What anxiety has taught me.

I remember the first time I realised that I had anxiety. I was driving to pick my son up from school after a sports fixture, I was on the M1 and it was the middle of winter, the roads were dark and I started to realise I was feeling very anxious and stressed for no obvious reason. I had a feeling of dread and fear, it was almost impossible to breathe. I started to sweat profusely and could feel my heart racing at what felt like an unsustainable rate. It didn’t help when I came off the motorway onto my exit which was even darker and a lot more frightening. I prayed, I trembled but my anxiety seemed to be getting worse.

I made the decision to call a friend (on handsfree) and thankfully she picked up. My plan had been to tell her what was happening to me but luckily for me, we moved quickly into an intense conversation regarding something else and I got completely distracted and was able to complete the drive safely. That was one of the first lessons I later came to learn about my anxiety. It can be eased if I find a way to truly distract myself. This lesson did not come in useful till much later, when I understood my anxiety better.

After that episode, I started to have more similar episodes and eventually I realised my anxiety had been triggered by a series of traumatic events but the anxiety around motorways and driving in the car was as a result of a very traumatic event I had suffered while visiting family in Nigeria.

My then husband and I were returning back home after a night out with friends when we were robbed at gunpoint. It was the most frightening experience of my life. I had a man with a gun resting on my temple on my side of the car, hitting me repeatedly on the head while they demanded everything we had. This had happened on what resembled a motorway, it was very dark with very little lighting on the roads and as a result we did not see the robbers until it was too late.

After we were let go, I was so relieved to be alive that I immediately tried to dismiss this event in my mind as not being that bad, I was just grateful to God that neither of us were killed or sustained any serious injuries and all we had lost was property, I pushed everything else to the back of my mind. The truth I learnt, was that I had never dealt with the trauma of what happened that night and sure enough as trauma does, it showed up in a different way in my behaviour, a form of post traumatic stress.

Fast forward a couple of years later, my mum was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and sadly died a few years later, soon after that I discovered my husband had been unfaithful and that precipitated the disintegration of my marriage.,

So in a few short years, I had suffered a series of serious life events. I later learned that anxiety can also be triggered by (amongst many things) a big traumatic event or a series of smaller stressful life events.

Prior to all of these experiences, I had suffered periods of post natal depression and generally feeling low off and on for years but again never really gave it a name, I now realise like so many other people that end up being diagnosed with depression and or anxiety, I was probably more likely to have these disorders. Research has shown that in addition to biological and environmental factors, there are other factors that can make some people more prone to depression such as a person’s personality, experiences of stress and conflict, genetics, chronic illnesses, etc. to name a few

I suppose my body just could not deal with any more trauma/stress and I suddenly found that myself struggling with high levels of anxiety and depression. My anxiety initially revolved around driving at night, on dark roads, motorways and any thing reminiscent of my first traumatic experience but it gradually extended to other parts of my life and I started to suffer from social anxiety, health anxiety, flying anxiety, intrusive thoughts and many more, of course this also meant I was constantly depressed, struggling to cope with everyday life and to make matters worse started suffering with insomnia, something that is also very common with sufferers of depression and anxiety.

When I finally sought help, I was initially referred for counselling. I would see a counsellor once a week. I found the whole experience very unpleasant, usually ended up leaving the counsellor in a worse state than when I went in. My personal experience with counselling was not a good one and I ended up deciding that counselling was not for me. ( More on this this in a separate blog; why counselling does not work for everyone)

My second referral was for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy). This had some beneficial aspects for me, I was quite a logical thinker before anxiety and I liked the approach of examining what evidence there was of what I was afraid of but after completing my course of CBT, I was shocked to find out that I still was not cured like I had foolishly imagined I would be.

Fast forward, many years later, counselling skills course, hundreds of self help books, research and study later, I finally realised that my anxiety was not something I could be cured of.

I learnt that once you have anxiety, you will always to some extent be an anxious person but what you can do is to learn how to live with, manage and thrive even with anxiety.

