others to support you in ways that are helpful to you.
Introduction: Welcome to You are not a Frog, life hacks for doctors and busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr. Rachel Morris, I’m a GP turned coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience, and I’m interested in how we can wake up and be excited about going to work no matter what. I’ve had 20 years’ experience working in the NHS, both on the frontline and teaching leadership and resilience. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, worried about making mistake, and one crisis away from not coping.
2021 promises to be a particularly challenging year. Even before the coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been competitive frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, working harder and longer. And the heat has been turned up so slowly, that we hardly notice the extra-long days becoming the norm, and have got used to the low grade feelings of stress and exhaustion.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two choices, stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in. You have many more options than you think you do. It is possible to be master of your own destiny, and to craft your work in life so that you can thrive even in the most difficult of circumstances. Through training as an executive and team coach, I discovered some hugely helpful resilience and productivity tools that transformed the way I approached my work. I’ve been teaching these principles over the last few years at the Shapes Toolkit Programme because if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job.
In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues, and experts—all have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control to thrive, not just survive in our work and our lives and love what we do again.
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Rachel: Hi and welcome to another episode of You Are Not A Frog and today I’m delighted to have back with me on the podcast, Dr. Amrita Sen Mukherjee. Now, Amy is a portfolio GP. She’s also an expert in positive psychology and well-being, and she was with us on the podcast previously talking about the power of positivity. So welcome Amy.
Dr. Amrita Sen Mukherjee: Hi, Rachel. It’s so lovely to be back again. Thank you so much for inviting me and it’s so nice to see you in 2021.
Rachel: Aww, hey, thanks for coming. Amy, we talked about positivity last time you were on. It’s the beginning of January at the moment, and what on earth have we got to be positive about? That’s my question to you. It starts at ten.
Amrita: And that’s a really, really hard question that you’ve asked me to. Stop, Rachel. I think if we cast our minds back to maybe October time, there was a lot of stuff to be positive about as we thought about 2021. And I think, moving closer and closer towards November, December time, I think those of us in the healthcare profession may be realized, that there was this sense of fatigue coming in.
But moving into 2021, I think we can be really excited about the vaccination programme rolling out. We can have hope about the future for renewed science. And thinking about what’s happening across the pond in America, thinking about Joe Biden, I’m hopeful about those types of things. And I think I try to down tools and when things are really, really tough, which they are at the moment, I’m not going to lie, things are really tough. I try to minimize the peripheral noise and I try to concentrate on what really grounds me.
And so those are the things that really keeps me hopeful at the moment and keeping positive. So I think that works differently for different people. I know that’s a really procrastinated and elongated answer to your question, but I don’t think that was a very easy question. To be honest.
Rachel: I do apologize. Sorry.
Amrita: No worries at all.
Rachel: Actually, sorry, not sorry, really, because you know last time, you only showed some really helpful tips about positivity. And I think the thing about positivity is not mindless optimism. It’s about all those other things which include gratitude. We were just chatting before the podcast. And I shared with you, I opened my journal this morning, which is an inspirational diary. I really love it. But today’s quote got me almost throwing it across the room because the quote today was, “An optimist does not stand in the rain. He’s taking a shower under a cloud.” It just thought. Honestly, it’s not supposed to inspire anybody.
And I think the problem is, with the way things are at the moment, that these sort of glib quotes, and this sort of ‘hi, let’s just check that the glasses is half full, it’s definitely not half empty’, they just ring a little bit hollow, don’t they?
Amrita: Yes, I completely agree with you. And I think if I were to maybe have read that quote, this morning, it might have fooled me, but the same emotion that it brought to you with. And I think that’s a really interesting concept.
And Rachel—and I think actually, one of the common things that people might not understand about positive psychology, which is totally fine, because not everyone has read a lot about it, is that actually, emotions aren’t mutually exclusive. And we don’t have these positive emotions and negative emotions. And they’re not binary. We actually have the spectrum of emotion. So we can feel things in a positive light and in a negative light at the same time, and we can feel this mishmash in this conflict. And that can lead to the sense of fatigue that we might be feeling at the moment. And I think that’s really what we’re sensing in the communities that we live in and in the spheres in which we work and the spheres in which we live.