In doing that, I have come to realise that anxiety is sort of, a friend. I do not classify it as an enemy because in some misguided way, it is trying to keep me safe from the things it believes will cause me pain or harm by constantly reminding me of the danger it foresees in me doing those things reminiscent of past traumas e.g. driving down a dark lonely road

Unfortunately, the downside to this is that if I listen to my anxiety, I may end up avoiding all of the the good stuff too. E.g. my social anxiety or fear of driving stops me from long distance driving, motorway driving and any type of driving really because my anxiety reminds me of how dangerous it can be (untrue) and convinces me not to do it. If I listen to my anxiety, I end up not going anywhere and missing out on the possibility of seeing friends, going to parties, meeting new people, broadening my horizons, all things that would actually make me happier in the long run. The other problem with listening to anxiety is that the more you let it win, the harder it becomes to shut out the fear and worry. One of the most important steps you can take in confronting your fears is accepting that life comes with risks and there are no guarantees. Flying is risking, driving is risky, falling in love is risky, having children is risky, in fact everyday is a gift and since there are no guarantees, you are better off accepting that to live life fully and happily, you may need to do some things that feel uncomfortable or scary.

Once you accept this, you can start to retrain your anxiety and speak to it in moments of panic or anxiety or when you are doing something that you would normally avoid. Let it know you are safe and there is nothing to worry about. When I started to do this, it became easier to do the things I was afraid of in spite of my fear. My anxiety is not cured by any means but I am constantly learning what helps and what doesn’t help. I am constantly challenging that anxiety each time it pops up and letting it know I am ok and I want to be more daring. It was doing this that allowed me to do more things and even though I still have anxiety around driving, flying and lots of other things, I am able to feel the fear and do it nonetheless.

Of course, it is useful to be more self aware and identify your triggers and work on your mindset. Being more conscious of your thoughts, the people you are around and the things you are exposed to will be extremely helpful in helping you manage anxiety

So what has my anxiety taught me?

Empathy in large doses, I have become a much more empathetic and sympathetic human as a result of having anxiety. I can relate more to people’s inner battle and I am generally kinder and a lot more tolerant towards other especially being aware that disorders like anxiety and depression can be totally invisible. You may see someone and think they are okay while they are battling depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.

I have also learnt to be kinder to myself and acknowledge that the same empathy that I am now able to show others is something I should also apply to myself. I used to have quite a lot of self dislike because I just did not understand why I kept being depressed or had intrusive thoughts or grappled with OCD but now I know the causes and the issues around my disorder, I am a lot kinder to myself.

Finally, one thing anxiety and depression has shown me is that I need to appreciate life a lot more. When we are not suffering from any of these disorders, we do not realise how beautiful life can be and all the opportunities we miss out on but having anxiety has really allowed me to appreciate the good days so much more and even though being on the edge and constantly being worried about something happening to me is not pleasant, it also encourages me to live life as fully and as completely as I possibly can.

if you are struggling with any of the issues that I have talked about in this blog, please ask for help. Talking with others has been one of the best things I have ever done but of course reaching out for help also means you will be able to learn strategies to manage and live fully inspite of your anxiety.

Charities such as MIND, The Samaritans, Mental Health UK, SANE all have help lines and have teams of people that you can chat to.

I am always happy to help too. Please message me via any of my socials or by email to tayokutiwrites@gmail.com for an informal chat. I offer 1:1 support and coaching with anxiety and mindset.

Tayo xoxo

What if you don’t know how to be happy?

Being happy has always seemed to be the thing that us humans chased the most. The way in which we chose to try and find happiness is different for everyone but we all want to be happy. Scientists have studied the topic for years, how can we find happiness?, is there a path or a formula for being happy? The fact that this question has never been fully answered tells us that it is a difficult and perhaps some would say impossible question to answer because what we define as happiness differs for everyone.

So perhaps we need to pose a different question and instead ask “how can we live a good life?”.