Because, yes, we’ve been through lockdown before and normally, when we’ve gone through a process before and we’ve gone through a hardship, we’re faced with the tools that allow us to get through it a bit more easily. I think when people have gone through this third national lockdown now, people are weary, people are tired. And facing it, there’s this overwhelming fatigue. And there’s this gruelling sense of the unknown, because we really don’t know how long this is going to last for. We are hopeful, we are optimistic. We don’t want this to be our future. But we know that it was difficult before so chances are it will be difficult again.
And I think it’s really, really important that we kind of accept that balance of emotions. And yes, it’s important. I never spoke about the power of positivity before, and that’s not to be denied. But we can’t minimize the difficulties that we feel as well because they’re equally important too. And actually, difficult times and negative emotions actually teach us a lot too. And however uncomfortable they are and how difficult they might feel, they do teach us a lot as well.
Rachel: I know that there’s a lots in the literature, isn’t there, about how suppressing negative emotions is just really unhealthy and in our particular culture in which we live, in the west perhaps, we are really scared of feeling those negative emotions. And so we run off and we do everything we can in order to suppress them or not to feel them or to ignore them and stuff. How do we embrace and feel those negative emotions without drowning in them and really just wallowing, which isn’t helpful, is it?
Amrita: No, absolutely. And you’re really, really—you’ve really hit the nail on the head there and Rachel because we don’t want to wallow in these negative emotions. And we don’t want to be getting into a situation where—whether making us feel unhealthy, and if that is the situation, and that might be the situation for some, then we do need to be seeking professional help. And that there’s no shame in that, there’s no difficulty around that. And it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to acknowledge the difficulties that we might be facing. And we all might be going through that process at some point. And reducing the stigma around that is really important.
But moving kind of away from that side of the spectrum a little bit more towards the middle, actually, if we are feeling a negative emotion one day, kind of holding on to that thought that this too will pass and holding on to the fact that actually, this is part of the process of life. And I just mentioned a few moments ago that the emotions are non-binary. Actually, sometimes we have to feel the difficult times, the conflict, the discomfort in order to appreciate the good. Because without knowing what it is to kind of have a hardship, without knowing what it is to feel uncomfortable with something we can’t actually appreciate what it is to experience joy, to really relish and celebrate successes, to really understand what our strengths are, if we haven’t actually had something that maybe hasn’t gone our way.
And I think you’re right, I think maybe in our culture, maybe over the last kind of three to four decades, we’ve moved away from this idea that actually we shouldn’t be experiencing hardships or if we do then we might be failing in some way. But actually, I’d like to challenge that thought and say, actually, those types of difficulties in our lives actually support us in developing skills to the future.
Rachel: Yes, yes, I figure a quote from some ancient wisdom, “In this life, you will have suffering.” You will, wouldn’t you? And loss is a result of love. If you don’t love anything, you’re not going to lose anything. But it’s really hard for us to accept, to think particularly when there is a generation of people who maybe haven’t gone through any particular hardship. We’ve never known world wars, we’ve never known what it’s like to be hungry, most of us. We’ve had all the support that we needed financially. Most of us are doing okay, although there’s obviously so many people that have been affected by the COVID pandemic.
So, what I think has been happening is, we’ve been experiencing a lot more negative emotion. But I’m hopeful that because I think this pandemic has made us go deeper, hasn’t it? It’s made us go deeper into what does bring us joy, and what’s really important in life, that will then help with some of the positive emotion. And that contrast of—because things have been, because I haven’t been able to get out to the pub with my friends for so long, that when I finally am able to do that, I will be so grateful just to be able to go to the wine bar with them and have a really good chat. And that would be just as well. Whereas before the pandemic, I’d be like, “Okay, like, can we go out somewhere really, really nice in London or away for a weekend?” For me, I’m just happy to be able to go for a coffee with some…
Amrita: Absolutely, because you’ll relish that moment more, won’t you, you will savour it more because actually, you remembered how much you’ve missed it. And I think it’s those types of feelings that we have, that kind of missing that connection, that kinaesthetic process, that missing that tactile sensation that you might have just by brushing across somebody, brushing against their arm or giving them a coffee, or something like that.
Rachel: Or a hug.
Amrita: Yes, absolutely a hug. I’m a really huggie person. So I’m missing that immensely. I know a lot of people aren’t huggie people, but I’m missing my hugs with my friends. I’m missing actually just touching people — on the shoulder or on the arm or something. It’s really, really difficult isn’t it? At this moment in time, we’re missing all those things that used to be so natural to us. And I think when we are able to do all those things, again, it’s going to make it so much better for us, it’s going to make it so much more important.
And so I think allowing yourself to feel what you need to feel at this moment, allowing yourself to miss those things, knowing that this will pass, knowing that we will get through it and knowing that actually there are brighter days coming can hopefully fill us with some hope for the future.
Rachel: So what would you say to someone who said, ‘Yes, I know that this will pass but actually I can’t see when’. And it’s fair enough being said, we had the lockdown in November, four weeks, this will pass and for what time it will be fine. And now we don’t really know. I’m thinking Easter’s the minimum probably. And things won’t definitely won’t be back to normal, by Easter then hopefully we’ll be better. So how do we hold on to positivity and cope when it’s just such a long way in the future and it’s so uncertain?
Amrita: Yes. Okay, so I think there are a few ways in which we can hold on to positivity. And I think firstly, acknowledging that you’re not going to be able to be positive all the time is the first step. Acknowledging this nonbinary spectrum that we feel. And equally acknowledging that actually, because we’re living in a different world, we’re living in this kind of abnormal world, at the moment, this artificial construct, and the emotions that we’re feeling are quiet—I don’t want to say artificial, because they’re real to us. But what I mean by that is they’re more intense. They seem to be more frequent. And they seem to be, as you mentioned a moment ago, quite a lot deeper. And that doesn’t mean they’re not real, that doesn’t mean that they’re not part of us. But what I mean to say is that we might not be used to them.
And so understanding how to cope with those and recognizing that they are different to what we might normally experience is a reflection of the life that we’re living at the moment. And so knowing that this will pass as well, that we won’t always be feeling like this, I think is something that we can hold on to.
And then kind of stripping everything back and getting back to basics. And you mentioned kind of going for cup of coffee with your friends and just being with your friends, maybe being in a wine bar. Yes, of course. We can’t do that at the moment. Yes, of course, that isn’t a reality. But thinking about what it was about those moments with your friends that made you feel good. So was it the conversation? Was it the energy? Was it the tactile sensation? What was it about those experiences? And quite often, it’s a whole combination, I’m not for a moment suggesting there’s one thing. But if we can strip things back and get back to basics, and then incorporate those basics into your life, yes, it won’t be perfect. But it might give you some semblance of that positivity back.
Rachel: That’s really helpful because I’m thinking yeah, what is it about being there, it’s about having a good conversation. It’s about having a laugh and being relaxed. And actually, you can do that on a one-to-one basis. You can go for a walk and have a good conversation. You can be relaxed in different ways. So there are things, I guess it’s about and I always talk about this with people, stay in your zone of power, think about actually, so much out of your control at the moment, what is in my control that I can do. And I just feel that there’s not a lot, but there are some things and I guess that the temptation when it is lock down is just to hunker down and go, ‘Right. I’m sick of this. I’m just going to not do anything for three months and not see anyone and not do this and not see that’. And actually there are some things that would make a huge difference.
Now, I’d like to also—sorry, was there something else that you had to add there before I quickly…
Amrita: I was just going to say and because these rules are imposed on us, it makes us feel quite powerless. But actually powering ourselves and allowing us to feel actually that we are in control of our own selves. And I think you just hit the nail on the head there. It’s about just putting ourselves back in the driving seat within our own sphere of influence.
Rachel: Yes. So when we were chatting earlier on, we were saying, how are you? How am I, how are you, etcetera, etcetera. I was just sharing that the coping mechanisms that I usually have to live my best life have sort of gone for me. I do quite a lot of work in this office on my own. Lots of work on Zoom. I used to be able to be going out and do lots of training and coaching and things like that. But for me, an isolated lifestyle doesn’t really work. So I’m a real extrovert. So I put lots of things in my diary, like group tennis coaching and group circuit training and doing this and that, which gave me those points of contacts in the week or even just going out to the gym or out to this or that. Varied things.
And because of lock down all those coping strategies have just gone any sort of just limited to walks or jogging or cycling as exercise, and you’re just limited to virtual stuff. So it seems like we talk a lot about well-being and we talk out all these things we can do, and then half of our options have just been stripped away from us right now. What would you say to someone like me who’s struggling with that?