This puts a bit more context onto the issue of us finding our happy place and some fulfillment which is something that interests me more, I have always felt and believed that instead of happiness, what we really need is contentment. The reason, I prefer to look at happiness from the lens of contentment or living well is that contentment is much easier for us to define and put into words. Also as a coach, it is much easier for me to help people work out what they need to be content than finding the unique combination that will give them happiness.

The truth is that for many of us, we don’t really know what we need to be happy and for others, we don’t know how to be happy. This is because happiness by definition is a transient emotion, that can be here one moment and gone the next. We cannot be happy all the time and truth be told we should not be happy all the time. Our emotions can be very varied depending on not just what is happening around us but also our own unconscious biases and perception. This is why being able to regulate our emotions is very important. Emotions can be unreliable, fickle and transient. This is why making one particular emotion our goal is in itself a futile exercise.

So apart from the fickleness of emotion and the difficulty in knowing what makes us happy, we can also have people that do not know how to be happy. There are reasons why happiness may seem elusive such as;

  • Having depression and anxiety; both of these disorders can leave you feeling a sense of dread and feeling like something bad is about to happen which makes it difficult for you to enjoy anything
  • Spending too much time in the past dwelling on things that went wrong and your failures can leave you feeling resentful, frustrated and unable to see the positives in anything
  • You let your emotions control you. As its famously said, you cannot control what happens to you but you can control how you react to what happens to you. As I mentioned above, emotions can be fickle and unreliable so we need to learn how to regulate and manage our emotions so we can live more happily
  • You’ve lost track of who you truly are and what you like. This is common when you’ve been in a long term relationship, have been taking care of others for long periods of time or you’ve spent a long time pleasing other people. You don’t know who you are and cannot identify what makes you happy. In order to find what makes you happy, you have to spend time alone and learn to rediscover your true self. This requires learning how to be okay with solitude and loving your own company
  • You don’t know how to be mindful. Mindfulness is about living in the present moment and making the most of each day you have without worrying about the past or overthinking the future.

I remember when my anxiety and depression were at an all time high and people (trying to help me) would tell me to just be happy. Be happy, focus on your kids, don’t spend time worrying about what you cannot change, move on, and all the rest of that rah rah self help talk. The problem was I didn’t have a clue how to be happy and to be honest, I had spend so much time being a mom and wife, I had lost track of who I really was.

I tried my best to be happy but it just didn’t work because at that time, I thought “something” or “someone” would make me happy but of course I learnt that it wasn’t about what I bought or had or was given or whether I was alone or with someone, in fact, I learnt I couldn’t find happiness through anyone or anything. My happiness was dependent on my mindset and the way I looked at life.

What I learnt and would like to share with you is that, if I wanted to be happy, I needed to first learn how to be content no matter what life threw at me and the only way to learn contentment was to develop some essential mindset attributes, this meant cultivating a positive mindset.

I also realised that I needed to develop and work on attributes such as gratitude, kindness, selflove, wisdom, learning to love myself, learning how to be mindful, learning how to deal with anxiety and worry, being part of a loving community, finding my anchor, having good quality friendships, taking care of my healthy and living an authentic life. I cover all of these and how to attain them in my book Screaming helps.

The truth is that even when we constantly hear that money or possessions do not buy happiness, there is a part of us that doesn’t want to believe this. How many times do people say yes, I’d rather be miserable and rich than miserable and poor?.

The truth is finding out how to accept our “lot” and learning to find our PURPOSE in life is the only thing that paves the path to a life that makes us happy. Our search for our purpose is not about making 6 figures or being famous, but its about finding that thing which we love but also involves elements of compassion and service.

When we learn how to serve others and do what we truly love, we develop so many attitudes and skills which are really the key to healthy living. Attitudes such as gratitude, mindfulness, being authentic which automatically means loving ourselves as we are, living our truth, having the courage to face challenges, not worrying about what others think about us. Of course, I am not saying these are automatic gifts that we are given when we find our purpose, but what i know is that when you find your purpose or your thing, you are prepared to put in the mindset work, the self love work, the self confidence work and “all the things” needed because suddenly everything makes a lot more sense and there is something to work towards. Also when you are in this space, you are going to attract the right people to yourself which kind of brings us back to the recent study done by Harvard.