Amrita: Yes. And that’s really, really hard, isn’t it? Because in that instance, we feel really powerless because you’ve worked so hard throughout the last however many years developing these strategies and learning about yourself connecting with yourself and feeling actually, ‘this is what helps me in this particular time’. But when they’re taken away from you, it just makes you feel like you have to start again from scratch.
And I think I would again, go back to basics because actually, if we allow ourselves to align with our own values and principles that can strip away all of the peripheral noise that we might be hearing. And what I mean by that at the moment is that there isn’t much that we can do about the current situation, we are in a difficult situation. And so all those things that might have helped in the past have been taken away from us.
So, again, going back to my original point, what is it about that connection that helped you? What is it about that group coaching that helped you? What is it about those particular instances that you might be able to extrapolate, translate, and transfer into the current environment that you have?
Now, you’re not going to get the same hit that you would have got from those types of transferable relational skills, but you might get some sort of—you might get 50% hit, if you see what I mean. And so I suppose it’s about being flexible. It’s about having this understanding, and having this flexibility of mind and thought essentially, knowing again, that this too, will pass. So again, just embracing the fact that this is hopefully not going to be the future and life as we know it.
Rachel: And I think this sort of thing will apply to people who are filled right out to work, on the frontline as well. And again, I love that quote, you said to me, you said you’ve had it a lot in the Coronavirus crisis about we’re all in the same storm, we’re in different boats. Just tell us a bit about what that means to you.
Amrita: So for me when I read that quote, and essentially we’re all in this global pandemic, we’re all experiencing different things. And the reason we’re experiencing different things is because some of us might have suffered a bereavement because of it, that’s quite a reasonable scenario. Some of us might be going out to work on the front line, wearing PPE, 12 hours a day, and seeing the hardships face to face. And we know that’s true of a lot of our colleagues. Some of us might be working in general practice, and then having some face-to-face contact wearing PPE but not wearing it all the time. And some of this might be doing a lot of homework and a lot of remote working. And then there are other key workers as well, whether they be police, people, fire staff, and then other key workers who work in supermarkets. And then people who are able to completely down tools, from that office environment and work from home.
Now, there’s this juxtaposition as well, because some of our key worker colleagues will be using the key worker scheme and putting their children in nursery environments or school environments because they have no options. And some people be keeping their children at home because they do have an option, or that’s their choice. And what this does is it just brings around this whole difficulty that we might be feeling at the moment, that actually we’re all weathering the same storm, the same pandemic, but we have completely different experiences in it. No one person’s journey is the same. No one person’s hardship is the same. No one person’s life system is the same. And actually having some sort of compassion, some sort of understanding some sort of kindness and extending that towards every single person we meet at the moment and for life moving forward is really, really important and really key.
And I think, what we all hopefully need to be adopting, really, in our way through the future. And I think when you mentioned actually, reflecting on the question that you asked me at the beginning, what can we be positive about. I think, actually, we can be positive about humanity. I think we can be positive about the way in which we’ve all dealt with this current situation and the new human behaviours we’re seeing because I’ve seen a lot of kindness and compassion over the last 10 months. And I really hope that continues because the way communities have helped one another, the way people have helped another and reached out, is really, really something to be proud of, and really something to celebrate.
And so I think, actually, this storm that we are weathering is gruelling, it’s hard, we are fatigued, and we want it to end. But just knowing that we’re all in it, we’re all weathering it in different ways, and we’re all feeling the burden, and hopefully will allow us to move forward together as a community.
Rachel: Yes, I think that’s a great point about humanity. We’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity at the moment. There’s a brilliant book I just read called Humankind, can’t remember the author but just people sort of google, ‘Humankind’. It’s brilliant, it’s lovely because it just goes about making the case for the kindness of humanity. And actually, we’ve evolved because we are grouped people because we are into belonging and kindness and all that sort of stuff, which is really heartening, really. And I think people have really pulled together. And I do hope that we continue pulling together and all this sort of fighting, the vaccine and all that sort of thing is just going to stop and we’re all going to just pull together, get it done and get on with our lives but with some lessons that we’ve learned, that we’ve learned really, really well.