This was the longest and one of the largest studies done on happiness. The study followed over 700 men for almost 80 years to find out if they could answer the question as to how to live a good life. The answers were interesting but revealed what many of us already know or are realising.

There were three main conclusions from the data; 1) Social connections are good for us and loneliness kills, 2) the quality of your close relationships matter and 3) good relationships protect our bodies and our brains.

You can watch the TED talk on YouTube here What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger – YouTube

Another article from the Blue zones website, highlighted the importance of having a purpose in life. The article stated “In the blue zones regions of the world, having a purpose has always played a major role in well-being and the resulting extreme longevity seen in this areas of the world (Blue zones are geographical locations in the world that features people who have the highest rates of longevity). It continues, it is also believed that the strong sense of purpose possessed may act as a buffer against stress and help reduce overall inflammation. in turn lowering the chances of suffering from Alzheimer’s, arthritis and strokes.

In my work as a mindset coach, I work with people who recognise the need for a mindset shift so they can find out who they really want to be. If you would like to learn more about how to work with me or you just want an informal chat, feel free to contact me via email or through any of my social accounts and if I could give you some advice to help you learn how to be content and lean into your purpose, it would be this; 1) focus on the good things in your life, learn from but don’t dwell on your mistakes and failures, take it one day at a time and 2) learn to love yourself.

Tayo xoxo

Why you should start journaling

Remember when you were a child and you had a diary and would write down all your little secrets about what you and your best friend got up to? Well that little diary was a form of journaling and is something that has far more benefits for us as adults than many people realise.

In recent years, a lot more research has been done on the benefits of journaling and the findings are pretty amazing. Journaling is a superstar when it comes to helping us manage our emotions in a positive manner. In a study done in 2006, journaling was found to reduce symptoms of people with depression, anxiety and hostility

Journaling simply refers to the act of writing down or keeping a diary about your thoughts and the everyday events of your lives including what may be going wrong or right.

This simple act has been found to be extremely powerful for helping individuals deal with conflict, reduce stress and manage difficult emotions

In particular, when it comes to conditions such as depression and anxiety, journaling can work wonders.

I started journaling reluctantly in 2018 after a friend of mine suggested it to me during a very difficult and stressful time in my life. I did it reluctantly because I had this fear of someone finding my journal and reading all my innermost thoughts and the thought of that used to put me off. I eventually overcame that fear and started to write down my thoughts and feelings from day to day, my emotions around certain events, feelings of anger and hurt, basically I wrote down anything and everything that came to mind.

What I found from doing this is I had more clarity of mind, less emotional baggage and I started to feel much more at ease with myself. I also felt less encumbered, like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had discovered the power of journaling.

I went from strength to strength at that point, writing down inspirational verses from books I was reading or the bible and my interpretation of what I read and how it impacted me. This became the beginnings of my foray into writing. Before I knew it, I was addicted to writing.

One day I sat and read through my journal and was startled to see how meaningful, helpful and uplifting it was and that moment of realisation, that day was the day I decided I was going to write a book loosely formed from the writings I had done in my journal.

My book “Screaming helps” was published in 2019 and the whole journey of writing it has been an amazing experience for me, so much so, I am in the process of writing a second book. Of course, after this experience, I am a complete convert to journaling and I believe it forms an essential part of a robust self care package.

If you’ve never journaled, a great way to sample this form of expression is to try using the Pandemic Project website. A resource created by Psychology researchers to help people explore their challenges, experiences and emotions around Covid-19 and the Pandemic.

Otherwise, you can easily buy a notebook or a custom designed journal and start your own journey of journaling.

If you want to know why you should journal, I share below some surprising benefits of journaling ;

  1. Writing things down gives you much more clarity about what may be bothering you and helps you to identify more clearly what your problems and challenges are
  2. Helps you to identify negative thought patterns and your triggers
  3. Acts as a tool for self reflection and self evaluation as you can look back over periods of time to see how you have changed
  4. Writing allows you to engage with difficult emotions or experiences
  5. The routine of writing regularly can help you build more structure into your life
  6. Writing can encourage you to take action on things that are bothering you. When we put our thoughts and worries down on paper, they become more real and with the added bonus of clarity we gain from seeing those thoughts, it can help us actually decide what type of action we need to take to improve things in our life.

These are just some of the many reasons that you should start writing your thoughts down. It can be a force for good, forcing you to confront difficult emotions and giving you the opportunity to see what you are grateful for and how you can improve. Although you can buy journals which already have prompts and question that form the basis for your writing, it is also possible for you to decide how and what you want to journal. You can buy a notebook and try your hand out at doing it freestyle and see how you do on a day to day basis. I favour both styles of journaling and I have a journal which I purchased that has prompts and suggestions which I like to use as a formal way of journaling but I also like journaling free style. It really depends on my mood.

I feel that if you are a beginner, it may be useful to have some guidance around what to write but this is of course totally up to you. However, some useful prompts and questions for what to write in your journal for your morning routine include;

  1. What you are grateful for at the start of the day
  2. One thing that you will try to do that day
  3. A positive affirmation
  4. How you will make that day a good one/ good deeds

At the end of the day, prompts can include

  1. What was the best thing about the day
  2. What didn’t go well and how you would improve
  3. What good deed you did that day
  4. What you are grateful for at the end of the day

I hope this article has inspired you to start your own journaling practice today. If you want some more tips and help to get started, feel free to email me at tayokutiwrites@gmail.com

Tayo xoxo

Why your mindset affects everything you do.

Mindset matters. Fact. Whether you realise this or not, the type of mindset you have will affect what type of life you have and what you are able to achieve. Many of us do not realise the importance of our mindset and even many more do not even know what type of mindset they have or how this affects their everyday decisions.

So let’s start there. What is your mindset and why does it matter?

Your mindset is what you believe about yourself and your capabilities. Your mindset is formed from your thoughts and beliefs about life and of course this is shaped by your experiences. Your thoughts will affect how you behave and what you do. Basically your mindset is how you interpret the world and make sense of what goes on in your life from day to day.

So it makes sense that a good mindset means a purposeful and good life and a bad mindset may mean a difficult and more painful life but what does a good mindset and a bad one look like?

How do you work out what type of mindset you have? Well, it starts with asking yourself questions about the things you believe about yourself. Are you open to learning new things, do you give up easily? Do you try to work out how to do something or do you prefer to accept that you are probably too old or not smart enough to do certain things. Questions such as these will start to give you an indication of the sort of mindset you have and once you realise what your mindset is, it is quite easy to see the link between how your mind works and the kind of life you are living.

There are many definitions floating around about mindsets, the one I’d like to explore in this article is the very common themes of the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is one where an individual is not open to learning new things and where they believe that their intelligence and talent and other qualities are fixed traits that cannot be improved. This normally results in them being unwilling to try and raise their game or to try new things. Someone with a fixed mindset will make statements like “I will never be able to do this”, “Its too late for me to learn this”, “I am going to fail at this so there is no point trying” and so on.

You can see how these sorts of statements can be very limiting and if we truly believe this to be true, we become very convinced about our inability to change, to learn and therefore we may end up not living the life we want, feeling frustrated, demotivated, stuck and unable to discover what we want or what we like. In addition, any attempt at giving constructive criticism to an individual with a fixed mindset is usually met with hostility, they do not take well to any sort of criticism and tend to see it as a personal attack. A person with a fixed mindset may also encounter jealousy or envy when they see others doing well, they constantly compare themselves to other and always find that they feel unworthy.

The growth mindset is the opposite side of the scale and is where an individual is open to learning, to trying new things, to taking risks and is prepared to fail. People with growth mindsets understand that learning and being good at things can develop through hard work and practice. Usually people with a growth mindset will have more resilience and understand that failure is not fatal and that through failing at things, they can learn how to be better.