So yes, there are people working really hard on the front line, there are people stuck at home with toddlers, home schooling and trying to manage their teams, everything. And I think both have different issues and different challenges, which is so hard when you’re trying to run a podcast around wellbeing for professionals in high stress jobs because everyone’s facing completely different challenges. I know one of my friends said to me, as a GP, she said, “She’s so grateful that she can go to work right now, that she can get out of the house and go to it.” And that’s that saves her whereas her other half is stuck at home and has been in, and it’s just for the foreseeable future. So, there are silver linings to every cloud as it were.
And I know that last time, we talked about some of these for hacks for positivity. And I think they still stand no matter what the circumstances are. And I know they were things like mindfulness and gratitude and generosity, things like that. I mean, can you just remind us about these fundamental building blocks of staying in a positive mindset, no matter what the circumstances?
Amrita: So firstly, I would say that what we need to be doing ourselves is connecting with ourselves first. So understanding what we need is really, really important. Especially at this time, when we’re all going through difficulties. So not just as families, are we going through the same storm, but actually as individuals we are. So even if you have the closest relationship with your husband, your wife, your partner, and your friend, who you might live with, or if you live on your own. The person you are closest to is also weathering the same storm as well, they might just not be telling you the difficulties that they’re having. So actually, having that compassion for other people is really important, too. So connecting with yourself, and understanding what you need is really important.
And I think in our culture, we might not be the best at communicating what we need to people. So actually communicating that to people could be really, really helpful, actually, because it allows people to support you in the way that you need to be supported. So for example, and I’m going to give a really, really trite example here, and I don’t drink so much coffee, I drink tea. So if someone were to bring me a nice hot cup of coffee, that’s lovely. But it wouldn’t hit the spot for me, I’d really like a nice warm cup of tea. And if someone didn’t know me very well, I’d be very grateful for it. I would never say anything to them because I just don’t say things like that. And I would drink it but I would feel much better if I had a cup of tea. But so actually communicating to people actually, this is how I need help, would really, really work. And that’s actually called optimal support matching.
So connecting with yourself, understanding what you need. And you mentioned that before, Rachel, when you said ‘Oh, I know that I need connection with people and I brought that into my life by doing x, y, and z’, is really, really important. We just do it naturally because that’s the way we’ve evolved. But it has a key concept around it, and there’s actually studies around it. So actually connecting with people and recognizing that they might be in difficulty, too.
Rachel: Yes, now that is a really, really good point. I listen to a podcast, and it’s called The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos, really good. Just for Christmas, it’s all about gift giving. 45 minutes on gift giving and how to do it well. And the conclusion was the best way to give gifts that won’t cause problems, but cause optimal happiness for everybody involved is to ask somebody what they want, and give it to them. Who’d have thought why radical stuff, but you know what, it was quite radical.
And I think when you’re saying that, that optimal support matching is exactly the same. Ask people what they need, and give it to them. ‘I’m not used to coffee, I don’t drink coffee, I can’t stand this stuff. So if you turn up with me with a lovely steaming cup of coffee, literally, I’d have to put down the drinks that would make me gag. So that wouldn’t help. I would appreciate the thought, but I would really appreciate it if you turned up with some chocolate’. Hint, Hint, hint. So that is so important that often and it boils down to your love languages.
Amrita: Love Languages, absolutely by Dr. Gary Chapman.
Rachel: So when I got married, and my mother—mum, hi, big shoutout to my mum. She listens to every single episode, none of the rest of my family did, but my mum does. Thanks, mum. Anyway, when we got married, she gave us that Love Languages book. And then every time any of my friends got married, that was the gift she gave. All of my friends are like, ‘Oh yes, your mum gave me that Love Languages’. But genuinely, it’s a real transformation make of your relationship and the basic thing is that we give and receive love in very different ways.
So if you are the sort of person that needs to spend quality time with someone and your partner—not that bothered about that, but they like to give gifts, then you’re mismatched because you’ll just be longing for them to spend time. They might come home with you for you bunch of flowers and then go off into the garage and tinker with their bike all evening. And you’re feeling completely unloved. But because they’ve given the gift that makes them feel loved. So it’s all about matching the way you show love and support to other people with the way that they give and receive love. I think there are five I mean, you’re going to have to write, let’s try and list them. So one is acts of service of doing things for people.
Amrita: Yes, one is giving.
Rachel: Giving. One is physical touch and affection. What is it? Words of affirmation. So it’s bigging people up and saying how great they are. Fifth, physical, words of affirmation, quality time, and acts of service.