They also understand that they need to do things over and over again to get good at it. When you believe that your intelligence and your talent can be developed over time, you are always open to new ideas and this is where you will find the lifelong learner who is willing to give things a go. An individual with a growth mindset can accept constructive criticism and sees it as an opportunity to learn and to grow. In addition they are not jealous of other people’s success, instead they use this as their motivation and to fuel their own ambitions.

A positive outlook on learning is crucial to developing oneself and helps to build self esteem and self confidence. Trying out new things and being able to learn and do things you felt were out of your comfort zone will give you the confidence to believe in yourself and your abilities.

So how can we move from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset?

It is important to acknowledge at this point that most people are somewhere in between the two types so what we really want to do is have more of a growth mindset and less of a fixed mindset. There are a number of ways to improve your mindset but the very first step is in acknowledging that you need to do some work. Coming to the realisation and acceptance that you can do with improving your mindset is important before you actually start trying to fix anything.

Here are some of my suggestions for improving your mindset. Even if you find that you are somewhere in the middle between a fixed mindset and growth mindset, it is always useful to continue to do the work that will take you to having more of a growth mindset mentality in all you do.

How to change from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset;

  • accept that this will take time
  • start shutting down that inner voice that tells you, you cannot do something or you are not good enough
  • remind yourself of your strengths, everyone has things they are good at
  • spend more time around positive people and less time around negative people
  • try out new hobbies that take you outside your comfort zone without any pressure or expectation, e.g. learning to knit or learning to skate etc.
  • accept failure as part of the process and an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work
  • stop comparing yourself to others

Remember that even talented people need to work hard so that they can harness their talent and be better at what they do. Be prepared to work hard, have knockbacks, fail and get going again. If you keep doing that, I guarantee you will see some progress and changes in your life.

xx Tayo

Tayo Kuti is a mindset and life coach. Get in touch with her by email to tayokutiwrites@gmail.com

How to do what seems impossible.

Have you ever had a goal or vision for your life that seemed so huge that you had no idea how to even get started?I have definitely had that feeling before, you look at whatu want to achieve and you have no idea how or where to start.

This is one of the most common reasons why people fail to start working on their goals or fail to meet their goal. That feeling of overwhelm, being stuck and not knowing where to begin can be scary however, being scared does not have to stop you and I have my own formula for attacking big or little goals. Most people use or talk about the acronym “SMART” but I find it a bit overused and sometimes unhelpful so this is how I coach my clients. Examine your mindset. Do you believe in yourself? Are you willing to go all the way even if you think people may not get what you are doing? Will you keep going when it gets hard, when no one seems to care and nothing is happening? Preparing yourself to be in it for the long haul is the first step to success

Examine your motivators. Are they mainly extrinsic(external) or intrinsic (internal) factors. E.g. I want to lose weight so I can get a man or so people can like me is extrinsic. I want to lose weight so I can feel good about myself and have better long term health is intrinsic.  Having goals linked to extrinsic factors can work but inherently they are not linked to sustained and long term success. So you might lose weight in the short term but what happens when you lose weight and you don’t find a man? Finding intrinsic factors to power your goal may help you stay in for the long run

In the 3rd part of the process we put together some of the SMART criteria especially ensuring your goals are specific, measurable and achievable. Wanting to lose weight is not specific but wanting to lose 10 kg in 3 months is specific. Also we need to have realistic expectations when we set goals, expecting to lose 20 kg in a month is unrealistic, expecting to lose 4kg in a month is realistic and definitely possible

Once all of the above are in place, the next piece of the puzzle is to take baby steps. Fear of stepping out and failure can really stop us from doing anything but if we design our plan around taking really small steps that move us away from doing nothing and actually get us in the direction of our goals then we are off to a good start. So now you can set about moving towards your goal by having a plan

I talk about a way to do this in my reels from yesterday. (to see my reels, visit my Instagram page @avoda_wellness I had so much fun messing around with that yesterday and using the speeded up voice, it made me laugh! and that brings me to the final bit of my process…..

5. Have fun! Enjoy the process. 

https://www.instagram.com/avoda_wellness/