Amrita: That’s support, yes. To me, that’s support. Yes. I had to quite translate it in my mind.
Rachel: Yes, yes. Okay. So if—and I think it applies 100% here, doesn’t it?
Amrita: It does, it does. So some people need that professional validation. And some people need kinaesthetic touch, so they need that tactile sensation. Some people need to be left alone, ‘I want my space, and I want to go to my room and have my door shut and please don’t disturb me’. And I think a lot of people might be feeling that at the moment, because the families are home. If you’ve got a family unit who’s working at home, or if you live in a flat share or something, and you’re all in the same space, I think people are feeling that, that burn of moment if they need that in our lives.
Other people need personal validation. So people need their self-esteem bolstered. So there are lots and lots of different ways. Those are just a few examples. And there are lots of ways in which this can be translated. So actually figuring out, first of all, what that is for you is really, really important. And then communicating that to somebody. If you have a life partner can be really key as well. Because if you’re having difficulties at the moment, and you need to bolster down and really focus on your coping strategies, they’re probably in that same situation as well. So actually just saying to them, actually, ‘If you see me in a bad mood, or if you see me struggling, can you do X, Y, and Z for me, that would really help me’. What you’re doing is you’re helping them as well, because they probably don’t have that headspace to be thinking about what you need at that time, not because they don’t care, but because they’re also in that same zone that you are.
Rachel: Yes. And it’s just compassionate towards them. Because say, if you need to be left alone for a bit, and say, I don’t know, your other half. But say, their love language was spending quality time. And you’re saying like, ‘I just want to be left alone’. Actually just explained to them ‘Actually, for me, you saying that to me will be a real act of service to me and support by letting me have that time. And it’s not because I don’t want to spend quality time with you. It’s just that that’s what I need. But I know that your love language is quality time. Therefore, later on, let’s spend some time together doing this’. So you can mix and match with that.
It was really helpful. It’s really helped my marriage. My other half doesn’t really do gifts. But I had to tell him that I do and then we’re all right. And then I know that when he comes home from work, he needs to go into his mancave and just process the day, he really doesn’t need me jabbering on in his ears. So letting him alone is really, really helpful. So there’s all these different things that—it’s just basic, it can help.
Amrita: You could just strategically leave screenshots up on his computer of the gifts that you like. So when he’s having his downtime in his man cave, he could look at the gifts that you might like.
Rachel: You laugh, you laugh, I made sure at Christmas everyone knew exactly what I want. I just bought my own and wrapped it up. Because I keep seeing these threads on Facebook saying ‘Oh, I’m so upset because my partner didn’t give me what I want’. Well, that’s your fault. Sorry, we said diversity of everyone, listening to this will think I’m a terrible person.
But I think we do have a responsibility to communicate what our needs are. And whether that is time alone, time just having a bath, getting out for exercise. And that is one way that we can absolutely support each other. And we need to support each other in the way that they would like to be supported, not in the way that we would like to be supported. And it’s very easy to get that mismatch. It’s a really simple solution, really.
Amrita: Yes. And then we can move on to the more positively based psychological processes that I talked about before, such as gratitude, journaling and connection with others, learning. So when I say learning, I don’t mean going out and learning a new skill at the moment because nobody has the headspace or the reserves for that. But what I mean is if you have a particular hobby that you like to do, whether it be you’re a musician or you’re an artist, or—and I don’t mean that in the professional sense, I just mean that you’d like to have a bit of a bang on the piano or something. Or you like to cook, you’d like to try new recipes, you like to go for a run every couple of days or so. Trying a new route when you’re running is actually a really, really good way of learning your local area. Yes, you might drive the roads. But when you run or when you walk, you see different things. When you’re cooking, actually substituting a new ingredient, it can make the food taste really different. So having a new experience when you’re eating.
And I know these might sound like really like simple solutions, like what she is talking about. But actually, at the moment, it’s about being simple and not stretching ourselves too far. And so there are really, really simple solutions. And there are five ways to wellbeing that The New Economic Foundation researched in 2011. I know that lots of people know about them, but actually really reading them with a different mindset, with a different intention can give you some different solutions as well.
And when I talk about connection, or when you read about connection, it’s not about the number of connections you have, it’s not about kind of engaging on social media. It really is about the depth of the connections that you have with people and making sure that those relationships are really valid.
Rachel: Yes, I 100% agree. It’s this connection that is the top one, isn’t it, in terms of protecting you from burnout and going down what I call the vortex of business, it’s this pro social bonding, deep connections with the people that re-energize you. Not just loads and loads of connections for people that drain you. If you want to know more about that I did an episode with Dr. Jo Scrivens called, Very Nice People And Other Deadly Perils that we talk about being intentional and who you’re connecting with. That’s not to say don’t connect with other people, but make sure you balance that out with people that really do re-energize you.
Amrita: Yes. And actually, I was just—thank you for mentioning that, Rachel. Because I was just going to say as well, I think at this moment in time, I think moving away from things that we might feel toxic in our lives is quite important as well. So that might be a bad habit. If you do something that you don’t feel necessarily fills your cup with joy, and doesn’t make you feel very good. It might be worth just reconsidering that the moment because there are lots of things in our lives, as we’ve spoken about today, that might not be making us feel very good. There are lots of things in the world at the moment that might not be feeling—making us feel so good. So I’ve got my words mixed up there.
So just thinking about the things that you do have control of and actually, ‘If I didn’t have that extra piece of cake, would it be such a bad thing? Probably not. So, maybe not have it’. And I’m not saying eating cake is a bad thing. I just mean, it’s just about thinking about what gives you toxicity in your life.
Rachel: Yes, just you don’t probably need that fourth bit of Christmas cake. Wish I could have done what I said to myself last week.
Amrita: I have to say, I’m guilty of that. I ate a whole box of chocolates literally in one sitting. And because I hadn’t had chocolates for a really long time, I was like, ‘Well, I’m just going to eat this now because I really like them’.
Rachel: ‘And I deserve it. I’m feeling a bit uugh. And I know that chocolate will give me this tiny energy boost’. Yes, I think that’s a really good point.
I think there are some obligations, though, that we have during COVID. I was just thinking, I’m very lucky, I’ve got an amazingly supportive family. But I know that there are some people that are feeling quite depleted by the fact that having to support some relatives, and it’s really quite draining on them.
And I’m just wondering about reframing that because I know giving is one of the ways to well-being and getting really does make us feel better. And in fact, in my journal, there’s a space for what have I done as a good deed today, and really being intentional about thinking about what I’m doing. And again, we’re stuck at home, many of us, and so the giving we can do financial which brilliant. I would encourage everybody to get financially regularly. Because there’s so much evidence about giving actually gives you the equivalent satisfaction as a boost in your own salary. So it’s worth it. And there’s so many people in so much need at the moment. So financial giving goes without saying, but you might want to give in other ways and if we can’t go and volunteer time outside. But what we can do is give our attention, our compassion, and just think about maybe who needs some connection with you, who you can phone and who you can talk to. And if those are particularly draining people, rather than put that in your connecting category, put it in your giving category. Maybe reframe that.
Amrita: That’s a really, really great suggestion, Rachel, because I think the way in which we approach our strategies, the intention behind the strategies, actually is half of the battle and half of the process. And actually, if we have a strategy behind what we’re doing, that actually gives us more motivation for it. And that’s related to kind of motivational theories and goal directed behaviour, and it can have much better outcomes. So yes, just reframing things gives us much more positivity about things and doesn’t zap our energy. Really, really great tip. Well done.
Rachel: Thank you very much.
Amrita: It’s really catching on, I didn’t mean it like that, what I meant was I’m really going to take that from you, so I meant like, yeah, thanks for giving it to me. I’m sorry.
Rachel: No, I like it, good justice, make sure you know. That really, really wise person once said to me that this is what we could do. But I think you’re so right about the five ways to well-being. Because doctors, we sort of know it but we just forget time and time again. So, get back to those ways, they have been thoroughly researched. And they know, we know, that they were. So that the five of them you can find on the Mind Website is very good about them, isn’t it and the NHS choices website.
I add three more in, and actually I wonder if you would agree with them. One is sleep. Another one is eating well. I think we have really—in fact, I was just caught the end of a documentary yesterday on the BBC, the truth about I think your immune system. I thought, ‘What amazing new stuff they’re going to say’. It was the same. It was eat vegetables, get enough sleep, eat, well, eat plenty of fibre, that sort of thing. So sleep, eat well, and then my last one is setting boundaries and resting because unless we can do that we can’t get to any of the other ones.
And what I’ll do is I’ll make a handout available for listeners. If you want to download some more information about the five ways to well-being plus that and you can do a little bit of an audit on yourself, I’ll make that available as a handout for the podcast. So really, what you’re saying Amy is don’t change things, just get back to basics and work out how you can craft it and amend it just to cope at the moment.
Amrita: Absolutely. That’s exactly what I’m saying. And I have to say, that doesn’t come from me. I was very, very lucky. I had a very wise teacher. And that was my father. And he always said to me from a very, very young age, ‘Always go back to first principles’. He said, ‘If you don’t know the answer to something, go back to first principles’. So go back to basics. And when you don’t know the answer, when you’re having trouble figuring something out, go back to basic.
Rachel: Yes. And that that really helped me last night, I was sort of awake worrying about something, whatever. And I thought, ‘Okay, what can I do about this’? And I was trying to solve the problem, went back to basics, and the basics was, things always look worse at night, worry about this in the morning. And so I did. This morning, I’m feeling a lot better about it. So I think, but we have to keep reminding ourselves of that because we forget.
Amrita: We do. Thank you, Rachel. It’s been brilliant.
Rachel: So Amy, it’s always a complete pleasure to have you on. That’s finished. You have three top tips you would give to people right now, just to get through the next few weeks?
Amrita: Yes, my top tips would be a back to basics, number one. My second tip would be, figure out what it is that you need. And you might have been practicing it for your whole life, but actually connecting with yourself and just articulating that. Might be something you’re not necessarily used to, that’d be my second tip. And the third tip would be, we’re all in the same storm just in different boats. That isn’t my quote. I don’t know who wrote that. But I have heard it a few times.
So just kind of having compassion for yourself, and for others around you that we are in the same storm. But we experience things in very, very different ways, depending on our life circumstances would be a way in which I think might help people get through the next few weeks.
Rachel: Great, thank you so much. And I think having spoken to you my top tips would be firstly, don’t be scared of those negative emotions and let yourself experience them because that’s healthy. But I think keep some hope and do plan stuff for later so you have a few little things to look forward to. And I think communicate what you need with those around you. I think that’s going to be really helpful. And I’m going to go and find out actually what my family really need now to stay sane in the next few weeks because I think I’ve been neglecting off asking them. I’ve been doing what I think they need, which is mainly nagging them about getting out of the house, going for a run and stuff. But that may be not all they think they need. So I’m going to go and ask them.
So it’s great. Amy, if people wanted to get in touch with you find out more about you. How can they find you?
Amrita: Sure. So I have a website it is www.yourwellbeing.doctor, that’s D-O-C-T-O-R, and you can find me on Twitter. My handle is @yourwellbeingdr, that’s D-R. And I’m on Instagram @yourwellbeingdoctor, again that’s the full word doctor. And you can also email me if you’d like to get in contact for a more prolonged connection at email@example.com, but I think you’re going to put all handles at the end as well on here.
Rachel: We’ll put them all in the show notes, Amy. Thank you.
Amrita: Thank you so much.
Rachel: Will you come back again at some point?
Amrita: Of course absolutely be my pleasure too. I always love chatting with you, Rachel.
Rachel: Lovely. Thanks. Have a good Rest of day. Bye.
Amrita: Bye Bye.
Rachel: Thanks for listening. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, then please share it with your friends and colleagues. Please subscribe to my You Are Not a Frog email list and subscribe to the podcast. And if you have enjoyed it, then please leave me a rating wherever you listen to your podcasts. So keep well, everyone, you’re doing a great job. You got this.
Vortex of Busyness and COVID team wellbeing toolkit resources
Ami’s website YourWellbeingDoctor
Find out about Rachel’s training and other work at www.shapestoolkit.com
You Are Not A Frog Ep. 35 with Dr Amrita Sen Mukherjee
You Are Not A Frog Ep. 56 with Dr Jo Scrivens
Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
The Happiness Lab with Dr Laurie Santos
The 5 Love Languages by Dr Gary Chapman
Five ways to wellbeing: New applications, new ways of thinking by the New Economics Foundation
BBC One – The Truth About…, Boosting Your Immune System
Follow Dr Mukherjee on Twitter @YourwellbeingDr and Instagram @yourwellbeingdoctor
Check out Dr Mukherjee’s website
Get in touch with Dr Mukherjee’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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